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02 June 2018


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Phil, there are at least two Papua New Guineans in Ireland that I know. One man, from Chimbu, is on the staff of University College Dublin, and a lady from WHP/Madang a former teacher in PNG is married and working in Belfast. I knew a Papuan lady married in Dublin but the family recently moved to Australia. The Chimbu man was able to drive me through the back streets of Dublin as if he had lived there all his life, - he is an expert on the trees of Dublin City. There may be others from PNG who are studying here, and others working and living that I am not aware of. There are many former volunteers (VSO, etc) who have worked in PNG and have happy memories of it. Ireland is becoming more multicultural. Years ago if I was given two names, Varadkar, and O’Neill, and asked to guess which would become Prime Minister of PNG and which would become Prime Minister (Taoiseach) of Ireland, I would have said O’Neill for Ireland and maybe Varadkar for PNG. Currently the PM in Ireland is Leo Varadkar, whose father comes from Mumbai, India and mother from Waterford, Ireland. And O’Neill as we know is PM in PNG.

Are there any Papua New Guineans in Ireland, Garry? You can't be truly multicultural unless you've got a couple of them there. Ireland would be a natural fit I imagine.

So what are you doing over there and when are you coming back?

Ever since you moved I've been puzzled at why the church would shift someone with your vast experience and knowledge.

Is the church cooking up some sort of PNG program and need you to advise them?

Phil, the PNG people that I know personally and have recently moved to Australia were all well educated, had jobs in PNG, but also in most cases had contacts in Australia, either through family or work.

I guess that word-of-mouth communication of good living conditions in Australia may be part of the reason why people move.

Some people surprised me by their move to Australia, - but then I am in no position to be critical - myself being back in Ireland at present. Ireland also is much more multicultural then it used to be.

Apart from drugs and guns there's a free-flow of Papua New Guineans through the Torres Strait.

We've been pointing this out for years on PNG Attitude but it just falls on deaf ears.

I bet if you'd asked those people about their passports they would have run a mile Paul.

I've spoken to lots of Papua New Guineans who have been 'on holiday' to Australia via Torres Strait under the radar. A few have actually flown in to remote airstrips.

Such visitors don't actually worry me because I know they'll eventually go home. It's some of the stuff they bring with them that is a concern. Not so much the dope they bring to fund their holiday but other stuff like drug resistant TB.

Over the last few years in our rural town I have found a number of PNG people who appear seemingly out of nowhere. When I strike up a conversation with them they all say they are either looking for work or just taking a holiday.

Of course, 'Wok na ple liklik' could mean anything once we start discussing what work they are looking for? Most seem to be Highlanders who also seem to be rather apprehensive when we talk about how they came to be in Australia. They also don't seem to stay in town long.

My first reaction to the unusual interest shown in my article about Australia being swamped by Papua New Guineans was that I had inadvertently alerted our 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 with PNG Attitude readers then what would pique their interest so much? What distinguishes them that they would find something that was essentially a speculative piece so fascinating?

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 Papua New Guinea 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 Papua New Guinean 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 alarmism circulating in the media and the Australian parliament about Chinese expansionism in the South Pacific. Perhaps they can imagine a Papua New Guinea under Communist control in a kind of modern version of the Yellow Peril. That, 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 he was pushing his youngest daughter along in her 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 out 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 presented 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 strangely low. There are more Nepalese from 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 up there.

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 here that they were about to be overrun by wantoks?

Then again, maybe it was just the absurdity of the proposition. I've been caught like that before.

Interesting article.

Another scale that we can use is the NRL. When we see more PNG people playing then we can draw the conclusion that there is an increase in the number of PNG people living in Australia.

At the moment, the game is dominated by the Polynesians. Thus, the perception in PNG (at least from where I live) is that Australia is now dominated or populated by people of Tongan or Samoan heritage.

Every weekend when I put my TV screen out for people in my street to watch the NRL. They ask where this and that player is from. Are they from Samoa or Tonga? Are they Maori or from the Cook Islands?

