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16 July 2017


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The Australian National University is probably the only university in Australia where there is a nominal interest in PNG. Just about everything published post-independence comes out of there. They were the only ones interested in publishing my own book, Bamahuta:Leaving Papua, and that was a pre-independence account.

It all dries up in the other universities. When you go below that to the high schools it is virtually non-existent. To get PNG on the radar that's where the efforts should be concentrated. Every high school should have something in its curricula about the Pacific, including PNG.

As for the politicians and the media, they won't notice PNG until it becomes of interest to the general Australian people who vote and read newspapers and watch television.

Paul, there is one thing that I think can be done to push more knowledge about PNG into Australia - and into PNG itself, for that matter. Namely, there is a need to constantly "bang the drum" about the Wikipedia.

Most people - both young and old - these days start off their research on any topic by looking it up on Wikipedia. Even when deeper research is required, the Wikipedia is still the starting point, as the list of sources on any good article will point the reader towards any number of books.

Journalists are no exception to using Wikipedia. So, one additional reason for Australian journalists to largely neglect PNG is because they can't quickly obtain basic information about PNG politics.

Most Wikipedia articles about PNG politics, recent events, its parties, its prominent politicians, are short, incomplete, or in some cases simply non-existent.

It doesn't help that to an outsider, PNG politics seems confusing and nonsensical - you have twenty or more political parties to look at, and for most of them, there isn't even a hint of what their policies are (of course, in many cases that's because they have none).

There's also precious little information about the actions and outcomes of the various government cabinets PNG has had since independence. And - in exact opposition to the book sources I mentioned - there's next to nothing about pre-independence PNG.

This is not something any one person can do. But anyone can edit the Wikipedia. Anyone can add anything, whether it's a huge complete article, or the tiny modification of two or three words in an existing article. And certainly, there's more than enough able twenty-somethings in PNG who could do it.

Then there's others - people from your or my generations, who may not have time to do anything substantial, but certainly can add something.

Every addition, however small, would be an improvement on the accessibility of knowledge about PNG. It's not about anyone making a huge time commitment, but it is about encouraging everyone who can to make small commitments.

A website like PNG Attitude, I think, is really well positioned to issue a "call to arms" about this. To challenge friends of PNG, and PNG citizens, to add something and in so doing, help everyone better understand the country. What do you think?

Very interesting reflection thanks Jakub.

I understand that there is not much if anything about pre independent PNG taught in PNG schools. This is possibly and understandably due to a political point of view rather than an interest in the historical perspective.

In Australia, I and others have albeit been unsuccessfully trying to raise PNG's profile and to get PNG's shared history and languages included in the Australian school curriculum. I have met with nothing but obfuscation and just downright political brick walls.

If we and others like can work together to capture PNG's unique history and her shared history with her neighbours, surely that might be be something worthwhile.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

I believe I can shed some light on why the Australian media doesn't properly report on PNG.

I'm a PhD student and lecturer at a Bond University in Australia. Having spent most of the 1990s attending high school in PNG, I still follow PNG affairs, and greatly enjoy learning more about the country.

In fact, since coming back to university for my PhD, I've been really excited to find many books about PNG history in my university's library. It's very interesting to read about pre-colonial PNG, and the German & Australian eras, and the road to independence.

I have learned more about PNG history in the last year than I ever did while in high school in PNG (I do wonder what I would have learned had I been in a public high school instead of an international private school).

But reading between the lines of the above comment, you should be getting an inkling of a problem I'm hinting at. All those books are about PNG history. Almost all the literature ends in 1975. There's just a few books that discuss PNG history and politics since then, along with a few videos documenting Bougainville.

These sources just don't go into much detail. There aren't any books that try to address pointed and difficult questions about the instability of the political system. PNG is only relevant as a recipient of Australian aid, and even then, it's seemingly not relevant enough to investigate in depth.

In our very well-regarded program of International Relations, we also do not have on offer any subject that would concentrate on the Pacific in general, and certainly not on PNG in particular.

Now, this situation could be dismissed as unrepresentative - Bond is, after all, just one university, and it's a small private university at that. But it is a well-regarded university, with a well-regarded IR program, so it's certainly not so completely unrepresentative.

And I think if we looked at other Australian universities, we would find a similar situation - some may have a bit more literature on PNG, and some may even offer courses about Australia's Pacific neighbourhood, but for the most part, they will concentrate on other parts of the world that, inexplicably, are considered more relevant to Australia's present and future than a growing and unstable nation next door, which happens to have once been a part of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Australian media, like the Australian foreign service, obviously all come from somewhere. They come from universities - Australian universities, the ones that provide their students with limited opportunity, and even more limited motivations to learn about PNG.

The one question remaining, at the end of the day, is the chicken-and-egg question: is PNG irrelevant to Australia because Australians don't learn about PNG, or do they not learn about it because they don't consider it relevant? And what will it take to change this situation?

What would induce Australia to consider PNG as sufficiently relevant to become a discussion point again, as it had once been pre-independence? Even Manus seems not to have achieved anything in this regard...

Sorry Jason but as one who was involved in PNG in various roles from 1964 to 2008, I am afraid that Paul is much closer to the real causes of the dilemma in his comments than you are.

Touche Jason.

It doesn't take blind Freddy to work out where the alleged millions have gone.

Take a look at the following website just for starters.

I assume you suggest this type of information is mere smoke and mirrors and has no basis in fact?

My objective was to raise the matter in the media and therefore with political leaders to achieve some responsibility and accountability.

What's your answer to the recognised problem?

"Rowan Callick’s recent article effectively does cover why things have gone the way they have but leaves a gap as to why."

A gap this comment from Paul Oates also leaves mysteriously open.

Apparently the billions that have been ripped off from PNG in resources are not obvious enough for even learned commentators to identify.

Australia, of course, would have to admit to its own resource curse before it could do anything effective for addressing the same problem in PNG.

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