Bougainville film shows courage and community

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Bougainville shows its courage and community

An Evergreen Island
Frontyard Films
Made by Mandy King and Fabio Cavadini
Showing Tuesday, August 1, 7pm at the Side On Café, 83 Parramatta Road, Annandale, Sydney

REVIEW BY MARK ABBERTON

In 1989, the people of Bougainville closed down one of the world's largest copper mines, which was reaping profits from the destruction of their island. An Evergreen Island is an inspirational portrayal of how Bougainville survived the ensuing eight-year blockade by Papua New Guinea.

The documentary includes historical footage showing the extent to which the mine, owned by Anglo-Australian multinational Rio Tinto, devastated the land and ruined one of Bougainville's main water systems.

Pictures of the half-kilometre deep, two-kilometre wide mine show why the traditional landowners, the women, refused to allow the mine to go ahead after the copper deposit was discovered in the 1960s. In 1969, Australian riot police were brought in to ensure the mine did go ahead.

Despite Bougainville belonging to the Solomon Islands archipelago, it was incorporated into PNG in 1975 at the time of PNG's independence. The struggle against the mine renewed Bougainville's call for independence.

Following Panguna's forced closure, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was set up to defend the people from attacks by the PNG Defense Force, which used Australian-supplied helicopters flown by Australian and New Zealand pilots.

Unable to defeat the BRA, the PNG government turned on ordinary Bougainvilleans; many people were forced into the jungle.

Of the 12,000 Bougainvilleans killed by the war, many died from preventable diseases and during childbirth, unable to get medicines or trained help. Seriously ill people were put in a BRA boat and taken at night through the straits to the Solomon Islands; they'd just hope they could elude the PNG navy's modern, Australian-supplied patrol boats.

The BRA had no such help but could rely on the inventiveness and community spirit of Bougainvilleans, the portrayal of which is the documentary's main strength. A hydro-electricity generator was built, for example, using materials collected from the abandoned mine site, and now nearly all villages in Bougainville have power using the island's river systems. Solar power was also used to charge batteries to power radios and satellite phones, a vital and rare link to the outside world.

The film-makers visit a new centre teaching obstetric care, established by the BRA and the Bougainville Interim Government to help lower maternal and infant mortality rates. The film-makers also speak to a former school principal who now runs education on the whole island. He describes how, without books or stationery, 12 schools teach people to read and write with only the bible as material. Training colleges have been established to teach people trades and an agricultural college teaches environmentally friendly methods of food production.

Communities have even learned how to use coconut oil as a replacement for diesel and fuel to power the few cars they have; 200 coconuts need to be scraped, squeezed, boiled and fermented to produce five litres of fuel.