I make it my business to find out where someone of these Polynesian players are from so I can share that information with my neighbours and boys from the street.

My viewers like watching the PNG Hunters away matches in Brisbane or other parts of Queensland because they get to see other PNGeans living in Queensland.

Phil's article has certainly provoked interest. He has touched a hot button issue in Australia, which constantly struggles to reconcile its better instincts about welcoming new comers with its very worst instincts about fear of the other.

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 very porous borders in the Torres Strait to find new opportunities for work. 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 at 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 the 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 being hard to come by, I would also suspect that people will be quite willing to employ expatriate Papua New Guineans on an "ask no questions, hear no lies" basis.

I am surprised that the local media have not done a bit of investigative journalism to find out how many Papua New Guinean "illegals" are living in FNQ.

That might give Pauline Hanson et al something else to panic about.

Sadly, a lot of well educated PNG people are tired of this continual struggle to get well educated and trustworthy people elected to the parliament in PNG.

Hence, many have told me they would love to move to Australia where they feel everything runs well.

Little do they realize that there is this constant debate going on in Australia to work out what should be happening in Australia.

Yes, the interest is there, especially among young people who would like to leave PNG for one reason or another and come and live in Australia.

I would be interested to know how many live in the Cairns area. Surely the Council would have some figures. I know my old timer Cairns friends, now in their 90s, are commenting about the influx of PNG people to the area.

I'd be interested to know what other statistics are available Barbara. Beyond the 2016 Australian Census I couldn't find much at all.

I am curious about the interest it has sparked however. I'm still trying to process what this means.

I also searched for more statistics before publishing Phil's commentary. They are not available, publicly anyway.

And what does the massive response mean (nearly 600 likes and still counting)? A compelling headline and an even more compelling story that has gained notoriety on Facebook and Twitter, attracting people to the blog as a magnet attracts iron filings - KJ

Phil, this article is now doing the rounds on Facebook... I just read one comment you would enjoy..."Bro it's a poorly researched article. A smart Grade 12 Papua New Guinean can write a better piece than this writer backed up with data and statistics as opposed to a poorly opinionated statement."

Em tasol Phil. Yu tok stret ia. As blong toktok blong mi em olsem.

That's it Phil. You've said it in one. That's exactly the point I was making.

I think that many of the migrants who have come to Australia have either tried and failed to improve conditions in their home country or are among the vast majority of us anywhere who just don't have the power or influence to change anything.

I'm not sure I agree wholly with the proposition that migrants shouldn't replicate their old cultures in their adopted homeland either. A diversity of cultures is what makes Australia what it is today, after all.

I think what you are getting at is the introduction of what are considered unsavoury and dangerous aspects of their cultures. I'm not sure that many migrants arrive with that intention anyway. Many of them are, in fact, trying to escape those aspects.

In any event, what seems to happen is that the children of migrants turn into everyday Aussies very quickly. This is why it's silly to expect new migrants and refugees to quickly learn English - leave the parents alone and concentrate on the kids.

Like most things it is a tiny minority that gives migrants and refugees a bad name.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

There is only one race and that's the human race. There were many pre-humans that predated us as modern humans (i.e. Cro-Magnons, in Europe referred to as Neanderthals).

You can visit the Neanderthal Museum near Dusseldorf in Germany and see their remains. As many as 4% of some modern Europeans have Neanderthal genes in their make up.

Yet there are many people who declare this never happened. Professor Richard Dawkins maintains as much as 36% of the USA believes in Creationism and believe people and dinosaurs co-existed.

The essence of the problems of co-existence is one of differentiation in culture, wealth and custom. It's easy to draw the line when there is an obvious difference in appearance.

Those who maintained that Darwin and Wallace were wrong in their documented theories of evolution will never admit the world wasn't created in 4004 BC.

