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Papua: Maybe old Percy was right after all


Day I Have Loved I NEVER MET Percy Chatterton but I think, if the opportunity had presented itself, I might have walked away richer for the experience.

In the closing pages of his memoir, Day That I Loved, Chatterton says he had a temperamental liking for small things.  Among these he counted small cars that didn’t hog the road, small nations which didn’t become arrogant and small villages in which people didn’t become anonymous.

With respect to people, he avowed a preference for simple people who were not ostentatious, self assertive or pompous.  In short, he deplored the cult of bigness.

He came to Papua in 1924 as a missionary with the London Missionary Society and he died there sixty years later.  His preference for the small and the simple was, he says, fulfilled in his life in Papua.

In those closing pages he also lamented the fact that the Papua he came to love had been swallowed up by the dinosaur that became Papua New Guinea. 

He said he was quite sure that the amalgamation of the territories of Papua and New Guinea after the war in 1945 did more harm than good to Papua.

He saw what happened in 1945 as not so much a merger of two territories as a takeover of Papua by New Guinea. 

He also pointed to the politics of the World Bank, that Australia so slavishly followed, which neglected areas of low economic potential like Papua in favour of go-ahead places like New Guinea.

Chatterton thought it would have been much better if each territory had been brought separately to independence.  Once independent, they could have negotiated with each other on equal terms for a merger if they wanted one.

He believed that if this had been done the relationship between the peoples of Papua and New Guinea would have been very much happier than it has been in a partnership imposed on them willy-nilly by Australian colonialism.

He continued by explaining that the only unity worth having is the unity of people who come together because they want to come together, and stay together because they want to stay together. 

A unity imposed by the arrogant on the unwilling is all too likely to end in disaster and misery for the people upon whom it is imposed.

While he was a supporter of Josephine Abaijah and Papua Besena (“the Papuan tribe”) he thought that by the 1970s Papua and New Guinea had been united too long to be successfully prised apart.

Instead, he suggested to the Constitutional Planning Committee the setting up of five popularly elected provincial assemblies: Papua, Highlands, New Guinea Mainland, New Guinea Islands and Bougainville. 

He was alarmed when the committee came up with the idea of nineteen separate provincial governments.  He saw this as unnecessary fragmentation reinforcing difference rather than unity.

Percy was a very astute bloke and it might be that he was also prescient.  We now have an autonomous Bougainville and a Papua agitating for the same thing.  Time will tell.  It’s a pity no one listened to old Percy in the first place.


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Reginald Renagi

If PNG Attitude did some of its own research on why a good portion of Papuans in recent years still claim they are Australian citizens, they could find they are in some sort of a 'delayed' shock.

Why hasn't this issue being known or widely discussed between Australia and PNG in the past 35 years, until now?

Good question with many answers.

I start here with the bold assertion that Papuans (in today's PNG) were clearly deprived of their Australian citizenship by Gough Whitlam and his Labor government in 1975.

Because many Papuans are now aware of this in recent times, there is more media controversy and news items will abound in the next months until the 2012 polls.

When you look at this issue from several different angles, it still comes down to possibly the biggest Australian government strategic blunder since WW2.

As it is now, there is a growing groundswell of Papuan sentiments with more Papuan boatloads heading for Queensland in the years to come.

Maybe this is a good thing for Papuans at long last.

Papuans are getting the media exposure they need now in Australia after many years of their plight being ignored by both Australia and PNG.

Reginald Renagi

Henry and Phil - This Papuan issue is now a hot topic. A good discussion is going on right now on Malum Nalu's Facebook. See comments from yours truly there.

Check also my Facebook pages for other hot topics posted in recent weeks.

I plan to soon launch my website/blogside to get many young PNGeans to discuss issues they may not comfortable about discussing openly on PNG Attitude.

This may bring out more opinions of PNGeans in many public policy areas that the PNG government are not really addressing for three decades.

Henry, I will exchange with you some good ideas now that I have your email.

Finally, to Keith Jackson and all my PNG Attitude friends, here's wishing you all a great New Year celebrations. Cheers!

Ed Brumby

Percy Chatterton was an example to us all: living frugally and colloquially among his Papuan flock at Kaugere, he was, as pastor and politician, a man of integrity, sincerity and humility - qualities that are sadly lacking among today's crop of lawmakers, be they Papua New Guinean or Australian.

