Australian Screen

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An Evergreen Island (2000)

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clip Bougainville battlers education content clip 1, 3

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

The clip describes the extent of the damage from 17 years of toxic waste and pollution from the copper mine, and how the people of Bougainville Island said 'no more’. As the customary owners of the land, the women were instrumental in setting up the Landowners’ Association, from which a core group of members formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

Curator’s notes

A shocking look at the extent of the damage caused by the mining operations. The local women are calm but passionate as they talk about their moves to oppose the mine.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows interviews with three women of Bougainville, an island of Papua New Guinea, who give the reasons for their opposition to the copper mining on the island and talk about how this protest movement developed into the struggle for independence for Bougainville. The interviews are intercut with scenes of the green vegetation of the island, the river and landscape despoiled by copper tailings, the island children and the denuded remains of the huge open-cut mine, formerly Panguna Mine run by Conzinc Rio Tinto, which is now deserted. A voice-over describes the environmental damage caused by the mining operation. English subtitles are used when the Bougainville Islander women speak in pidgin.

Educational value points

  • The Panguna Landowners Association was formed in 1987 to fight for compensation for damage to the land of the Bougainville people by the mining operations of Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL). After failed attempts to negotiate a satisfactory settlement, the association committed itself to armed resistance, and in 1989 a core group formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). The BRA carried out acts of arson and sabotage including the destruction of the mine’s power supply, and the mine closed in 1989. PNG forces fought against the BRA and blockaded the island. A peace agreement was signed in 1998 with the provision for a future referendum on independence for Bougainville.
  • Images of the Panguna open-cut mine reveal its immense size (5 km deep and 2 km wide) and the damage caused to the landscape. Tailings from copper mining are a potential source of heavy metal pollution and copper is highly toxic to marine and freshwater fish. The Panguna mine dumped approximately 130,000 tonnes of rock waste and tailings every day into the Jaba River system, one of the most extensive river systems on Bougainville. This destroyed large areas of rainforest, as well as killing wildlife and polluting drinking water.
  • The interviews in the clip provide personal insight into a political struggle for independence in Australia’s region. The interviews convey the strength and determination of the women of Bougainville, the traditional landowners. This determination sustained what became a nine-year secessionist struggle when the dispute over the copper mine broadened into a fight for independence. In 1989 the BRA leaders proclaimed Bougainville to be independent from PNG and fighting between the two sides escalated. A peace pact in 1998 agreed to democratic elections by the end of 1998. The Bougainville Independence Movement was still seeking autonomy from PNG in 2006.
  • Bougainville is an island to the east of the mainland of PNG that has been economically and politically exploited by numerous countries. It was placed under the control of Germany in 1885, then occupied by Australia during the First World War and until the Japanese occupation in the Second World War. After Japan’s defeat in 1945 the Australian Army took over the occupation of Bougainville. In 1946 Australia resumed administration of Bougainville and PNG, which became a United Nations’ trusteeship until PNG achieved independence in 1975. From 1929 Australian prospectors were given virtual unlimited licences to explore for mineral wealth with no consultation with the traditional landowners. Bougainville was vulnerable to further exploitation when rich deposits of copper were found at Panguna in 1965.
  • Australia has played a significant role in Bougainville’s history – Australia was one of the occupying and administering powers of Bougainville until full independence for PNG was finally brought about by the Whitlam government in 1975. In 2002–03, Australian aid to PNG amounted to around $314 million. CRA, a subsidiary of the Australian mining company Conzinc Rio Tinto, established the Panguna Mine in 1969. In Bougainville’s struggle for independence, Australia supported the PNG Government.
  • The clip provides examples of the use of film language to convey a particular political viewpoint. Footage of the 'evergreen’ island is juxtaposed with scenes of the despoliation caused by mining. Pictures of the huge mine, now deserted, are shown with children playing nearby, possibly suggesting the inequality of the struggle. Suspenseful, menacing music is used whenever the film cuts to pictures of the mine.
  • The film is an example of the work of Australian documentary filmmakers Amanda King and Fabio Cavadini. The Sydney-based filmmakers have tended to favour political subjects that depict the struggles of oppressed peoples against powerful economic interests or political forces. Amanda King coproduced a film about East Timor called The Shadow Over East Timor (1987) and both worked on the documentary Time to Go, John (2005) and codirected An Evergreen Island (2000).

This clip starts approximately 5 minutes into the documentary.

A Bougainville man, carrying a machine gun, surveys the remnants of the open-cut mine, a huge scar in the landscape. Interviews with three women and narration are interspersed with footage of ruined landscape and toxic waterways.

Narrator The Panguna mine that consumed the village of Milrinone, became the catalyst for the renewal of the independence struggle of Bougainville.
Woman 1 There are many factors which, you know, cause us into this struggle for independence. One, I might say, is the destruction of environment. As you can see for yourselves, that you come around, that Bougainville is an evergreen island. So from company up in Panguna – that’s BCL – it was turning all the beautiful mountains – green mountains – into bare rock which make the people of Bougainville and the native people who own that particular land – piece of land – to cry for their visitation and everything that they own in that particular land. And they see that the company was leaving nothing for them.
Narrator The Panguna mine pit was half a kilometer deep and two kilometers wide. For 17 years mine tailings with toxic levels of copper and heavy metals poured into one of Bougainville’s largest river systems. 30 kilometers of the Jaba River Valley was turned into a moonscape.
Woman 2 (speaks Tok Pisin) When BCL started work here, we saw a lot of damage done to our gardens, the lemon trees, other fruit trees and food gardens were destroyed because of the chemicals from the mine.
Woman 3 (speaks Tok Pisin) When BCL started here the children were always sick from the dust from the mine. In our custom, we, the women, own the land not the men. The women were the forerunners in setting up the Landowners’ Association.

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