Buka airport

Dr Temu, the deputy Prime Minister of PNG, arrived in Buka on Monday to celebrate the 4th anniversary of the Autonomous Bougainvillean Government. While I attended to snap a few pictures, I had the rest of my gear packed ready to head down the big island. A quick boat ride across the passage got me to where the trucks leave for the drive south.

The drive to Arawa takes a few hours (anywhere between 3.5 to 6 hours… or more), so there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery. It is a gorgeous coastline with small islands sitting off shore, thick rich jungle fringing the beach and a rain soaked mountain range down the spine of the island. Big rivers wind their way to the sea, making the job of maintaining the trunk road one that I would never want to have.

My first stop in Arawa was a quick dash over to the old general hospital to have another dig around. It is a spooky building, with parts that I probably shouldn’t go into for fear of the ceiling collapsing. Old bed frames, wheelchairs and bits of gear are strewn about, with bubbled blobs and twisted metal attesting to the damage done by the fire during the crisis and then the resulting neglect.

Wheelchair and bed

Trees are growing through out the building, the jungle is strangling old concrete posts and steel frames. I’m doing a little work inside with some on axis full bore flash, so we’ll see what ends up on the TriX negs. The little snaps here might at least give an indication of what’s there.

General hospital ceiling

Once it got too dark to see I headed outside the old building into the light rain and over to a friend’s house for a quick catch up, then off to clean up and get some sleep.

Up nice and early Tuesday morning, and into the Arawa food market before 7am. I couldn’t help but notice the wahoo, mahi mahi, spanish mackerel and sailfish (steaks) on the table tops in the fish section…. looks like some time will have to be spent out in the water. Some fresh fruit for breakfast, then I helped my friend Lynette to drag some food back to her house.

I first met Lynette Ona in July 2007. I had travelled from Port Moresby to Arawa to photograph the last days of her campaign in the PNG general elections. Lynette was standing as a candidate for the newly formed People’s Party headed by the Governer of Enga, Peter Ipatas. She was the only female candidate standing for the open seat of Central Bougainville in the election. Since then I had come back to visit a number of times, and now that we live in Bougainville it means I get to stay in better contact with many of the friends I made through that project.

As the juggernaut of rebuilding the infrastructure, social and political landscape of the island continues to roll along, many grass-roots style meetings are held and groups formed to try and engage with the various government and non-government organisations involved. These community groups hopefully provide a mechanism through which different views or feelings on certain topics can be expressed. Obviously they are often built around prior political or social relationships, and their aims are often guided by these. Their reach and accessability to others are also affected by these underlying structures.

BWLA meeting

The “Bougainville Women’s Landowner Association” met in Section 13 on Tuesday morning for thir inaugural meeting. They were to discuss issues primarily surrounding the various mining interests in the Autonomous Region. The meeting was to focus on ensuring that the voices of Bougainvillean women were central to the discussion during the day. There is a very real greivance (often expressed) that women have been left out of many of the discussions and negotiations regarding the lease or sale of land for agricultural and mining interests. As  much of the islands population is matrilineal in its relationship to land, the lack of female representation and engagement has not been good. The men attending endorsed the name of the association, stating that they were supporting the drive to put the women front and centre in this group.

Two kids

The ABG’s office of Veteran’s Affairs had both male and female representatives present, and each spoke during the day and answered questions from those in attendance. As most of the day was conducted in Nasioi, I had to pick out the bits that were in pidgin to keep abreast of the direction of each topic.

The discussion at times became very political in its nature, with direct reference to upcoming elections, voting trends and candidates. However, the agenda that had been laid out at the opening was largely followed, and a number of men and women were able to express opinions and views.

Again, in a similar fashion to the reconciliation day on the 13th, I cannot claim to have an intimate understanding of the issues at hand and the manner in which the people here deal with them. While I may be able to fathom the concepts, historical context and political manouvering, I lack the cultural setting that, through countless generations and the greater community experience, would inform my approach, reactions and world view. So, I turn up and try to make the best pictures I can, exploring what is happening in front of me and maybe gaining a little insight here and there. Probably a high faluting ambition at best, but I doubt I would be happier if I just ‘knew’.

Joanne Dateransi was nominated as president of the new association. She is one of Francis Ona’s younger sisters. Ona was a key figure in calls for the appropriate compensation of landowners and citizens, and then  a leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army during the crisis. This journal does not have the ability or space to be able to write at length about Francis and his role, suffice to say there is a lot of literature that explores his influence on the recent history of the region for those that want to read further.

After all the talking was done a big lunch was held for all those attending.


I worked away solidly for the day, photographing the participants and the setting. It was good to see my friend Jacob filming the events. Again, compact, simple technology that allows home grown coverage and archiving of events. A few  interviews were conducted following the meeting, and then everyone scooted off on their merry way.

Collapsed into bed early, struggling with a bug I have had for a few days.

Then up early for the usual morning drive to Kokopau, arriving at the passage around 8am. Just got back to a net connection, so I’ve been battling the usual speed issues getting the pictures into this journal and downloading emails.

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