The tragic legacy of Australian colonialism
By our values, the portions are not equal

PNG: Is the future capitalism or nothing?

The current fighting in the Highlands has less to do with political leadership and everything thing to do with lost hope. The men who are fighting, harming people and destroying property, those men own nothing

Gun family


“The only comfort that may be drawn is from the fact that the subsistence lifestyle, that has sustained Papua New Guineans for thousands of years, will probably insulate them from the worst impacts of what is and remains a grossly inequitable, unjust and frequently corrupt system” – Chris Overland in ‘The tragic legacy of Australian colonialism.”

LAE - No. Subsistence farming may not save Papua New Guinea in the future.

There is too much to unpack in that assumption and I will most likely be dead and gone before my country realises the inevitable endpoint that I only spy through a poet’s lens.

Cue the violence raging throughout the most unstable 'resource rich' parts of the country during this election period.

Don't be blind.

The men who are fighting, harming people and destroying property, those men own nothing, are unmarried (doesn't mean they aren't fathers), unemployed and may not be otherwise gainfully employed in any other economic or social activity to boot.

They have nothing to lose and everything to gain: to such men fighting and dying in tribal warfare is a preferably way of life than mere subsistence.

When the fighting ends it probably matters very little to them which side wins because they all return to relying on subsistence farming by their women and older folk who bear the burden of feeding the warriors.

And to many women and older folk this task is honourable, a harsh but necessary morally correct action for their communal lifestyle.

The current fighting has less to do with political leadership (that is, they don't give a fuck about the politics) and everything thing to do with lost hope of any other option to earn a living, own property or participate in their society as a valuable member.

These warriors have less concern with any 'national democratic communalism' or any such restricted capitalism that political gurus may want to cook up, particularly the 'Melanesian democratic models' that some intellectuals bandy about.

Communalism and capitalism are at constant odds with each other, and rightfully should be in a stable democracy.

We can argue about the immoral outcomes of capitalism with the wisdom of sages but any other form of engagement is not worth contemplating.

What is our moral argument?

If it is that we share resources, then who ensures the resources are shared equitably? How much is enough? And who withholds the balance?

How do we ensure that everyone is compensated at the level which affords each person recognition of input, social standing and rank or position in village networks?

As anyone who has shared the gris pik (pig fat) will tell you, the portions are not equal.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Australia would do PNG a great favour by finding out how these weapons make their way to the highlands and other places and then cutting off the supply.

A PNG politician promised not long ago (O'Neill or Marape?) to get rid of guns in PNG. What happened to that promise?

Philip Fitzpatrick

My understanding is that an AR-15 (Armalite) style rifle is a Category D firearm in most, if not all, Australian states.

A Category D licence is only available to a professional shooter who can prove their principal occupation is the controlling of vertebrate pest animals, or a bona fide firearms collector subject to certain conditions.

In that sense there shouldn't be a lot of them around and they would all be secured in some way.

This suggests that AR-15s coming out of Australia to PNG must be organised by criminals. As would the ammunition.

Where they would get them would be interesting to know.

I wonder if anyone cross checks the number manufactured against the number sold here.

Senior Public Servant | Name known to editor

Firearms, especially non-police military issue weapons, are available in PNG, if you make the right buai market connections.

Stealing and selling police firearms attracts too much attention.

I am aware of some of the routes by which weapons arrive in the country, as do many other people.

Australia is a named route and so is New Zealand, as well as West Papua. Australia is supposedly the best and easiest route.

Over the years I have been offered weapons for sale on a number of occasions. A few times the arms were shown to me directly.

I have handled, but not fired, a Sig Sauer, some brand of pump action shotgun and an AR-15.

I have haggled the price of M16's, revolvers, other handguns, including ammunition boxes.

At one occasion I was offered an entire crate of M16's on discount because I was a good buddy.

These offers were made available to me without actually pursuing the purchase of a gun.

My understanding of guns in PNG and exposure to their availability is probably not unique.

I am not particularly well connected, so have always assumed that this is our norm. Or maybe I move in some circles and am not fully aware of their circumference.

I do know that many of my tribesmen have guns, especially automatic weapons.

I'm not surprised to see the images here.

Philip Fitzpatrick

About the photo accompanying this excellent article - where the hell do these people get Armalite rifles?

Lindsay F Bond

Item of interest on China (whether CCP, CPC or PRC): "20% youth unemployment in cities, the highest on record."

Now veracity is for others to comment, but with respect to PNG and "those men own nothing, are unmarried"...etcetera, matters problematic to one social system it seems, might occur in others.

Where resources are recognised, rounded up and rallied, such marshalling might lead to regimentation that has eyes allowed motivation only to espy a passing leader.

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