One of my favourite memories of him was his opening remark after receiving an honorary doctorate at the graduation ceremony of UPNG in March 1973 in which he declared that he was quite undeserving of the honour because he was 'neither black nor beautiful' ....

Reginald Renagi

Henry - Thanks for your comments. I nearly missed it as it was right at the bottom.

I just got back from a two-hour meeting with the Governor of Western Province, Dr Bob Danaya. Bob and I talked about many Papua-related issues.

One hot issue this week is about recently stranded Papuans in Daru.

This present situation is a direct result of some Papuans accused of illegal border crossing into Australia being taken back to Daru from Horn Island (Thursday Island) by Australian Customs & Immigration.

Technically, this was a wrong action by the Australian authorities as they crossed into Australian terriory.

Hence, these border crossers should have been taken to the nearest magistrate's court, like Cairns for instance, for the normal legal proceedings to take its course - not left stranded at Daru.

Henry Sims

Reg - Whilst I feel that running away to Australia is not the correct response from Papuans, those early dissidents who were sent back to PNG, have surely been discriminated against when compared to the many Muslim illegals who flood our shores and stay on as a burden to our society (and are keen to change our slack way of life).

May I suggest your people stay in place and fix the problem by not running away from it. If you feel that taking the lead in this political mess is dangerous to self, gather the Motuans together and give tasks to those supposed raskals.

Unite your people by developing a common goal acceptable to them and achievable in small steps.

Have a look at what was said by notables like Percy Chatterbox and select from these the best ideas for going forward. But you must do it for yourselves, we cannot really advise you, nor deign to know best.

We look forward to your success. Go for it

I would love to hear from you, personally. If you are so inclined, try me at simshc@bigpond.net.au

Phil Fitzpatrick

You could set up Papua as a separate autonomous state along with the other regions suggested by Percy and still retain the provinces as internal divisions.

As I see it there will probably be more provinces set up as the warlords proliferate causing further fragmentation in PNG.

The danger of setting up states is that you are creating another tier of government and another tier of potential corruption.

In Australia there is a small but interesting lobby group advocating the abolishment of the states on the grounds that we are over-governed and that communications are such these days as to make government from the centre more efficient.

There is also a movement that way in the standardisation of education, road rules etc. Communication in PNG is probably always going to be problematic however and that argument is not really relevant.

In an autonomous Papuan state you would not really need to worry about what is going on in the other states with regard to corruption etc.

It will be interesting to watch Bougainville. They are presently talking about re-opening the mine at Panguna so they can base their economy on the royalties.

The problems there, of course, are the Chinese interest and the fact that PNG is hanging on to its 19% equity in the mine. Papua would need a similar economic base to succeed I think.

Percy also had some interesting thoughts on the 'Melanesian Way' which are still relevant. He thought the stop - start rhythm of traditional Melanesian activity didn't lend itself well to the timed and regular regimes required in a capitalist society and would need to be modified to cope.

Reginald Renagi

Henry: the present political system has been corrupted by the current crop of 'pollies' themselves.

The solution will be to not vote any of the present MPs (well may be only a handful slightly good ones) back again in the 2012 elections.

Restructure the whole administration so the country is governed in a federal system, with just four regional state governments.

Each state regional government will have its own budget to run its region.

PNG will only have a small, but effecient central government in Waigani (much like the ACT, 6 states & a territory set up in Australia)

Reginald Renagi

There are many Papuans today who now do not have any confident at all in the government, and continued leadership of Michael Somare (and his NA cohorts).

After 35 years of Independence, many Papuans now want to see Papua attain autonomy.

There is now a growing sentiment in all five Papuan provinces in recent years for the Papuan people wanting their own regional state government.

Papuans now want their own leaders to be responsible for looking after their own future and destiny; separate from New Guinea - the northern region.

Papua Mero Tauna

Talk to any Papuan in PNG or abroad today and you will get this response: unless you are a true Papuan then you will never understand why we are doing this.

No, it's not all about getting Australian citizenship.

Its more than that.

Papuans ...today are very concerned about the way PNG has turned out and they have not really benefitted from the efforts of successive governments since Independence.

If you see what is happening now in our capital city, Port Moresby, then you would come of with some of the reasons why the majority of Papuans do not see a bright future for their children & grand children suffering from these unacceptable conditions; and being governed by non-Papuans.

