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Video clip synopsis – For producer and director Peter Butt, making My Father, My Country was both an adventure and a chance to discover Papua New Guinea's past.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 5min 9sec
Tags - colonisation, independence, indigenous cultures, Papua New Guinea, see all tags


Road to Progress -- Peter Butt interview

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About the Video Clip


This interview with Peter Butt was recorded for the Pacific Stories website produced in 2005.

Peter Butt has been an independent documentary filmmaker for over 20 years. He is best known for his investigations of Australia’s history, Lies, Spies & Olympics, Fortress Australia, Silent Storm and most recently Who Killed Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler?.

Pacific Stories is a co-production between Film Australia’s National Interest Program and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Presented by Vika and Linda Bull, the project explores the geography, history and culture of the South Pacific.

Curriculum Focus


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following Outcomes:

4.2 describes significant features of Aboriginal and indigenous cultures, prior to colonisation.
4.3 explains the ways indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of the world have responded to contact with each other.
4.7 identifies different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past
4.9 uses historical terms and concepts in appropriate contexts
4.10 selects and uses appropriate oral, written and other forms, including ICT, to communicate effectively about the past.

In terms of ‘Working Historically’ the following historical skills can be integrated:

  • identify origin, purpose and context of historical sources
  • locate, select and organise information from a variety of sources

In respect to what students learn about, this clip gives students the opportunity to develop an understanding of the nature and consequences of contact and colonisation upon another indigenous people – in this case the people of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

It also gives students the opportunity to learn to describe the main features of the indigenous culture prior to colonisation and describe the key aspects of contact between the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples

(The syllabus requires students to learn about one country or region from Section B – so the study of Papua New Guinea is a country from section B ‘the Pacific Region’)

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


Peter Butt, producer and director of the film My Father, My Country, is interviewed about the background to the making of the film and his own personal responses to the experience. Through the film he tells the extraordinary story of the first contact between the indigenous people of remote areas of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea with Australian patrol officers. He made the film in cooperation with Meg Taylor the daughter of one of those patrol officers, Jim Taylor. After her father’s death Meg wanted to retrace the epic journey he made across the Highlands in 1938.

The indigenous peoples of the southwest highlands of Papua New Guinea were not known about until the 1930s when gold prospectors discovered that highland terrain thought to be inhospitable was in fact teeming with an estimated one million people. Through archival footage and interviews in the film, as well as through excerpts from Jim Taylor’s journal, we are reminded of the human experience of colonisation. Colonisation had a huge impact on the lives of what are now Papua New Guineans (known also as the people of ‘a thousand tribes’) as well as on the lives of the colonisers, as Meg’s life and journey illustrates.

Jim Taylor was part of an Australian mission to explore and bring the people of this region under government control. We learn from his journal that as he set off on his journey he was mindful that his patrol would have a profound effect on the people of the 'stone age’ tribes who had never before seen white men. He believed that white contact with the remote communities was inevitable and that it would occur with less bloodshed and with more care if it were made by Administration patrol officers than if it were left to gold and mineral prospectors.

Fifty years later, as Meg Taylor retraces her father’s 15-month journey through some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain she reflects on the impact of ‘First Contact’ on the indigenous people of the Highlands and considers how their lives have changed in the present day.

Classroom Activities


Imagine that as a passionate student of history, just like the film maker interviewed, you are asked to help make the film retracing Jim Taylor’s steps by his daughter.

Before you actually start out you have time to think about the importance of such a film for both current and future generations of Papua New Guineans and Australians to see.

Write about the film by carefully responding to the following questions.

  1. What ideas and attitudes from your study of Aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples, Colonisation and Contact History could you explore in through the film?
  2. In terms of the old footage or archival film available to you, describe at least four small clips you would select to include and explain your reasons for choosing them. They would be the kinds of images you would consider to be the most valuable in showing the ‘first contact’ of ‘stone age’ tribe’s people with white people.
  3. You find out that in making the film you will be able to interview (with an interpreter) some older highlanders who actually recall the arrival of Taylor’s party. Devise eight questions you could ask to help gain an insight into how the ‘first contact’ events were interpreted by some of the indigenous highlanders who witnessed them.
  4. Jim Taylor is no longer alive. If you had been fortunate to be able to interview him about his experiences on this journey and his life in Papua New Guinea, what are five questions you would like to have asked him?
  5. You decide that you need to give a context to your film for those who view it so they would understand why the journey happened . Write a brief overview about what was happening in Papua New Guinea at the time and why Australian patrol officers were sent on the trek.
  6. Fortunately you have Taylor’s journals to refer to on your filmmaking journey. Peter Butt the filmmaker featured in the Film Australia video clip you viewed said that:
    ‘Jim Taylor’s diary was exquisitely written. It not only looked at the practicalities of the journey, it reflected upon his mission: to open up a country, to bring government to these people, to stop warring, to unify the country in a sense. And it was an extraordinarily powerful document’.
    Why would including excerpts from Taylor’s diary add to your film?
  7. Finally, you are able to recommend who should be the audience for film you help make. Explain who you would like to see it and what you would most like them to learn from it.

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 Father, My Country, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.