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Video clip synopsis – Veteran ABC journalist, Sean Dorney, looks back on his time in Papua New Guinea covering the Bougainville crisis.
Year of production - 2000
Duration - 6min 35sec
Tags - Bougainville, changing communities, communities, energy, media, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea, war, see all tags


Journalist's Diary of a Conflict

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About the Video Clip


Journalist’s Diary of a Conflict is an excerpt from the two-part documentary Paradise Imperfect made in 2000.

Paradise Imperfect
In 2000 the ABC’s Pacific Correspondent Sean Dorney travelled to the war zones of Bougainville to look at the impact of the 9-year secessionist conflict and the fragile peace process.
An Australian Broadcasting Corporation production.

Curriculum Focus


Area of Study 3. Issues for the Millennium

In VCE History students have the opportunity to:

  • Analyse issues faced by communities arising from political, economic and/or technological change. (Outcome 3.)
  • Analyse factors which bought about change in the social experience of the community such as international regional or local events.
  • Analyse the way in which the community and its supporters responded and were affected by these events; for example, revolt, acceptance, famine, immigration and adaptation.
  • Analyse how this community or group has been represented in art, literature, film print and journalism, music or multimedia.

Classroom activities from this video clip centre on VCE History with the story of Bougainville providing a rich case study of change, political tensions and the interplay between local interest and communities, resource exploration and governments.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


Discovery of copper deposits in Bougainville in the 1960s led to the development by Conzinc Riotinto Australia (CRA) of the Panguna open cut mine — at that time the largest in the world.
Bougainvilleans were denied what they saw as fair compensation and share of mine profits. The Papua New Guinea Independence Constitution stated that land ownership was to just below the surface and that mineral rights belonged to the state.

Tensions exploded in 1988 when disgruntled landowner (and later secessionist campaigner) Francis Ona led sabotage attacks on the mine. This marked the beginning of a nine year conflict.
Following negotiations led by New Zealand, a truce monitoring force came to Bougainville in 1997 under the auspices of the United Nations. This was the beginning of a long and complex process of reconciliation.
In 2001 a ceasefire agreement committed the Island to a referendum on full independence from Papua New Guinea in 10 to 15 years. In 2005 a provincial government was elected, led by Joseph Kabui.
The new Bougainville administration will run the island with much greater autonomy, while the central government of Papua New Guinea will control defence and foreign affairs.
Though up to 15,000 people died as a result of the conflict in Bougainville, the Australian population remained largely ignorant of the civil war. In a decade of conflict Australia was unable to intervene successfully. The Australian government policy committed to Papua New Guinea as a unified government — Australia could not deal with Bougainville as a separate entity. The loan of helicopters by Australia to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, helicopters which eventually had machine guns mounted to them, further ensured that Australians were not trusted on Bougainville.
The Bougainville conflict made Australia change its policy towards the Pacific. Benign neglect was replaced by a policy of re-engagement with the region. Australia realised that good governance and stability were essential for the peace and prosperity of the region.
As ABC’s correspondent to Papua New Guinea, Sean Dorney was one of the few journalists present in Bougainville when the crisis over the province’s copper mine flared in 1988. He charted the crisis from its beginnings as a landowner dispute to its escalation into a brutal civil war.

Classroom Activities

  1. Describe the social life experienced by a community or group in the last ten years in Bougainville. Include family life, work, health and political oppression.
  2. What were the factors that bought about change in the Bougainville community?
  3. Describe the way in which the community is affected by these events and how Sean Dorney reports on them.

Extension Activities

  1. Watch the documentary My Valley is Changing. Describe how this community is represented in the the choice of people to comment in the film – is there a breadth of characters and points of view? Do you think the issues are presented in an unbiased way? Can film ever be unbiased?

Further Resources


Go to Pacific Stories Learning for Interactive Compass Map with facts about the Pacific region.

For interview transcripts, books and references for this Digital Resource go to Pacific Stories, choose My Valley is Changing, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.