Our insane & violent love affair with sorcery
I’m grateful I went to the School of PNG

Did Whitlam say this? And were you there?

‘Whitlam would have meant no offence. He probably used the term to emphasise the treatment of the people as second class or something like that’

Somare whitlam

CANBERRA - I have a memory of a published photograph and caption which I cannot find on the internet or after extensive searching on the National Library’s Trove and other archives.

I wonder if any of the editor’s connections on PNG Attitude can place it.

The photograph was of Gough Whitlam in Papua New Guinea, perhaps on one of his visits there before he became prime minister in 1972.

I think the photograph was of Whitlam at a meeting of some sort.

He was viewing the dignitaries sitting down and the local people were standing at the back.

Whitlam was then overheard saying something like: “Look, everybody at the front is sitting and the poor old boongs have to stand at the back”.

The picture and caption were probably published to cause embarrassment to Whitlam as the word ‘boongs’ was a bit outside polite usage even back then.

It was also an early example of private conversations being released publicly without the consent of the speaker.

Whitlam would have meant no offence. He probably used the term to emphasise the treatment of the people as second class or something like that.

I can’t imagine him making ‘air quotes’ with his fingers!

Perhaps this is not particularly important. It’s one of those things one is sure of but cannot conclusively illustrate.

The photo may have been in a magazine (The Bulletin?) rather than a newspaper.

Perhaps someone remembers it.


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Arthur Williams

I was called the 'White Kanaka' by some the white-crowd in Kavieng Club after I married my PNG wife. Also 'White Bastard' by a fellow Provincial Assembly Member in 1988....'stick, stones, bones' -samting nating!

The snowflakes generation now have psychiatrists for infant students while the police have 'family officers' after a bad criminal event.

News items have advice of a sad report, "If you've been affected by anything you saw or heard in our article you can log on to the following web sites for help!"

I have copies of Head Teachers Daily Log Books during World War II. At morning assembly the staff and students would be told of a bomb destroying little Billy Jones' home and killing him or all of his family.... "OK children off you go to class!"

Rhetorically most of us heard PNG people say, "Mi longlong tasol!" I guess perhaps some of us have used it. May still do in Pidgin intelligible to our friends and family as some of us use 'bagarap' downunder there or up over here.

I smiled at the famous 1963, "Ich bin ein Berliner" ( a type of doughnut) when President Kennedy peeped over the Berlin Wall uttering the phrase perhaps when he may have seen young card carrying Putin and colleague Merkel in the street in East Berlin and said it to raise a smile on the West Berliners.

The phrase is now alleged to be false or maybe 'woke' to some. Mind, the Yanks have problem not only with German but with English too and thus the furore when President Trump said 'fight' prior to the 'insurrection', 'invasion', 'attempted coup' of their parliament buildings a few years back.

It is a word in several Christian hymns and many activists of all shades and interests use it daily. The former hotel keeper was recently up for a tribunal of the Senate. It had seven Democrats and two Republicans as a 'sign of bipartisanship'.

I think the writer of that phrase my have thought it meant something else perhaps to do with LGBT+X,DDT and bar which nobody is allowed to question these days

Ross Wilkinson

As Will says, the term 'bush kanaka' was often a derogatory term when applied by one to another person.

However, it also was used in a self-deprecating way when a person would refer to themselves in that way, "Mi bush kanaka tasol, mi nogat savi." ('I don't know, I'm only a bush kanaka')

It could also be used to imply simplicity, "Mi stap bush kanaka nating." (I'm only a bush kanaka)

I can recall in the late 1960s that an instruction was sent from HQ to the District Commissioners to stamp out the use of insulting words by field staff and included the terms 'kanaka' and 'rock ape'.

'Kanaka' was to be replaced by 'man' and the other term totally dismissed.

I can recall the other terms being spoken including the term 'branch manager' proposed instead of 'rock ape'.

Will Muskens

It surprises me that PM Whitlam would have used the term "boong" in referring to indigenous people at the gathering he attended, he was a highly educated and intelligent man and would have been aware that it was an offensive term.

"Kanaka" was the word for "human being" in the Hawaiian language and exported to other parts of the Pacific Islands to denote indigenous inahbitants. It was considered neither derogatory nor racist until relatively moderm times. In the 50's and 60's local people living in coastal plantation districts often referred to indentured plantation workers from the Sepik and Highlands as "bush kanakas", somewhat derisitory.

Peter Salmon

I don't think that the term "kanaka" in the true sense of "tok pisin" should be conflated with "nigger", "coon" and "rock ape".

William Dunlop

'Mipela, bung wantaim tasol', an expression I heard a few times around Lae in 1969/70 as I recall.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Probably related to the Tok Pisin word 'bung', which is defined in Murphy's Pidgin English Dictionary, first published in 1943, as 'gather together, flock, congregate'.

Not as offensive as 'kanaka', 'nigger', 'coon' and 'rock ape', which were current in PNG when I first went there.

I wonder what Papua New Guineans called Europeans among themselves.

Ross Wilkinson

The term 'boong' was a term commonly used during World War II, frequently in official correspondence.

It was used by ANGAU officers and troops in relation to the local engaged as contract labourers.

In particular, the carrier lines were frequently referred to in reports as 'boong trains'.

Whilst Whitlam did not serve in Papua or New Guinea during his air force service in World War II, he probably picked up the term from this period as a recognised inoffensive term.

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