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Video clip synopsis – In 1988, Meg Taylor began walking across the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to retrace the journey her father had made 50 years earlier.
Year of production - 1989
Duration - 4min 31sec
Tags - colonisation, independence, indigenous cultures, Papua New Guinea, power, see all tags


In My Father's Footsteps

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About the Video Clip


In My Father’s Footsteps is an excerpt from the film My Father, My Country produced in 1989.

My Father, My Country
In 1938 three Australian patrol officers – Jim Taylor, John Black and Pat Walsh – set off on an epic journey into the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Their purpose: to make contact with 'stone age’ tribes who knew nothing of the outside world and explain to them that their lives were about to undergo incredible change. Fifty years later, Jim’s daughter Meg retraced her father’s steps and met people who remembered the day the patrol arrived. Meg’s observations are combined with excerpts from her father’s journal to provide a personal and poetic narrative about an extraordinary meeting of cultures.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with the National Geographic Society.

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:

  • draw conclusions about the usefulness of sources for an historian (including a website)
  • identify perspectives of different individuals and groups

In respect to what students learn about, this video clip gives students the opportunity to find out about the features of another pre-colonial indigenous culture (in Papua New Guinea) and its experience of colonisation. It also gives students the opportunity to learn to explain how and why colonisation occurs, and to describe key aspects of contact and the responses to colonisation by 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


The indigenous peoples of the southwest highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) were not known about until the 1930s when gold prospectors discovered that the highland terrain thought to be inhospitable was in fact teeming with an estimated one million people.

This video clip includes historic footage showing the first contact between people of the Highlands and the outside world. Contact resulted in rapid change in their world; they were described as having moved from ‘stone to steel’ — from colonisation to de-colonisation and to independence — in less than a generation.

In 1938, three Australian patrol officers, Jim Taylor, John Black and Pat Walsh together with 250 native police and carriers set off on an epic journey into the unexplored Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Their purpose: to make contact with ‘stone age’ tribes who knew nothing of the outside world and explain to them that their lives were about to undergo incredible changes as they were brought under government control.

Fifty years later, Jim’s Taylor’s daughter Meg took time off from her legal practice and set out on her own journey of discovery, retracing the footsteps of her father’s historic patrol. On the two-and-a-half month expedition Meg and her fellow travellers cope with illness, fatigue and constant rain as they find their way through almost trackless jungle over one of the highest mountain ranges in Papua New Guinea.

Along the way, Meg meets people who vividly recall the day her father’s patrol arrived. Having no knowledge of the outside world, they thought the white men were spirits of the dead they’d buried, coming back to life to harm them. Meg’s observations of how the country has coped since then are combined with excerpts from her father’s beautifully written journal to provide a personal and poetic narrative about an extraordinary meeting of cultures.

The archival footage in this video clip shows scenes of the initial contact between the people of vastly different cultures. Sadly, some scenes illustrate how colonial ‘conquerors’ gain control and assume authority, at times with their superior weaponry.

In the contemporary footage it is the scenes of younger Highland men toiling in goldfields away from their villages that are the starkest reminders of how life changed ‘post contact’ for indigenous peoples.

Classroom Activities

  1. List the various historical sources used in this video clip and rank them in order of how useful you believe they are in informing people today of historical events. Be prepared to share your analysis with your classmates.
    1. From watching the original footage of the first contact and of two groups fighting with shields, what conclusions can you infer about the culture and lifestyle of the highlanders?
    2. Do you agree with Jim Taylor’s cultural interpretation of why tribes battle each other?
    3. In his journal, Taylor had written: ‘the most difficult problem we face is convincing people of our peaceful intentions – people who have never seen men with white skin before’. Were the ‘men with white skin’ who traveled to Papua New Guinea all ‘well intentioned’ or ‘peacefully intentioned’? Explain.
  2. An elder from the Aipu tribe verbally recalled the occasion of the first contact his people had with the patrol and with white men. He described how some Aipu attacked the patrol and wounded a policeman.
    1. What reasons did he give for the attack?
    2. Were the Aipu reassured in respect to their fears of the possible negative consequences of contact?
    3. According to the elder, some thought the white men were spirits of the dead. What reasons were given to explain this conclusion?
    4. Why would the people of Ainu have thought that they were the sole inhabitants of the earth?
  3. The tensions evident in the attacking of the policemen by the Aipu and the reprisal that followed are commented on by Taylor’s daughter who notes: ‘…with the speed of a bullet the people of Aipu were thrust into the 20th century…their way of life and everything they believed in and cherished was suddenly in question’.
    Consider Meg Taylor’s comments and reflect on the Aboriginal experiences of colonisation and the experiences of the indigenous people of the Papua New Guinea highlands. What do both have in common?

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.