LEONARD FONG ROKA
He was employed by the company firstly to clear the Pangkirangkuu area (pegging with the surveyors) then later as a cook.
In its effort to accustom themselves, CRA and other sub-contractors took a participatory-action approach with the landowners. Employment was localised and the foreigners had a cordial and mutual relationship.
Every BCL camp mess or catering service had local garden produce from the Panguna area, Kieta and parts of South Bougainville. According to Dino, and many other old folks, every week BCL had pick-up trucks that travelled the villages to buy food to feed the company employees and also to stock the supermarkets.
The locals had a steady income from BCL that empowered them and built a business climate. In fact, the last North Solomons Province premier and first Autonomous Government president, the late Joseph Kabui, had his education funded under this cordial BCL-people relationship.
My late great-grandmother, Joseph Kabui’s mother, earned a sufficient and steady income to pay for his education by selling her garden produce to BCL which enabled her son's political career.
She often sprouted lamentations that the BCL did us good earlier but later began killing us by systematically bringing non-Bougainvilleans into our land.
In the late 1970s this fine co-existence slowly ebbed for the ordinary people, but not for the educated elite of Bougainville who already held an upper hand in dealing with the company.
The Journal of Pacific History vol 33 cites that a 1964 patrol report described the people of the area [Panguna] as “among the least sophisticated in Bougainville". So, BCL's good relationship with the locals from the beginning was a time-buying period of stripping their conscience before imposing western conceptions of business administration without providing a concrete base of intellectual capacity-building.
Carefully, according to Dino, the BCL administration began to get rid of these local people to accommodate educated Bougainvilleans in its established offices.
The company also began importing food from Australia and Papua New Guinea and made greater use of more established non-Bougainvillean food growers around Arawa and other urban areas.
Local labourers in the mining operation were replace with Papua New Guineans and whitemen. Instead of saving the company by localising the workforce through educating the locals to take ownership of the mining operation on their own land, BCL made Dino and other people jobless and nobodies in their progenitors’ land.
Dino says there was no hope for our dream of being developed like the European. The dream was shattered. Many locals left school, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and became involved in the 'art of crime'.
The conflict was now a blame game (sometimes true and sometimes not true) between the marginalized people like Dino and the elite locals who had permanent jobs with the company.
Dino was often caught up in boozing fights and brawls with local people who enjoyed steady company wages while he just waited for any part-time job opportunity from sub-contractors in repatching the roads with tar and so on.
The Journal of Pacific History says that there was “localised dispute amongst the landowner groups suffering from the destructive impact of the massive Panguna copper mine operated by BCL and precipitated violent attacks by some group members on the mine property”. This supports the old man’s story.
BCL was cunning. The people gave them sweets to build a mine on their land that would fund the development of others who were absolute strangers to the Panguna people.
The far reaching impacts the mine offered people like Dino were loss of land, limited and unfairly distributed compensation, diversion of social inconvenience compensation into a 'business arm' which delivered little [but benefited the elite], environmental degradation and poor standards of living for the relocated people.
This was what the ordinary people had to face. Before their eyes they were being raped to by BCL and foreigners.
And, in 1988, these people like Dino were to give their blessing to young men to join the militancy and help free Bougainville.