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Video clip synopsis – A man from the rugged mountains of Papua New Guinea's Bougainville single-handedly set up a mini power station in his village.
Year of production - 2000
Duration - 3min 23sec
Tags - Bougainville, colonisation, nationalism, Papua New Guinea, power, self-determination, terrorism, see all tags


Rebuilding Bougainville

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About the Video Clip


Rebuilding Bougainville 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
P3.1 ask relevant historical questions

This Digital Resource 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


At independence in 1975, Papua New Guinea was divided by languages and customs. The people of the island of Bougainville felt separated from mainland Papua New Guinea; physically, emotionally and culturally they were more aligned with the Solomon Islands.

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.

Anger grew 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. Many landowners were resentful that their traditional lives, based on agriculture and fishing, 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. This marked the beginning of a nine year conflict.

The civil war in Bougainville destroyed much of the Province’s infrastructure, leaving many areas without electricity and other services. Arawa, the island’s capital, was left with no main line power.

In this video clip, ABC reporter Sean Dorney looks at the impact of the conflict on the infrastructure of the island. He visits Paru Paru Village to see a particular example of ingenuity. Villager Michael Nikay has set up a small hydro-electric plant to supply power to his village, using materials taken from the abandoned Bougainville copper mine.

Paru Paru village is located in what was the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) heartland — deep in the mountains, which, because of their ruggedness, were perfect for guerilla warfare and impossible for the Papua New Guinea army to control. The electricity generated in Paru Paru from 1984 was enough to provide lighting for three villages, give power for the BRA to make guns and keep Radio Free Bougainville on air.

From mid 1990 until the September 1994 ceasefire Bougainville was blockaded by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. The blockade had a devastating effect — medicines were amongst the manufactured goods that failed to reach Bougainville. Thousands of deaths are attributed to the blockade which is said to have operated until 1997.

Because of the blockade and the damage done to infrastructure over the years of the dispute, rebuilding Bougainville is a huge task. Sean Dorney concludes that no matter how imaginative and resilient the people may be, if young people were to pick up the skills necessary to run an autonomous Bougainville, the fighting had to end and education begin.

Classroom Activities

  1. The blockade of Bougainville was a strategy used by the Papua New Guinean government to defeat those wanting change on Bougainville. Fuels, food, medical supplies and other manufactured goods were blocked from reaching Bougainville.
    1. The use of blockades has occurred in other places throughout history. By completing an internet search identify two examples of blockades used elsewhere in the world.
    2. What do you think the Papua New Guinean Government hoped to achieve by the blockade and to what extent do you think it was successful?
    3. From watching the video clip, did the people of Bougainville benefit at all from the blockade? Explain.
  2. The blockade of Bougainville has been described as being harsher than that of Iraq in the Gulf War because, unlike Bougainville, in Iraq medicines were not blocked. Over the years of the blockade thousands of Bougainvilleans are estimated to have died due to lack of medicines for illnesses and diseases that were treatable. Through an internet search, try to find out how many deaths in Bougainville have been attributed to the blockade on medicine. Use at least three different sources, clearly identify each source and comment on how reliable you consider each source might be.

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.