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« Mother Earth | Main | Papua New Guinea desperately needs a new leader »

22 April 2019


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Chris Overland

Yes Phil, I am sure you are right.

Gordon really set the pattern I think. As I recall, he learnt to speak Fijian, freely fraternised with the local population and insisted on regular patrolling.

Also, because Britain was invited by the Fijian Chiefs to take on ruling Fiji as a Protectorate, I think that he viewed his role as being to literally protect their interests.

He therefore was quite unwilling to act as an agent for those who merely wished to exploit the Fijians and their land.

As you have said, McGregor transplanted the same attitude into Papua and the redoubtable Hubert Murray thoroughly entrenched it in the policy and legal framework of what eventually became the TPNG that we knew.

I think that modern day Papua New Guineans could do worse than erect statues in honour of McGregor and Murray respectively.

They were arguably the most important reason that PNG did not suffer the same appalling exploitation and violence as, say, the South Africans or the Aboriginals.

I guess that the modern historic revisionism which insists that all colonial regimes were irredeemable bad effectively precludes recognising people like McGregor and Murray for the humanitarianism that they brought to what was, inevitably, a paternalistic and authoritarian regime.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It might have had something to do with William MacGregor Chris.

He had spent 13 years in Fiji before becoming the Administrator of British New Guinea in 1888 and would have been aware of the concept of communal land ownership. While he was in Fiji he would also have observed the humanitarian paternalism of his friend, the Governor Arthur Gordon.

When Australia took over British New Guinea the new Administrator Hubert Murray followed MacGregor's lead.

With regard to the wider Pacific Fiji, as a large colony, tended to set the pace, at least in the British colonies.

So maybe the relatively benign Pacific experience of colonialism is down to those three men, Gordon, MacGregor and Murray.

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