Papua New Guinea

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All countries can be fascinating once you dig below the tourist brochure veneer and Papua New Guinea is no exception. What usually makes faraway places so interesting are their dissimilarities to the places with which we are familiar. If this were not the case, we might as well stay at home! Papua New Guinea is a land spilling over with such points of difference, such as the 800 distinct languages spoken throughout the islands.

Papua New Guinea is a relatively ‘new’ country despite having been settled for about 60 000 years. It was ‘discovered’ only recently. Don Jorge de Meneses a Portuguese navigator founded the island circa 1526 and named it Papua. In 1545, the Spaniard, Inigo Ortiz de Retes, named it again and he called it New Guinea.

Many excellent resources are available on the Internet that provide detailed histories of the country. For a fascinating account of early exploration of the region, George Collingridge De Tourcey’s First Discovery of Australia and New Guinea (Sydney, 1906) is available as a free e-book. I will focus only on the bits that caught my interest while researching for Ruth

Following WW2, Australia administered the territories of Papua and New Guinea until they gained independence in 1975 as the one nation, Papua New Guinea. Now I must admit, I can be naïve at times but I had absolutely no idea of the similarities between Australian black/white relationships and those that existed under the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

I was in South Africa briefly as a child and recall wanting to go on a rickshaw but my parents refused to allow it. At the time, I thought they were just trying to make my life a misery, I had no understanding of their discomfort with the notion of a man, more than twice their age, struggling to haul us around town.

Although there were no rickshaws in Papua New Guinea, indentured labour and segregation were commonplace. Until independence, white men were usually addressed as ‘masta’ and even little boys were referred to as ‘lik lik masta’ (little master). Having lived on the mainland of Australia, I was quite ignorant of this way of life that existed on our doorstep. Papua and New Guinea under the Australian administration were the last regions of the world to use indentured servitude

As with anything, time brings about change and today Papua New Guinea is a young, independent country with many untapped resources which auger well for future wealth. Australia maintains strong ties with Papua New Guinea and is a major partner in many development initiatives including education, health, infrastructure, public sector improvement and policy development.  

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