This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use
Video clip synopsis – The story of how long-standing local opposition to a copper mine in Bougainville erupted into full-scale civil war.
Year of production - 2000
Duration - 4min 3sec
Tags - Bougainville, defence, global citizenship, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea, social justice, see all tags


Origins of the Bougainville Conflict

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 origins_pr.mp4 (29.9MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 origins_bb.mp4 (14.1MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

About the Video Clip


Origins of the Bougainville 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 nine year secessionist conflict and the fragile peace process.
An Australian Broadcasting Corporation production.

Curriculum Focus


This video clip introduces students to the relationship between Australia and it nearest neighbour. Australia’s historic and contemporary links to Papua New Guinea are strong and students should consider why they are so important.

Students may also consider what the implications for social justice and equity were for Bougainvilleans in respect to the now closed CRA mine on Bougainville.

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

5.2 analyses, organises and synthesises geographical information
5.7 analyses the impacts of different perspectives on geographical issues at local, national and global scales
5.9 explains Australia’s links with other countries and its role in the global community

Students will learn about the ways Australia interacts with other nations in respect to trade and aid and may consider also the defence advantages to Australia of having economically strong, politically stable neighbours.

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

Background Information

The islands of Bougainville were part of German New Guinea from the 1880s until World War I, when they became annexed to Australia’s New Guinea territories. Later, in 1975 they became part of independent Papua New Guinea.

The people of Bougainville lived off their land largely from subsistence gardening, hunting and fishing, in a matrilineal system where each person was identified by membership of their mother’s clan.

Discovery of copper deposits in the 1960s led to the establishment of a huge copper mine on the island of Bougainville by Conzinc Riotinto Australia (CRA). The Panguna open cut mine was at that time the largest in the world. The company registered various traditional landowners of the Nasioi language group, but excluded women despite their position as traditional custodians of the land under the matrilineal system.

The mine started production in 1972 under management of Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL) with the Papua New Guinea government as a 20% shareholder. The Papua New Guinea Independence Constitution had stated land ownership was to just below the surface of the soil; this meant that all mineral rights would belong to the State. Bougainvillians had a different concept of land, seeing it as their lifeblood in political, emotional and social terms. As mining operations continued and provided 45% of Papua New Guinea’s national export revenue, some groups in Bougainville felt resentment at substantial payouts going to certain landowner groups and not to others.

Anger over the non-payment of royalties, the pollution of the rivers by the tailings from the mine and a belief that the mining land would never be restored to its natural state, made many landowners resentful that their traditional lives would be lost forever to the mining operation. There was also conflict between some native Bougainvilleans and others (mainly workers from the main island of Papua New Guinea) brought in to work on the mine. Tensions exploded in 1988 when disgruntled landowner (and later secessionist campaigner) Francis Ona led sabotage attacks on the mine. By 1989 he had forced the mine’s closure.

The nine year civil war that followed saw thousands of people killed.

Classroom Activities

    1. What was the role of Australia in the setting up of the mine and the conflict that ensued?
    2. How would Australia gain from the mine?
    1. The people of Bougainville opposed the mine for various reasons – what were the main reasons for opposition to the mine both initially and then later when growing resentment led to its closure in 1989?
    2. In the video clip, the granting of the 10,000 acre mining lease is discussed with the comment that the people of Bougainville did not want to be part of Papua New Guinea let alone sell their land to the state. Why did many Bougainvilleans not want to be part of Papua New Guinea? What could have been done differently to perhaps get the landowners on side with the mining project?
    1. Australia continues to trade with Papua New Guinea which also receives aid from Australia. What cultural, economic or geopolitical advantages or disadvantages does Australia have because of its links with Papua New Guinea?
    2. How would you describe the nature of the links between Australia and Papua New Guinea today?

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.