Australia’s Own History of Apartheid in PNG
Many of Australia’s colonial and post-colonial policies and practices are a major factor in the problems of Papua New Guinea today, and cause some Papua New Guinean leaders to have serious reservations about their Australian counterparts. That background needs to be understood in reading the excellent article by Chris Harries.
Despite being a colony from the 1890s, Australia ensured that Papua did not get its first high school until international pressure led to its opening in 1955. Very few others were built for a long time in a country of similar size and population to New Zealand.
Likewise for three generations nothing was done to develop Papua New Guinean leadership, in fact everything was done to block its development and ensure that leadership roles and responsibility were held by Australians and that there was no chance for the development of national consciousness or leadership.
I remember, in about 1964, being on a Qantas flight from Port Moresby to Brisbane seated across the aisle from a Papua New Guinean. It was the first time I had seen a Papua New Guinean on a flight to Australia. No one was seated next to him. The hostess gave everyone their meal except the Papua New Guinean. I assumed it was a simple oversight so asked her if she could please get his lunch, to which she replied with scorn, “We don’t feed natives”. I objected but she explained, “It’s company policy, we are not allowed to feed natives”. I took it up with the company and they confirmed that it was indeed their policy – on the advice of the Australian officials who “understood them”. That was consistent with their practices on many fronts.
About 1966 John Guise (later Sir John Guise, the first Governor General of Papua New Guinea) was then an elected member of the Legislative Assembly with the largest majority of any member, and he was Member for Agriculture (a prototype Minister for Agriculture in the lead-up to independence). He had been invited to study agriculture overseas with all costs paid and visited me to ask if I could help him in relation to the document he (and all Papua New Guineans) were required to fill in to seek approval to leave the country at any time for any purpose. It was an official form entitled “Application for Permission to Remove a Native”. The content was as bad as the title. Guise was offended and humiliated by it but was used to constant humiliation, of all Papua New Guineans, not only by officials personally but by the system as a matter of policy.
I was then Director of the New Guinea Research Unit, a facility of the Australian National University (now the National Research Institute) and knew Guise personally. I saw the Administrator, Mr David Hay, about it and told him I would take it up internationally if nothing was done: not only for Mr Guise but to do away with the document for everyone. Mr Hay was genuinely embarrassed by the system he was required by Canberra to administer and assured me he wished to have that document done away with and would act on it. He did get an improvement, but restrictions remained tight for years after.
Chris Kaputin was to be deported because she was white and dared to marry a Papua New Guinean, John Kaputin, now Sir John Kaputin, who later became for many years Minister for Foreign Affairs. Only an appeal to the United Nations stopped the deportation. But it did not stop the personal harassment they both suffered. Any government official who even dared to invite a Papua New Guinea woman to the cinema was whisked off to the most isolated part of the nation or deported back to Australia.
The Konedobu Club was the big club for civil servants at the government headquarters. When Julius Chan (now Sir Julius Chan, twice Prime Minister and a successful businessman and recently Chairman of the Pacific Plan) came back with a degree in commerce from Australia and was appointed to the civil service, he was banned from the Konedobu Club as no non-Whites were allowed. He soon left the service.
When the East West Center and the University of Hawaii began inviting Pacific Islanders from all over the Pacific to study there, with funds provided by the US government for the purpose, students from all islands attended – except from Papua New Guinea. The President of the East West Center told me personally that they wanted to include Papua New Guineans but had been requested by Australia not to do so. We then made unofficial arrangements to get the first two accepted despite the Australian blockage. For fear of international adverse publicity they were allowed to travel. It was a small breakthrough.
When the United Nations Trusteeship Mission issued a blistering critique of Australia for its constraints on education and training, among other things, (and that report was written by the Chairman of that Mission, Sir Hugh Foot, an Englishman and former British colonial governor), Australia could not get enough staff and had to advertise internationally, but it would only do so in White countries. Every applicant had to send a photo so that, as was confirmed to be by an Australian official in the selection process, all non-White applicants could be weeded out without declaring their racist policy.
And all this time Papuans were Australian citizens and had been since 1906, since Britain required that. Australia had made them citizens without consultation, but would not allow them to enter the country of which they had been made citizens, nor any of the rights of citizens, nor any citizenship of their own. When, in the 1960s, some Papuans who were part white Australian and part Papuan, asked to enter Australia, the country of which they were citizens, they were bluntly refused, as were all other Papua New Guineans.
My wife is a Cook Islander who had taught in New Zealand and Cook Islands schools and the Teachers College (and she taught at Port Moresby Teachers College). The first time she went to buy meat at the main Burns Philip shop in Port Moresby she was refused service. She came home in tears after being told that natives can only be served through the outside hatch. She had been in many countries but never treated like that. She never went back, but it was a small part of the accepted code of the Australian system in Papua New Guinea.
One could recount similar examples by the hundred. These were not isolated or atypical events but were rigorously implemented systematic policies. There were many people of good will and good intentions in the government service there. But their best intentions had to be fitted within the policy and practice of full Apartheid. Past misunderstandings can be overcome, and many on all sides are trying their best to do so. But any feeling in Australia that only Papua New Guineans caused the problems they suffer from can only be based on ignorance. The genuine efforts that one sees from many people of all ethnicities and persuasions will pay off in the long run, but it will require deep rethinking of the total relationship (not only between governments) and long-term commitment to contributing to a positive and productive future.
This article was written by the late Ron Crocombe and published on Onlineopinion.com.