IN 1953 I was posted to Hollandia (now Jayapura) as a Dutch East Indies Army Signals Intelligence (Sigint) Officer.
We needed to know if Australia and the United States would support us (the Dutch Government) in bringing West Papua to independence.
As we learnt from our intelligence intercepts, the two countries pretended to support the Dutch but did not do so in practice.
I was working as a freshly minted E-Course teacher in the Sepik District when Rockefeller disappeared in 1961 and took a great interest in the case which, ultimately, took a more concrete form in 1962 when I was posted to Vanimo not far across the border from Hollandia.
As it happened, the Hollandia Yacht Club made occasional sailing excursions to Vanimo where I met them and discussed the still hot topic of Rockefeller’s disappearance.
The consensus of opinion reflected the findings of Carl Hoffman in his book Savage Harvest, recently reviewed by Keith Jackson. Rockefeller had been the victim of a cannibalistic ceremony.
In 1963 the United Nations handed over West Papua to Indonesian control. Sean Dorney’s excellent book, PNG - People, Politics and History, specifically Chapter 8, Irian Jaya, Border Trauma, neatly covers this period.
As a Financial Review review by Peter Ryan said, “This book deprives Australians of their best excuse for not knowing about what goes on in PNG.”
The Dutch policy had been to bring Papua to independence by the early 1970s and, hopefully, achieve socio-political integration with Papua New Guinea to form an economically viable entity.
Those Dutch officials I met in 1962 in Vanimo the following year were to soak their beautiful Yacht Club in gin, set it alight and burn it to the ground before they left to go home.
The West Papuans lost their country, their cultural identity and their freedom. And very few people today give a damn.
Michael Rockefeller would turn in his grave, except, he never got one; his restless spirit still hovers over the Asmat.
Unfortunately for the West Papuan people, socio-politically their circumstances have deteriorated significantly over the past 50 years.
The Australian military trains, and our government funds, the infamous ‘Section 88’ of the Kopasis elite Indonesian Army unit which operates under its own laws and ferociously hunts down, and deals with, suspected members of the Free Papua movement.
Having been born in Indonesia and subsequently spent 20 years in both west and east New Guinea (including closely contested border regions), I would comment that we seem to have learnt very little from the East-Timor saga.