TUMBY BAY - My first reaction to the unusual interest shown in my article about Australia being swamped by Papua New Guineans (which had reached 984 ‘likes’ this mornng) was that I had inadvertently alerted Australia’s hard-right nationalists to another group of innocent people to whom they could direct their hubris.
That didn’t make a lot of sense, however, they weren’t the sort of people who read PNG Attitude.
Perhaps I’d just tapped into the paranoia about refugees and people who don’t look like us that our conservative governments have been carefully cultivating since the Howard years.
No, they weren’t PNG Attitude readers either.
If the answer lies within the community of PNG Attitude readers then, what would pique their interest about this story so much? What distinguishes them that they would find so fascinating something I wrote as an essentially speculative piece?
I’m guessing that most of the Australian readers of the blog are people who have had some sort of personal exposure to Papua New Guinea, either in the past or currently.
They would, therefore, be very much aware that the years of the O’Neill government have brought unprecedented levels of suffering to the people of Papua New Guinea.
The idea that the situation has got so bad that people in PNG might be contemplating fleeing their country would indicate that a crisis point has been reached. That would create great concern.
The same idea might also be in play on the PNG side. Most of the Papua New Guinean readers of PNG Attitude, I would assume, are people with a relatively high level of education.
Maybe they are thinking about the options available to them should things not improve or, heaven forbid, get worse.
If they were already thinking along these lines then the article might have given them pause for thought.
Maybe some of them have been reading the alarmist nonsense circulating in the Australian media and parliament about Chinese expansionism in the South Pacific.
Perhaps they can imagine a PNG under communist control in a kind of modern version of the Yellow Peril, the theory that still influences Australia today that they need to be careful of an Asian takeover.
That Papua New Guineans would be joining in that alarm, of course, is not just speculative, but wildly so.
I was thinking about these possibilities when I ran into Ben, who comes from Daru and is the chef at the Tumby Bay Hotel. I was walking our dogs along the esplanade and Ben was pushing his youngest daughter along in a pusher.
He’s been in Australia since he was a lad but, as he explained, when the urge takes him he goes back home to visit his relatives and sink his toes into the Fly River mud.
That’s the difference, I thought. Papua New Guineans might come to live in Australia and even take Australian citizenship but most of them make a point of keeping in touch with their roots.
They are not people who are inclined to break all their ties and pack up and move here, even if the opportunity presents itself. They would, as most of the Papua New Guinean diaspora do, live in both countries.
Someone on Twitter expressed surprise that there weren’t more Papua New Guineans living in Australia. The figures, although climbing, are still very low. There are more Nepalese from up in the Himalayas living in Australia, as Peter Kranz has pointed out.
So maybe that’s the answer to the question I asked in the article – we are not in any danger of being swamped by Papua New Guineans any time soon, no matter how bad it gets in PNG.
Unfortunately, if that’s the answer to my original question, it still doesn’t explain why the article generated so much interest.
Maybe I just sparked a fear among Papua New Guineans living in Australia that they were about to be overrun by wantoks?
Then again, maybe it was just the absurdity of the proposition I made in the first place – that Ausralia might be swamped by Papua New Guineans.
I've been caught like that before.