Monthly Archives: September 2009

Fuel point, Victory Complex. January-2007

near Nasiriyah

Another picture from the files, a quick snap made from a car as we cruised through Nasiriyah in late 2005. The ‘Dust Days’ project found its roots out on this trip, exploring Camp Emily on the banks of the Euphrates River. ‘Emily’ was a small life camp that was only in existance for a few weeks.

J.S. Tissanayagam (c) AFP PHOTO/Ishara S. KODIKARA

The Tamil journalist J.S. Tissanayagam has been jailed in Sri Lanka for 20 years on terrorism charges.

This man has been heavily featured in various media, with the wider issue raised of journalists having terrorism levelled against them for filing stories that do not favour the government of the day.

Obama’s comment about Tissanayagam being a “journalist jailed for doing his job” has had endless air time. I will not claim to be familiar with the case, and have only picked up little bits from various online sources, Australia Network and the BBC. I do not know the nature of Tissanayagam’s writing. So with the very real possibility of adding volume without content to the issue, I throw this entry in simply to mark the sentence and maybe push myself to look further.

Palm and tarp

The coconut palm is a familiar sight across Bougainvile. It is found wild as well as on the many plantations around the coast. Not the rarest plant around the Pacific. Sitting under them for too long can result in a decent headache (if you’re lucky).

Yesterday Edwina had been invited to help in the gound breaking ceremony for a new rural hospital in the Hagogohe Constituency, so I had gone along for a look. Unfortunately the weather was a little nasty, with heavy rain and wind. So there we are, comfortably seated and listening to speeches. And then…… CRASH!

A coconut palm had lost its roots and dropped across the back of the covered seating area. The sound man running the stereo system had the thing skim down his arse… another few feet of height on the palm and he might have been a pancake. Forget worrying about just a coconut coming loose and dropping, you need to watch out for the whole palm tree!

After a little excitement and  few jokes everyone settled back down to continue the ceremony.


I’m opening up the month of September with an entry aimed squarely at some stunning work that digs into the Papua New Guinea highlands.

Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson made three films which have come to be known as ‘the Highlands trilogy’. These films received positive reviews around the globe, and went on to win numerous awards. I go to them often, watching the events unfold in front of the camera and marvelling at the long term commitment of the filmmakers. Connolly and Anderson met while working at the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the 1970s. Connolly’s experience as a journalist and filmmaker combined with Anderson’s research skills formed the backbone of a formidable partnership. Connolly on camera, Anderson on sound, both pushing hard to ensure the work was of high quality. These films are part of a larger professional body of work that these two produced.

The first film in the trilogy is an incredible project. Through a lot of research and old fashioned leg work Connolly and Anderson found a collection of old films that the Leahy brothers had made during their gold prospecting trips through the highland in the 1930’s. First Contact brings this long lost footage to light, showing highlanders meeting the white Australian brothers for the first time. An incredible clash of cultures and economic systems. But far more importantly, the filmmakers travelled through the highlands and found people who were there when the Leahy brothers came through. Incredible personal tales seen through children’s eyes of strange men arriving in the valley, bringing with them items for trade and powerful weapons.

First Contact

Dan Leahy and James Leahy appear in the film, and are candid and direct with their account of events and their reasons for travelling into the mountains. Mick Leahy, the acknowledged leader of the trips, had passed away just a few years before the film makers began their extensive research and filming.

During the making of First Contact, Connolly and Anderson met a man who was introduced as Joe Leahy, one of Mick Leahy’s sons. Joe’s mother was a highlands woman that had met Mick during the prospecting and mining days. Joe had never been recognised by the greater Leahy family.While growing up he had been taken under Dan Leahy’s wing for care and employment, as Dan had stayed in the highlands, running various business interests.

Joe Leahy's Neighbours

Joe had started his own coffee business, and was running a small plantation on land purchased from the Ganiga people in the Wagi valley. The documentarians returned to the western highlands and began filming the interaction between Joe and the Ganiga. This work became Joe Leahy’s Neighbours. The claim and counter claim regarding compensation and the complex relationships that govern business in the region are given the time needed. Joe Leahy’s own position on the community is shown to be frought with hardship, as he finds himself, at times, isolated. The creation of a joint venture between the Ganiga and Joe point towards future success for the people involved.

Black Harvest

Black Harvest is the third installment, and sees Connolly and Anderson return to the Wagi years later for the first harvest of coffee from Kaugum, the joint venture plantation. As the cherries ripen, ready for picking, the Ganiga are thrust into a tribal fight that spirals out into a devastating number of years for the area. The loss ofmany lives, property and damage to the joint business is heart breaking to watch.

Robin Anderson passed away in 2002. Following her death, Connolly wrote the book Making ‘Black Harvest’, using Anderson’s journal notes to aid his recollection and continue the joint effort that went into these extraordinary films. It provides another layer to the films. Edwina sent it to me while I worked in Iraq, and I sat up late one night reading it in a sitting.

Black Harvest

These films do not mock the subject or make things nice and simple. The characters and events are left complex and flawed. The tragedy of what is recorded is sometimes hard to watch.

I cannot recommend the films highly enough. This little write up does not do the work justice. The DVDs available now have added content, reviews, interviews from the time of each films release and then extended pieces with Connolly discussing the work.

I have bumped into Joe Leahy twice in the last few years. As far as I know he is back on the  plantation not far from Mt Hagen, slowly working away. I believe Connolly lives and works from Sydney.

The films discussed here are:

First Contact (1983)

Joe Leahy’s Neighbours (1989)

Black Harvest (1992)