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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 16:36 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 16:36 | SYDNEY

The Embarrassed Colonialist

22 Feb 2016 11:27

The Lowy Institute launches a new Lowy Institute Paper today, The Embarrassed Colonialist by Sean Dorney, former ABC Papua New Guinea correspondent, former captain of the Kumuls (Papua New Guinea's national rugby league team), legendary Pacific journalist and Nonresident Fellow at the Lowy Institute. This piece is the first in a series in which experts debate Sean's arguments in detail. Sean himself will take part in the conversation.

Sean's paper argues that Australia needs to acknowledge its colonial past in order to move to a deeper level of engagement with the Papua New Guinea of today.


23 Feb 2016 14:00

Sean Dorney is right when he says that Australians should take a stronger interest in Papua New Guinea. Sean is a consistent advocate of this cause. He is one of the leaders of a special Australian ‘tribe’; those who have been touched by PNG, and who will have it in their blood forever. I'm a member myself, having been raised there in the decade before Independence, when my parents’ generation were working to help prepare Papua New Guineans to govern themselves.

This ‘tribe’ constitutes a significant Australian constituency for PNG. It includes the thousands of Australians engaging with the country today; those working on resource projects and in commerce, NGO professionals and volunteers, and others who keep returning for one more project, one more posting. Many visit to try to appreciate their forebears' wartime experience of the country.


24 Feb 2016 11:25

Sean Dorney’s The Embarrassed Colonialist should be mandatory reading for every influential Australian media executive and newsroom leader. Because when it comes to Papua New Guinea, we are the myopic media.

Historical blindness and ignorance is an underlying theme of Dorney’s excellent treatise of what is an emblematic tropical sore for Australia and Australians. Overcoming this ignorance is the healing balm he proffers – and the media, pardon the image, is the bleeding obvious place to start.

There are wonderful individual exceptions, of course: Journalists who would swim the four kilometres from our most northern Torres Strait islands to PNG to report on this vibrant and vexed nation of eight million, so inextricably linked to our past and so critical to our future. And there are editors and news directors who would, and do, battle internal obstacles to ensure coverage of our biggest, nearest neighbour.

But institutional apathy started soon after PNG Independence in 1975. Dorney notes that when he first arrived in Port Moresby for the ABC in 1974, there were six Australian journalists based there.


25 Feb 2016 08:33

Sean Dorney's new Lowy Institute Paper, The Embarrassed Colonialist is fantastic — and I'm not just saying that because he quoted my research. Through a mixture of interesting facts, digestible quotes, and entertaining stories, Sean details the strengths and weaknesses of our nearest neighbour, provides a thorough justification for why now is the time to reengage, and explains how to do that.

There are too many areas worth highlighting in this Paper to cover in a single article. What I want to focus on in is the research I light-heartedly mentioned above, which focused on Pacific Islanders that currently call Australia home, or at least did at the time of the 2011 census. Below I recap the analysis I presented at the 2014 Pacific Update, and hone in to take a closer look at PNG.


29 Feb 2016 12:30

Forty years after Papua New Guinea gained its independence from Australia, Sean Dorney, a long serving journalist in PNG, invites Australians to reconsider their relationship with the country in his Lowy Institute Paper, The Embarrassed Colonialist.

Dorney argues that, for the most part, Australia is reluctant to address its history with PNG, a complex and perplexing country. But it is time to stop being embarrassed about this colonial legacy and instead move towards a partnership with PNG that includes embracing our shared history. 

For Dorney, a key player in the generation of Australians and Papua New Guineans who fostered mutual understanding during this 40-year period, the relationship has waned. He says Australia has a moral obligation to help its neighbour and he identifies four key challenges facing PNG: its imperfect democracy; poor development policies; corruption; and law and disorder.

On the positive side, he identifies PNG's key strengths as: a strong economy; a military that does not have any ambition to rule; resilient women; tourism; and a free media. But are these areas really so strong?


10 Mar 2016 16:45

I have been delighted with the responses to my paper The Embarrassed Colonialist on the The Interpreter site. It has been titled a debate but all the main contributors have been very kind in their comments, generally agreeing with the thrust of my argument; that Australia and Australians need to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of and commit to greater engagement with our former colony, Papua New Guinea.

The main Australian based contributors have been members of that 'tribe' Ian Kemish writes about '… who have been touched by PNG and have it in their blood forever'. My hope is the Paper and the debate will help convince those outside of this tribe to also care about PNG.

The general ignorance about PNG in Australia is depressing. I’ve had a lot of comments on Facebook about The Embarrassed Colonialist and one in particular had me shaking my head. This person said he had been to Indonesia and spoken to Papuans who had no complaints about Australian colonialism!


17 Mar 2016 17:32

Last year Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner to Australia, H. E. Charles Lepani — who was one of the first Papua New Guinean heads of a government department at independence — observed in Reflections: 39 years of Sovereign Statehood in Papua New Guinea that, despite the two countries’ closeness and successive leaders ‘tireless efforts … to build our relations',

Australia remains substantially ignorant of Papua New Guinea. You cannot dig any deeper than the ongoing Manus issue to see the vitriol and vilification borne out of ignorance by Australians of Papua New Guineans and our country.

As Sean Dorney makes clear in The Embarrassed Colonialist, the situation remains much the same a year later: Australians are mostly ignorant and indifferent in regard to Papua New Guinea.