Papua New Guinea is in the Pacific Ocean in the region known as Melanesia. It consists of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the northern part of the Solomon Islands, the Trobriand and D’Entrecasteaux Islands and the Louisiade Archipelago. Papua New Guinea is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the north and the Coral Sea and Torres Strait to the south. The western half of the island of New Guinea is the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya.
History of Immigration and Settlement
Melanesian Papua New Guineans first settled in Australia during the nineteenth century. The development of Queensland’s cotton and sugar industries during the second half of the century created a demand for a cheap source of unskilled labour. Plantation owners began recruiting Papua New Guineans and other Melanesians as labourers. These workers originally came to Australia voluntarily for 12 months, but demand for labourers led to the practice of ‘blackbirding’ which is the coercion of people through trickery and kidnapping to use as forced labour. Labourers were abducted and kept in appalling conditions. Many died of overwork and disease. Legislation banned the forced migration of labourers at the beginning of the 1890s, but the practice was revived during the economic depression of that decade. It has been estimated that 8,000 Papua New Guineans were among approximately 60,000 Melanesians who were forced to come to Australia before the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act banned the recruitment of non-European alien labour and enforced what became known as the White Australia Policy.
The Immigration Restriction Act was amended in 1902. A Queensland royal commission concluded that Papua New Guineans had a natural right to use pearl fishing areas off the Queensland coast. As a result, 450 Papua New Guineans arrived in Australia to harvest pearls. They accounted for the majority of labourers in this Australian industry.
Until the Immigration Restriction Act was abolished in 1973 only expatriates, European Papua New Guineans were permitted to settle in Australia. In 1947 there were 20 Papuan and 63 New Guinean expatriate South Australians. In 1961 there were 37 Papuan and 90 New Guinean expatriate South Australians. By 1966 the number of Papuan expatriate South Australians had climbed to 85. In the same year there were 167 New Guinean expatriate South Australians.
A considerable number of Melanesian, European and Asian Papua New Guineans immigrated to South Australia after Papua New Guinea was granted independence in 1975. Some people of mixed descent emigrated because they feared discrimination under the country’s new government. Most Papua New Guineans came to South Australia as the spouses of Australian men.
A group of Papua New Guineans immigrated to South Australia in the late 1980s. The majority was on temporary employment contracts or married to Australians.
Many Papua New Guinean South Australians acquired employment skills in Papua New Guinea not recognised in Australia. As a result, they tend to be employed in unskilled occupations.
Some members of South Australia’s Papua New Guinean community are students residing in Adelaide while they study at tertiary institutions.
Papua New Guinean South Australians have settled in Crafers, Hawthorndene, Blackwood, Bellevue Heights, Brighton, Clovelly Park and Whyalla.
The Papua New Guinea Association of South Australia (Inc) was founded in 1977 to maintain and promote Papua New Guinean cultural identity and traditions in South Australia. Its members include indigenous and expatriate Papua New Guinean and Tongan South Australians. A number of the association’s members are also involved with South Australian African cultural groups.
The association meets five or six times during the year, hosting different events, with the most important being Independence Day on 16 September.
Melanesian Papua New Guinean culture shares many elements common to the indigenous cultures of Torres Strait and Pacific islands. The Papua New Guinean mu-mu, a feast cooked underground much like the Maori hangi, is one such tradition. For many years the Papua New Guinea Association hosted a mu-mu to celebrate Independence Day. To make a mu-mu Papua New Guineans dig a shallow hole, line the pit with stones and build a huge fire over them. After it has burned away, all of the ash and charred timber is removed, leaving only the hot stones. Meat, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and, if possible, taro, yams and cassava are wrapped in banana leaves or alfoil and placed on the stones. The pit is then covered over with dirt and left for several hours. After the feast traditional dancing, speeches and a disco complete the celebrations. It is intended that this format will be changed in 2018. Instead of a mu-mu, there will be a fun-day for families followed by an evening of dancing and festivities for adults.
The Papua New Guinea Association of South Australia often organises activities with interstate communities. For example, the Papuan New Guinea Association of Australia, which is based in Sydney, has members that reside in South Australia. The two associations enjoy a cordial relationship.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s the Papua New Guinea Association of South Australia conducted a Saturday cultural school. Family groups would visit scrub areas outside of Adelaide to learn bushcraft, go for hikes and participate in traditional dancing. The cultural school no longer exists but there are plans for its revival in 2019.
According to the 1981 census there were 865 Papua New Guinean-born South Australians.
The 1986 census recorded 934, and 125 South Australians said that they were of Papua New Guinean descent.
The 1991 census recorded that there were 955 Papua New Guinean-born South Australians. 416 people said that their mothers were born in Papua New Guinea, and 391 that their fathers were.
The 1996 census recorded that there were 957 Papua New Guinean-born South Australians. The second generation of this birthplace community numbered 591.
The 2001 census recorded 843 Papua New Guinean-born South Australians, while 199 people said that they were of Papua New Guinean descent.
The 2006 census recorded 910 Papua New Guinean-born South Australians, while 312 people said that they were of Papua New Guinean descent.
The 2011 census recorded 933 Papua New Guinean-born South Australians, while 346 people said that they were of Papua New Guinean descent.
The 2016 census recorded 908 Papua New Guinean-born South Australians, while 346 people said that they were of Papua New Guinean descent.
Corris, P, ‘"Blackbirding” in New Guinea Waters 1883–84: An Episode in the Queensland Labour Trade’, Journal of Pacific History 3, 1968, pp85–105
Jupp, J (ed), The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, 2nd Ed., (Cambridge University Press), 2001.