The Genesis of Mount Kare

There are three reasons why we wrote Mount Kare Gold Rush.

The first, and perhaps the most important of these, springs from the deep affinity we both have for Papua New Guinea. We have spent more time there than anywhere else, and you don’t live that long in a place you don’t like. PNG is an emerging nation – it is still finding its own way. Like other peoples, Papua New Guineans learn by experience. People learn from their own histories, and use historical experience to help shape their future. The Hispanic-American philosopher, George Santayna, wrote that ‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. The difficulty is that in Papua New Guinea the country’s history is not accessible to many of its people. The story of Mount Kare is a prime example. Perhaps telling this story makes it less likely that it will be repeated.

Some people, often those in positions of authority, knew parts of the Mount Kare story, but most people with access to the media knew of it only by occasional sound bites and headlines. Those who played a role in it saw it from their own, often narrow perspective. Andy makes no bones about his own subjectivity. He tells us that this story is his own, told as honestly as he can, but that other people would tell other stories. We wanted this book to record Andi’s Mount Kare story so that Papua New Guineans now and in the future could read it, evaluate it and perhaps learn from it. We felt that the Mount Kare story was too significant to be forgotten.

A second reason for writing Mount Kare was to say something about Australians in the Pacific, and for this reason we included a post-script about the Solomon Islands. Australia has inherited a Western legal framework which is essentially adversarial in nature. This codified legal system was in turn passed on to PNG when it attained independence. As much as it can be said of a country of over 700 languages and cultures, PNG’s traditional customary legal framework favours negotiation, compromise and consensus. When the two systems clash, as they did at Mount Kare, opportunities are created which unscrupulous leaders and power-brokers can and do exploit. Two things can be said about this. Firstly Australia is often ill-served by its legal firms and entrepreneurs who bring foreign remedies to domestic disputes. Secondly, Australian companies working in the Pacific region should be aware that the ‘Australian Way’ may not be in their own best interests, or those of the host nation.

Lastly, in order to tell Andi’s Mount Kare story we needed to say something about Andi. The tale cannot be separated from the teller. Although this places the book somewhere between biography and reportage, we felt that if people could somehow connect with the rebellious, adolescent Andi, and with the adult, free-spirited person he became, they might understand the Mount Kare story better. They might also ponder on the unpredictable, seemingly random intersections of biography and history.

Andi and I have often discussed what might have happened had things been different. The best outcome, and one that was once likely, would have been if two large, mutually suspicious PNG culture groups could have been left alone to forge an alliance, and together become a major partner in a gold mine with a transnational company. This would have set a ground-breaking precedent not only for future resource development in PNG, but for the transnational company’s dealings with indigenous peoples in other parts of the world. It would have shown that transnational resource companies can work with indigenous peoples, and that both can benefit. This possibility was not aborted, or even still born. It died a neo-natal death, not through any lack of good-will by the transnational at Mount Kare but through the intervention of  foreigners, largely Australians, who were allowed to exploit circumstances. people and the law to further their own agendas.

This is the lesson of Mount Kare.

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