Reginald Renagi

The issue of Papua is a long outstanding one.

The recent boat landings in the north of Australia last week by PNG people from Daru will not be the last time.

There will be many more coming to Austrlia in future.

As present conditions for Papuans living in PNG today becomes increasingly intolerable under successive PNG governments for many years, more boat incidents by Papuans will recurr.

Papuans are great seafarers.

The 150 kilometers open ocean passage between the Western province of PNG and landing on any part of cape York peninsular, Australia will be a great challenge if not an adventure for many Papuans.

They will do this as they seek a more improved standard and quality of life, than what its corrupt government can give them today.

Reginald Renagi

Barbara, Percy Chatterton was my first LMS missionary teacher at the old LMS Church (now United Church) in Koki, while growing up in the 1950s/60s.

Percy is one of the most famous and early Papuan politicians who previously taught many Papuans who later took up senior positions in the government, and military in later years.

Percy was a great educationist later MP, who could converse with the Papuans in Cenntral province in fluent 'Roro' (Kairuku) and Hiri Motu.

He knew how to get his message across to the congregation or class using very simplistic ways whether he was explaining the good news, or an english class to a group of youngsters sitting on the floor writing on hard black slates.

I feel nostalgic just recollecting this early educational experience for me under such great and much-reverred man as Percey Chatterton of Papua; in what we have in schools today.

Richard  Jones

I too remember Percy, a prolific correspondent to the South Pacific Post and later the Post-Courier Letters to the Editor columns.

I seem to remember he lived in the Kila Kila-Kaugere area of Moresby, but maybe that's where he had his ministry. He lived very simply with no expat trimmings, befitting someone from the London Missionary Society.

Anyway, I met him several times during my 13 years of life in and around Moresby. And he was a fervent supporter of the Papua Besena movement as I recall it.

Incidentally those of us linked to the Post-Courier used to refer to him as "Percy Chatterbox" - not in a disparaging way, but merely to underline his keen work with his pen and note paper!

Henry Sims

So here is the answer to a question of myself: What is it that fascinates me about "Attitude" and PNG?

Spread throughout the miles of words, come pearls such as this article which mentions Percy Chatterton, and immediately my passion is again whetted.

So frequently I feel frustrated at the problems facing this child nation and the inability of myself as an individual to improve matters, then along comes wisdom from others considered as "experts", with which I fully concur.

Also it comes as a shock to learn that I qualify as "Papua Besena".

Unwittingly, I was a 21 year old, apolitical "Territorian", when living in Moresby during the six years leading to Independence, and I can remember hearing Percy as a guest speaker at some dinner or other.

No doubt, he was all for the development of the nation and our role in preparing the nationals to administer themselves, but then I was just a lad, more interested in booze and the exotic life.

Over the many years since, I have reduced the alcohol intake and increased my interest in things PNG.

I await with interest the emergence of the real Papua Besena to see if they can do better for the nation, than what it seems is being done, today.

Hurry up Reg and Benjamin, I am getting excited for the possibility of a better future for you all.

Barbara Short

I believe I met Percy Chatterton at the home of Bill Carter (Posts and Telegraph) in Moresby back in 1969. He was there with a number of old timers". They made a strong impression on me.

They were older people who understood so much about the country and were quietly spoken and by just sitting quietly and listening to them discuss the country and its future, I learnt a lot.

Life was very different then in Papua.

My first post as a teacher was in the Sepik in 1971 and I came to know Michael Somare. Les Johnson and his "trainee politicians" visited Brandi High for a Question and Answer time. Things were about to change rapidly.

Later I taught at Keravat National High for seven years and Manggai High on New Ireland for two years. So I really came to know the New Guinea coastal side quite well.

Since returning home to Sydney I have been fortunate to come to know some very fine Papuan people.

The great need in PNG today, as I see it, is to get a good balance between the various "provincial groups" when it comes to sharing the running of the country. It is not good when one provincial group seems to dominate.

Maybe some rules need to be introduced into the Constitution to bring about more fairness.

The Papuans I have come to know are very level headed, thoughful people, who want justice. It is a pity that some of them seem to think that the only way they can find justice is to flee PNG.

In the end, what they have to offer PNG will be very important for its future.

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