MUCH has been written about Australia's moral compass over the past few weeks. Some social commentators opine that sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea is cruel, not only because of their indefinite detention, but because they have been sent to a supposed hellhole - to a dangerous, ''deeply unliveable'' country racked by raskol lawlessness.
Deeply unliveable? Not to the more than seven million people who live there, just a coconut's throw from our northern islands. Not in the dozens of times I've been there since 1986 working with local musicians.
Yes, there are serious problems inevitably associated with a fast-developing nation, where many have only come into contact with the outside world since 1950.
However, PNG is not the basket case the media and the mining contractors in their compounds would have you believe. Most Papua New Guineans are compassionate, grassroots, family-oriented people who do a fine line in hospitality and are firmly grounded in their ancestral beliefs.
Stigmatising PNG as primitive, dysfunctional and backward is neither helpful nor correct, especially coming from a country that should have a modicum of empathy and understanding with our closest neighbour.
As a deterrent to help ''stop the boats'', Manus Island is perfect. It is small and remote, communication is difficult, and you can only arrive on the one flight a day. Its sea boundary to the north is the equator. It is inconceivably hot, with almost 100% humidity, and has one of the highest rates of malaria in the world.
Deny access to journalists, surround the prison's perimeter with the notorious mobile police squad and the place is one you'd do anything to avoid.
But the people of Manus Island are neither primitive nor a pushover. They have the highest literacy rate in PNG, and Manusians punch above their weight in terms of top public service positions.
Manus people are no strangers to cleaning up the mess left by outsiders. In 1944 General Douglas MacArthur placed 150,000 troops on Manus after the Japanese invasion in 1942. The US military used it as a base to take back Guadalcanal.
Manus was a prime strategic location, and Seeadler Harbour was home to 800 warships. US forces left in 1946, but before they did they destroyed most of the infrastructure, leaving behind a multitude of war junk, disarray and 12 still-intact Quonset huts, including the one in Lorengau where Bob Hope performed.
When PNG PM Peter O'Neill signed on for the reopening of the detention centre last year, he envisaged a low-security centre where asylum seekers would be processed, then settled throughout the region. He bought into a regional solution. Watch where this leads now.
In the coming weeks, PNG will state that it won't resettle those who have been processed. There is significant domestic resistance to the idea. PNG has no history of outside migration aside from the sizeable Chinese population, who came in the 1870s. There is no rental housing market, no Saturday paper with an employment section.
It is a Melanesian country with tight land-ownership customs, no formal welfare system, and strained health and education services. It has an admirable independent judiciary, but it's bulging at the seams, slow, and ill-equipped to process a further 1100 legal cases.
Until recently, the relationship between the Lorengau community on Manus and the detainees was relatively good. The locals felt sorry for them, understanding they were not criminals and should be able to mingle in the town.
When they first arrived, the local women bought extra yams, fish and fruits to the market hoping to be able to sell produce to both the detainees and staff. They saw it as a business opportunity.
They have been disappointed that not only can the detainees not get to the market, the Australian staff leave work and go straight to their floating hotel accommodation. The locals get paid about K15 ($6.30) a day for reportedly the same work the Australian G4S contractors get paid about $120,000 a year.
As for the riot? Some locals say it was payback by the terrifying ''mobile police squad'' and some of their drunk wantoks for a vocal minority of inmates chanting ''F--- PNG, F--- PNG'' after being told by staff their only option was to be resettled in PNG. It seems the detainees are going nowhere.
Manus Island is purgatory for the detainees. It's not their place. It's not my place either, but it's one of the most fascinating places I have ever been.
A PNG friend said to me the other day: ''We are like Australia's janitor, cleaning up their muck.'' We were in Bougainville, leaving them with a caustic civil war, we were at Ok Tedi with BHP Billiton and destroyed the Fly River, and now here we go again.
''I tell you, the locals are angry, the detainees are desperate … this is all going to blow.''
David Bridie is a musician and artistic director of the Wantok Musik Foundation