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The Contemporary Pacific 13.1 (2001) 273-275



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Book Review

Getting Under the Skin: The Bougainville Copper Agreement and the Creation of the Panguna Mine


Getting Under the Skin: The Bougainville Copper Agreement and the Creation of the Panguna Mine, by Donald Denoon. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2000 . ISBN 0-522 -84877 -x, vii + 264 pages, tables, maps, figures, appendix, notes, references, index. A$39 .95 .

Volumes like this slender book, with their meticulous research and carefully crafted text, make history a valuable tool for analysis of contemporary events. The war on Bougainville was one of the great Pacific tragedies of the twentieth century, and the Panguna copper mine the trigger for it. It is hard to underestimate the impact of the development of the Panguna mine on the region; as Denoon states, Panguna was "pivotal to Australian decolonisation, Papua New Guinea's independence, the minerals boom that was to transform much of Melanesia, and the erosion of relations between [End Page 273] national and provincial governments and landowner groups" (2 ). At a fundamental level, Papua New Guinea's political and economic history has been dramatically shaped by the events on Bougainville over the last thirty years.

Donald Denoon has constructed a compelling and insightful account of the origins of the mine (and of the conflict) by drawing on the archives of the Australian administration in Port Moresby and the Department of Territories of the Australian Government (in Canberra), as well as interviewing some of the key individuals involved. This approach produces a particular view of the mine development, one that Denoon is quick to acknowledge. The study is, as he says, "shaped by the concerns of the Department [of Territories]," and hence the Bougainvilleans themselves appear only through the lens of administration officers, missionaries, or consultants. The strength of this approach is that it shows how much influence Australian policymakers had over the trajectory of the mine development.

The book is essentially structured chronologically. After an introduction to Bougainville and the Bougainvilleans prior to the arrival of Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia (CRA), the structure, policies, and imperatives of the Australian administration in Papua New Guinea are detailed. The history and origins of the relevant legislation and regulations relating to mining at the time of the arrival of the mining company on Bougainville are discussed in chapter 3 , setting the scene for the accounts of the early (1964 ) encounters between CRA prospecting teams and locals. It is clear from these accounts that opposition to the notion of prospecting, let alone mining, was strong in most parts of the area that the company sought access to. This opposition was rational and well-founded: the communities had experience of gold mining before the Second World War, had heard of the environmental impacts of mining on Nauru, and argued that "all the ground on top and underneath the surface belongs to the owners. There is now an increase in the birthrate in Bougainville. If we give the ground to CRA we will have no land for the children" (quoted on page 66 ).

The approach taken by the administration (at the behest and urging of Canberra) is documented in the following chapters on negotiations over land and the agreement with the company. It was, in contrast, inflexible and, in the circumstances, irrational. The narrative culminates with the gripping and appalling transcript from the administration officer on the spot, when women were dragged by police from the path of bulldozers at Rorovana in August 1969 .

The temporary resolution of these crises, which only occurred when the administration revoked its own position that all dealings over land must be an administration rather than a mining company responsibility, led to the subsequent construction of the mine (chapter 8 ). This brought with it a new series of disputes, this time concerning labor relations and the roles for different nationalities within the labor force and the environment (entry permits for seventeen Japanese builders, for example, led to political machinations in Canberra by various departments and industry pressure [End Page 274] groups). The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 273-275
Launched on MUSE
2001-01-01
Open Access
No
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