Go Pinis

Go Pinis

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Tan Dan

Am aware that the whole cooking naked thing has a few of you alarmed so would like to reassure you that the arrival of freelance journalist and English emissary Dan Box has helped introduce some civility into haus bilong mi.

As I write he has just burnt our dinner (all he had to do was reheat the soup), but really he is quite a good cook. In fact we've eaten quite well – Steakfest '09, Prawnfest '09 and a hearty cooked breakfast that featured bacon marinated in molasses. Yes, I have molasses. No, I don't know where it came from.

Dan is here to record a couple of stories on the plight of the Carteret Islanders, whose land is slowly sinking and being eroded by the Pacific Ocean. Their story has received quite a lot of coverage due to the links with Climate Change (more severe weather patterns), and some are watching to see what lessons can be learned from Bougainville's efforts to relocate them onto the mainland. If you are interested Dan has a blog: http://journeytothesinkinglands.wordpress.com/

It's been great having him here, had some great debates on the deck and will always remember his Sea Snake Self-Defence Technique™. All the best mate.


The week beginning 4 May was a big week for me. It was a week of first times:

  • I was criticised on the radio
  • I was interviewed on the radio
  • I briefed a President
  • I briefed Cabinet, and
  • I cooked naked.

I'm quite proud of this. Ignoring the signs that I am going feral without a flatmate, things are looking up :)

Highlight was probably the radio. Story with that – some git came up from Arawa and falsely reported facts concerning a public forum I ran in Arawa, the former capital of Bougainville. Fortunately for me, I'm friends with the lads down at Radio Bougainville, so I went down there and (diplomatically) gave them an ear full. They in turn politely requested to interview me about the forums, to which I consented.

One of the projects I am working on at the moment requires that we conduct public forums on restoration and development across Bougainville. This is pretty important, as it provides the public with an opportunity to send a message to the politicians. Furthermore, there are big differences in development across the regions, and I am hoping the forums will identify those differences. That should result in more informed planning of the delivery of services…I hope. At a minimum the politicians will be better informed come budget time.

The bonus is that I am getting a chance to see Bougainville. Two forums have been conducted so far, one in Arawa and one in Buin, the 'urban' centre for southern Bougainville. I was very lucky to go on that trip, not many volunteers get to go down there, but it really opened my eyes to the challenges facing development in that region. Fighting is still ongoing, albeit on a small scale, and the police face significant challenges in imposing law and order…and that's just one of the issues they are grappling with down there. Conversely, Arawa is much more settled yet seems stuck in time. It is noticeably different to Buin; it is safe for women to move around at night and there is a lot more economic activity. Arawa still has a long way to go but at least it is further along the line than it's southern neighbour.

The upswing of all this so far is I am starting to pull together the key themes for each region. I will talk more about that once the forums are completed, but I'm happy to say that I managed to get several key messages across in my radio interview and they have now been broadcast. Hopefully the participants at the forums will feel reassured that we are listening when they talk.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bare Bones and Broken Earth

There is a place in central Bougainville called Panguna. It sits high in the mountains, a valley surrounded by rainforest and shrouded in mist.

Once upon a time, that's all there was. But a significant deposit of copper was discovered there, and one of the largest open cast copper mines in the world was excavated. It is said that the mine is so deep that it's base is below sea level. The volume of rubble, or tailings, removed from the ground was so large that they were slowly filling a valley from the bottom to the top, a man made plain in the middle of a mountain range. They hoped to build an international airport on it once enough of the valley was filled.

The relative impact on Bougainville was just as big. Arawa, the old capital city for the former province, was a plantation before the mine was opened. However, they needed a town to support the workforce, so an entire town was constructed.

The local workforce could not of course provide the depth and breadth of skills required for such a project, so soon a large community of PNG nationals and foreigners moved in. That workforce wished to be serviced by high quality health and education facilities, so the community was supported by the best health care in Papua New Guinea and the schools were also of a high standard.

Then there were the returns on the profits. Panguna mine accounted for approximately 45% of Papua New Guinea's Gross Domestic Product at its peak, extending the impact of the mine to development of Papua New Guinea more broadly. It made a lot of men rich, and as often happens, created a lot of envy as well.
In 1989 a group of men led by a Mr Francis Ona brought down a pylon and shut down the mine. Soon after a civil war erupted between Ona's Bougainville Revolutionary Army and Papua New Guinea. The mine was closed and has remained so ever since.

Panguna now is a landscape of bare bones and broken earth. Scavengers have pillaged any scrap metal they could easily remove, leaving skeletons where factories and processing plants once stood. The mine itself is a great, gaping hole in the earth, its insides gathered up in piles to form man made hills or sold in foreign markets.

What was once the centre of economic activity for a country has now become an eerie wasteland peppered with scrap metal, decrepit vehicles and fallen weapons. I wonder if the local landowners or the foreign surveyors ever foresaw that this would be Panguna's future?

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Ok, sorry for the poor effort at keeping this thing updated. I have so much to update on, but luckily me mate No Tan Dan has made more of an effort than I have :)