BY PHILIP FITZPATRICK
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.