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Video clip synopsis – Gregory Kopa, a Bougainville villager describes how he felt when geologists started to look for copper on Bougainville in the 1960s.
Year of production - 1970
Duration - 3min 14sec
Tags - Australian History, Bougainville, capitalism, conflict, nationalism, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea, self-determination, terrorism, see all tags


Mining Bougainville

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About the Video Clip


Mining Bougainville is an excerpt from the film My Valley is Changing (26 mins) produced in 1970.

My Valley is Changing
The building of a giant open-cut copper mine on the island of Bougainville brought profound change to local landowners. Despite royalties, training programs and extensive development, landowner concerns eventually escalated into conflict, which resulted in the closure of the mine. These issues are already clearly evident in this film, made shortly after the mine opened in 1970.

A Commonwealth Film Unit Production made with the assistance of the Department of External Territories.

Background Information

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

Bougainvilleans lived largely from subsistence gardening, hunting and fishing, in a matrilineal system where each person was identified by membership of their mother’s clan. Bougainvilleans felt separate from Papua New Guinea and saw themselves more aligned – physically, emotionally and culturally – with the Solomon Islands. Secessionist sentiments flourished and threatened the cohesion of the newly independent nation of Papua New Guinea. Missionaries had been very influential. In particular the Marists provided much of the education, and many current island leaders are former seminarians.

Discovery of copper deposits 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. A CRA subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) began building the infrastructure and facilities for the mine, which included a port, the town of Arawa, and a network of roads.

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 Australian government hoped that mineral wealth would fund future development in Papua New Guinea, and negotiations led to the Bougainville Copper Agreement in 1967.

In this video clip, Gregory Kopa, a resident of Moroni village, explains that the local people were fearful of the consequences of a mine and how he told the CRA mining company and the government (Papua New Guinea was then under Australian Administration) about their opposition to the mine, which was to be located on land traditionally owned by his people. In response, Gregory was told that the resources found on his land belonged not just to his people, but to everyone in Papua New Guinea.

The mine started production in 1972 under management of Bougainville Copper Ltd with the Papua New Guinea government as a 20% shareholder. It ceased production in 1989.

Classroom Activities


From watching the video clip several things become evident:
Firstly, is that the planned mine is not wanted by Francis Ona and other Bougainvilleans.
Secondly, that ideas about land ownership and custody vary between peoples—with the Australian Administration and new Papua New Guinea Government having a different view on ‘land’, on who owns minerals underground and on whether royalties should be paid to exploit underground minerals such as copper.
Thirdly, we can see that there may be a problem in expecting the people of far flung Bougainville to have loyalty to a new nation and understand and support the idea of decisions being made for the national good.

  1. Your task is to watch the video clip and find the evidence for each of the propositions above.
  2. The video clip focuses on Gregory Kopa. Is there any evidence in the video clip to show that his views were shared by others and were not just his own? Explain.
  3. Think about any other examples you know of whereby people are designated as belonging to an independent nation, who in fact do not see themselves that way and wish for autonomy or independence. What do instances like these tell you about notions of nationhood?
  4. To what extent are the values, attitudes and fears of the people of Bougainville taken into account by the Australian administration and the House of Assembly in Port Moresby when it approves the granting of a mining lease on Bougainville to CRA?
  5. What is your personal response to the Bougainville story as portrayed in this video clip?

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.