Many have however rightly postulated that when emigrants travel to a different culture and country because they want a better life, they perhaps should first try and improve the one they already have or not try to set up the same culture they moved away from when they arrive in their adopted land.

That's not to say however, cultural links are not very important and should be preserved.

Over 200 years ago, Australia was not as it is now. It took a hell of a lot of hard work to get to where we are now and could very easily be undone when people become lazy and uncaring about what our ancestors achieved in the past.

Brain drain is indeed bad for PNG and the PNG government needs to do something to minimise its impact. Perhaps, adjust salary and remuneration packages for PNG expats to be at par with any other expats.

So doing may attract overseas based PNG citizens to return to their homeland for work.

On the subject of PNGians swamping Australia as refugees, I bet it would be an interesting topic for oliticians on both sides of the Coral Sea to chew over.

It may happen sooner rather than later given PNG is going from bad to worse economically.

Papua New Guinean residing in Australia add much more to the country's prosperity and development than many of the so-called refugees from other countries now accepted as permanent residents.

That’s a concise comment Allyn but I think it requires a more substantive response. First your use of the word “so-called” implies there is something dubious about these people's standing as refugees.

With your long and distinguished background in government service you would know that the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person who has fled their country because of a well-founded fears of persecution which are tested by a rigorous and internationally accepted screening process (Australia has added even more testing steps to this for arrivals by boat).

On the economic contribution of refugees (an under-researched issue globally but now becoming better understood), a report prepared for the federal government concluded that the over 800,000 refugees and displaced persons settled in Australia since 1945 “have had a profound impact in enhancing the nation’s social, cultural and economic life."

This report, ‘Economic, civic and social contributions of refugees and humanitarian entrants’ can be found here -

In economic terms, 21% of refugees get their main income from their own business, a proportion much higher than for any other migration category. This is borne out by US research showing that over time humanitarian entrants tend to have higher human capital investment than other migrants.

A study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that, far from being a burden on Australia, these people are amongst our most successful: “Humanitarian migrants displayed greater entrepreneurial qualities and reported a higher proportion of income from their own unincorporated businesses and this income increased sharply after five years of residency” - KJ

Being swamped by Papua New Guineans might not be a bad thing Peter. Maybe one day it will be commonplace for Australians and Papua New Guineans to move back and forth between their two countries freely - just like the denizens of Oz and Kiwiland do now.

Our indigenous Australians are migrants too. They arrived in waves starting back 65,000 odd years. You can still see people from an earlier wave, the heavyset Western Desert mob and a later wave, the finer featured people of the east coast.

If you believe the anthropologist Norman Tindale there were even people here before them - the remnants once living in Tasmania and the Queensland rain forests. He called them Negritos.

Some dear readers may take the bait and not realise that Phil's comment about being 'swamped' by those perfidious Papua New Guineans is an ironic reference to Pauline Hanson's comments that Australia is being swamped by Asians, later modified to being swamped by Muslims.

Also wasn't PNG first 'swamped' by Australians? Maybe the favour is being returned.

The census helpfully reveals that there are more people in Australia from Nepal and Iran than PNG. In fact apart from indigenous people, we all came from somewhere else.

I think it is wonderful to have more PNG people in Sydney. Lovely to have reached the stage where a group of PNG students can come and visit me and we can discuss how to raise some money for the earthquake victims and the Kadovar victims in PNG.

Much as I am sad when I see a "brain drain" from PNG I also think it is good for Australians to meet up with PNG people and get to know them. Slowly Australian people will come to know a little about PNG instead of looking at you blankly when you mention the name PNG.

Hopefully more PNG people will come as tourists. Hopefully they will visit Canberra and sit and watch our democracy in action.

Recent events in PNG, with the rise of a true Opposition, are great to see. I'm sure that the more PNG people can visit Australia the more they will learn things that they can take back and put to good use in their country.

Sadly some PNG people still feel they have to send their children down to Australia for their education. Hopefully the schools of PNG will raise their standards and this will no longer happen.

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