September 24th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Telstra sale: not a 'done deal'

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Could Australia cope with a natural disaster?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Are new anti-terror laws good for Australia?

INTELLIGENCE: Past espionage failure spooks US partnership

STRAWS IN THE WIND: New Orleans - a cracked society / Unemployment / Costello's new constituency / Liberal leadership / Potemkin politics

TAIWAN: Taiwan's tax system keeps money in the family

UNITED STATES: Judge Roberts impresses at US Senate hearing

AGRICULTURE: Unbridled globalism harms poorer nations

SPECIAL FEATURE: How the sex industry destroys society (Part 2)

THEATRE: Play's one-sided slant on Bush and the Iraq War

Who is to blame for New Orleans tragedy? (letter)

Tony Blair and the Iraq War (letter)

Family Law's five-fold disaster (letter)

OBITUARY: Frank Rooney - R.I.P.

BOOKS: UNSPEAKABLE: Facing Up To Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror, by Os Guinness

MAKING 'BLACK HARVEST': Warfare, film-making and living dangerously in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea

Books promotion page

Warfare, film-making and living dangerously in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 24, 2005
Blind ambition, warfare and destruction

Warfare, film-making and living dangerously in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea
by Bob Connolly

Sydney: ABC Books
Paperback RRP: $32.95

In 1980, Bob Connolly left the ABC, where he had worked for about 20 years as a journalist and film-maker, to become an independent film-maker, with his wife, Robin Anderson.

They decided to make documentaries on Papua New Guinea, producing First Contact (1983), which documented the original contact between white men and New Guinea highlanders in the 1930s; then Joe Leahy's Neighbours (1989), which explored the complex relationship between Joe Leahy, the child of one of the white settlers and a New Guinean woman, who had become a successful coffee plantation owner, and the tribesmen from whom he had come.

Their third film, Black Harvest, documented what happened to this relationship when coffee prices collapsed in 1990, threatening with disaster both Joe Leahy and the Ganiga tribesmen, who had invested their land in a coffee plantation he managed.

Making "Black Harvest" is a story of the emerging crisis, and the final catastrophe as a tribal war engulfed the area, destroying the plantations, and those who had committed everything to them, including Joe Leahy.

It is a powerful story, without a happy ending. It tells of the struggle of a tribal people in contact, for the first time, with Western society, where property is owned by individuals, not by the tribe, and where the object is to use land to make money, not to subsist.

Returned from the dead

For the tribal people, whose grandparents had thought that white men were the ghosts of their ancestors returning from the dead, this was an enormous leap. It was made almost impossible by the fact that even the most educated of them had only one or two years' schooling, and therefore had to take many things on trust.

The position was further complicated by the fact that the price of coffee was determined not by local supply and demand, nor the availability of coffee within the country, but by international market forces, most particularly, by events in Brazil, the world's largest coffee producer.

When the world price of coffee collapsed, it eroded the living standards of thousands of tribesmen in Papua New Guinea, and perhaps more importantly, destroyed the trust between tribal people, the plantation managers, and the banks which provided the funds on which the plantations were developed.

This contributed to the collapse in relations between neighbouring tribes, and the eventual outbreak of tribal warfare in the district. Bob Connolly was present to document what was happening.

In this book, Bob Connolly has shown a deep understanding of the people caught up in these events, their differing perceptions of the situation, and the factors which led to the final disaster which forced Connolly and his family to flee back to Australia.

In a microcosm, this book also tells the story of Papua New Guinea itself: a country forced into independence by an Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, determined to throw off Australia's image as a colonial power.

Unfortunately, it was done without sufficient regard for the people who were to be its beneficiaries, and before the people of Papua New Guinea were ready for it.

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