ADELAIDE - Phil Fitzpatrick's article on migration to Australia (‘Are we in danger of being swamped by Papua New Guineans’) has certainly provoked great interest.
He touched a hot button issue in Australia, which constantly struggles to reconcile its better instincts about welcoming newcomers with its very worst instincts about fear of outsiders.
My own observation during a visit to Cairns last year was that there were surprisingly large numbers of people around who looked very much like Papua New Guineans.
They could well have been Torres Strait Islanders of course, but more than a few looked very much like the folk I worked with during my time at Kikori and Baimuru.
There was at least one family group who were instantly recognisable as being from Goabari Island. They have very distinctive facial features, unlike those of people living further to the east in the Gulf.
It is hardly surprising that people are moving across the porous border in the Torres Strait to find new opportunities for work in Australia. There are plenty of both push and pull incentives to do so.
I am also unsurprised that this may have gone largely unnoticed by the authorities. Their primary focus is elsewhere.
My suspicion is that the locals in places like Thursday Island are fully aware of people transiting Torres Strait.
After all, movements between PNG and the islands have been going on for millennia and probably account for Torres Strait islanders’ distinctive ethnic characteristics and culture which is quite unlike that of, for example, the Pitjantjatjara or Arunta or Ngarrindjeri living much further south.
With certain types of labour hard to come by, I would also suspect that people are quite willing to employ expatriate Papua New Guineans on an ‘ask no questions, hear no lies’ basis.
I am surprised that the Australian media have not done a bit of investigative journalism to find out how many Papua New Guinean ‘illegals’ are living in Far North Queensland.
That might give Pauline Hanson and her fellow travellers something else to panic about.