NORTHUMBRIA, UK - It does no good to pretend that late 19th and early 20th century Papua New Guinea with its stone based technology and scattered and perpetually warring tribes could have lain forever undisturbed by the relentless impetus of the world.
Any discussion of Australia’s presence in PNG should not begin with whether it had any right to be there, but with what might have happened if a potentially harsher Japanese or Indonesian administration had taken over the country before it became independent.
It was inevitable that, rightly or wrongly, a technologically enhanced and more powerful nation state would have taken over PNG in some form. That is a fact.
Much as they may dislike aspects of the Australian Administration’s legacy, Papua New Guineans could not, even with the advantage of hindsight, have escaped global advance by hiding indefinitely.
A culture backed by superior modern skills would, as surely as night follows day, have imposed itself on them.
That it happened to be Australia, which in colonial terms arrived late is incidental.
It was also fortunate that the Australian Administration was largely benign and prepared to spend more money on PNG than it ever extracted.
It should also be accepted that European style colonialism, the cultural and capitalist phenomenon which began in Europe in the fourteenth century when trading ships began to find treasures in other parts of the world will prove to be only the first of many worldwide economic and cultural disturbances - the vanguard of what is now termed globalisation.
History may also show that the occupancy form of transferred dominance, or colonialism, directed by Caucasian managed economies ended when PNG became independent.
Even in the 1930s when a handful of kiaps armed only with rifles made first contact with a million people living in the previously unknown valleys of the Highlands, this imposed administration directed from Canberra through Port Moresby was seen elsewhere in the world as a political anachronism.
Australia’s late place in this centuries-long process will no doubt continue to be criticised but my view is that Australia, its kiaps and other civil servants were bit players in a process that opened the way for Papua New Guineans to take their place within the world economy, joining the rest of humanity in the global acceleration and cultural evolution that was the dominant feature of the 20th Century – and which continues to pick up speed at an even greater rate today.
No criticism of Australia, or PNG’s people, is implied because no one, especially villagers whose first international contact began in the 1930s, can say – “Stop the world I want to get off”, even though there will have been times when every human in history, including individual readers of PNG Attitude, would have liked to have slowed the clock hoping for calmer, more predictable, social and economic waters.
Keeping pace with almost daily advancements in the global process becomes quite dizzying, doesn’t it?