Tiananmen Square? What about Bougainville?

I missed a lot about the Tiananmen Square massacre because I was busy not being shot at in Bougainville at the time.

The media in 1989 wasn’t like it is now.

The 30th anniversary coverage of the massacre brought home to me our hypocrisy.

I saw our greatest ever PM, Bob Hawke, shedding tears as he tongue-lashed China and granted asylum to 40,000 young Chinese studying here at the time. A great gesture.

But I was also brought to tears when I remembered that almost to the day, the PNG government had waged war on its own people on Bougainville (with support from our government) and I had witnessed it first hand.

I was working and living at the Panguna mine site when neighbouring villages tried to blockade the Port-Mine access road in protest. When that failed they blew up the power lines servicing the mine. PNG troops were brought in to police the area and an ex Kiap as well, presumably to identify the trouble makers. He was staying in the guest house next to my house and while looking into the jungle with binoculars from the backyard, he was shot three times. I took him to the medical centre and he survived, but it was three weeks before he could be flown back to Australia. I spent that time packing up my belongings and helping to keep the town’s emergency generator supplied with diesel. Just after I delivered some drums to the site one day, shots were fired at the generator shed. I never felt I was being targeted. It may have been just dumb luck that I wasn’t shot, but I like to think it was because I always treated the locals with respect.

At night I could hear helicopters, plus machine-gun and mortar fire that the PNG troops were using on the villagers.

All mine workers were sent home on forced leave during the trouble and it was difficult getting flights out. Since I had helped the Kiap, I was offered a seat on the corporate jet that was used to medivac him directly to Essendon.

In the end, over 15,000 Bougainvilleans were killed just for wanting self-determination and a fair return from the massive copper and gold mine on their land that virtually ruined their culture.

I have always felt guilty that I did little to help the Bougainvilleans in their struggle but again the Australian government made it difficult by effectively blockading the island and I was starting a new job at Olympic Dam. Self-interest is a common human failing particularly in Australia. Although in fairness, a small group of Australians joined with the New Zealanders to negotiate a peace settlement which included a referendum on independence to be held within ten years. Thirty years on and it still has not happened. It was due to be held this June but has again been postponed until October.

Wouldn’t it be a nice gesture in memory of Bob Hawke and the Tiananmen / Bougainville victims if we were to support the Bougainvillean’s referendum for independence and help them get back on their feet. Or must we wait until China’s One Belt One Road initiative beats us to it as in the nearby Solomon Islands.

12 June 2019 by Graham Duncan