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Video clip synopsis – Francis Ona was the man who single-handedly sparked Bougainville's civil war.
Year of production - 2000
Duration - 2min 17sec
Tags - Bougainville, capitalism, colonisation, environment, indigenous cultures, nationalism, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea, power, self-determination, terrorism, see all tags


Francis Ona

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About the Video Clip


Francis Ona 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


The principal focus of this Preliminary topic is that students apply historical enquiry methods within a range of contexts to investigate key features, issues, individuals, groups, events, concepts and other forces from the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The syllabus prescribes that students undertake at least two case studies with at least one from Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and Central/South America. This study is from the Pacific.

This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following Outcomes (of selected studies from the eighteenth century to the present):

P1.1 describe the role of key individuals, groups and events
P1.2 investigate and explain the key features and issues
P2.1 identify forces and ideas and explain their significance in contributing to change and continuity
P3.1 ask relevant historical questions

In respect to what students learn to, this clip gives students the opportunity to assess the forces for change and continuity within Papua New Guinea and to describe and evaluate the role of key individuals and groups involved in the conflict that arose on the island of Bougainville.

It also gives students the opportunity to learn about the political, economic, social and technological features, the forces for change and the nature of the political, social, economic and technological change that occurred in Papua New Guinea /Bougainville from the 1960s.

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

Background Information


Papua New Guinea (PNG) became an independent nation in 1975. It was a country divided by many languages and customs. The people of the islands of Bougainville felt a greater cultural and geographical connection to the Solomon Islands than they did to mainland Papua New Guinea. Secessionist feelings flourished.

The establishment of a giant copper mine on the main island of Bougainville a few years before independence inflamed secessionist sentiments further. Bougainvilleans were denied what they saw as fair compensation and share of mine profits. The PNG Independence Constitution stated that land ownership was to just below the surface and that mineral rights belonged to the state.

From late 1988, the destruction of power lines and attacks on the mine marked the beginning of a 9 year conflict. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) led by Francis Ona and Sam Kauona and joined by members of the Provincial Government, co-ordinated a campaign against the mine and declared independence for Bougainville. The populist ideology of the BRA promoted a kind of agrarian socialism with emphasis on traditional culture. The BRA became an effective paramilitary organisation.

With the economic blockade imposed by Papua New Guinea, and little information reaching the outside world, anarchy prevailed. The Papua New Guinea government failed to resolve the conflict. Meanwhile the undisciplined actions of the BRA led to disillusion among villagers, and they responded by forming resistance forces who were in turn armed by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. The PNGDF was able to reoccupy Buka island on the northern tip of Bougainville from September 1990.

After many years of conflict, the population was exhausted by the fighting, the lack of services, and disruption to their lives.

Following negotiations led by New Zealand, a truce monitoring force came to Bougainville in 1997 to monitor peace.

By the late 1990s there was a power shift in the BRA from militants like Ona to moderates like Joseph Kabui who had the support of Sam Kauona. Both Kabui and Kauona were willing to participate in peace talks. Government services were gradually restored and negotiations were carried on to create a more autonomous government for Bougainville, while still remaining a part of the nation of Papua New Guinea.

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 continue to run the island with greater autonomy, while the central government of Papua New Guinea will control defence and foreign affairs.
Francis Ona died on 25 July 2005.

Classroom Activities

    1. Write a short biography on Francis Ona.
    2. In the clip Francis Ona’s jungle fatigues are replaced with civilian clothes. Does his behaviour change as a result of his new dress? Explain.
  1. What is the outcome of the conflict for Bougainville today – is it peaceful? Are there still rebel controlled areas? Has Francis Ona been replaced by a new rebel commander? Are there plans to reopen the mine?
  2. Through research find out more about the colonial legacy of the British and Australian, German and Dutch colonialists in the island which now comprises Papua and Papua New Guinea. The Film Australia video clips from the documentary entitled Land of the Morning Star explore the legacy of Dutch colonialism.

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.