IT sounds like a classic tale: rapacious developers, a Third World shanty town razed to make way for a hotel, and the local MP who stands up for her adopted countrymen and women one last time to fight for their heritage.
Except none of it is true, according to the Australian-born doyenne of Papua New Guinea’s parliament, Carol Kidu, who is suing a Sydney film house she says seriously misrepresented her role in a Port Moresby property stoush.
Worse, she says, the filmmakers secured her involvement in their documentary, as well as Australian government funding for it, under false pretences.
Dame Carol, who 50 years ago as a Brisbane schoolgirl fell in love with the boy who became PNG’s first indigenous chief justice, Buri Kidu, says she agreed in 2012 to work with an Australian student filmmaker as a favour to the director’s mother.
She says even then it was only when filmmaker Hollie Fifer assured her she would merely be working on a university project about Dame Carol’s final months in parliament, after a 15-year career that included being opposition leader, the house’s only female MP and a pioneer in women’s and children’s issues, that she became convinced it would be a worthwhile endeavour.
At some point, she says, the focus was switched to a property eviction in the capital, with wild scenes captured on camera as Dame Carol accuses a police officer of heavy-handed tactics.
She claims the angry showdown, now central in the upcoming feature The Opposition, was taken out of context and the community being moved from the urban Mount Paga settlement where it occurred were settlers, not traditional owners, and had known for years of the plan. In fact she, as their local member, had been helping manage their move.
That’s not how Fifer and her producers at independent Sydney film house Media Stockade saw it. In a 2013 funding pitch to the Documentary Australia Foundation, Fifer describes Dame Carol as “an unlikely hero … (and) one of Australia’s most mobile and active freedom fighters.
“When Port Moresby policemen are paid K10,000 to bulldoze the Paga Hill settlement … Dame Carol places herself in the line of fire to save the people. Her fight to stop the construction of the five-star hotel will lead her into dark places and the murky world of international finance and corruption.”
Funding for the enterprise, produced by Rebecca Barry and Madeleine Hetherton, was also secured from Screen Australia and Screen NSW, both of which Dame Carol has written to protesting their involvement.
In a series of exchanges Dame Carol pleaded to be removed from the project altogether, since it was not what she had agreed to and it had left her embarrassed and distressed.
The filmmakers have offered to insert a line at the work’s conclusion stating that “Dame Carol Kidu completely dissociates herself from this documentary” but insist its anti-developer focus, including the Paga Hill evictions, remains a key to the story.
Media Stockade’s Ms Barry declined to comment last night on the NSW Supreme Court case and Fifer did not respond to calls.
“I just feel very sad about the whole thing,” Dame Carol said. “Every time I think about it, I end up in tears.”