Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pacific Perspective - Setting the Scene

In my post GDP - Australia in its Region I spoke of Australia and New Zealand's role in the Pacific. There I wrote in part:

Australia is a super power in its immediate region, and sometimes behaves with the arrogance of one. Ten years ago few of us would have foreseen the increasing need to project force in the way we have had to in the Pacific ... Our relations with our Pacific neighbours are likely to become more, not less, complicated.

Since then I have watched with sadness the riots in Tonga requiring New Zealand and Australian involvement.

This was followed by the coup threats in Fiji requiring Australia to send a naval force to stand by ready to evacuate foreigners.

A Blackhawk helicopter crashed while landing on HMAS Kanimbla, one of the Fiji force, killing the pilot with one soldier missing, presumed dead. Over the last decade, Australia has in fact lost many more service personnel in helicopter accidents than from any other cause, including the crash in April 2005 on Nias Island, Indonesia, of a navy Sea King helicopter on Tsunami relief, killing nine.

Now as I write the clock is ticking down on the latest Fiji coup deadline.

Younger Australians have no idea, I think, that Australia used to see itself as a Pacific country, part of Oceania, that the Pacific was a place of romance and excitement.

While Australia lost sight of this during the 1970s and 1980s when our focus shifted towards Asia, New Zealand retained its Pacific focus. Now our lack of attention to Oceania has come back to bite us.

When I was growing up back in the 195os the past romance of the Pacific still lingered.

It was there in the older children's books, stories of adventure. It was there in our companies such as CSR with its Fiji interests, in the various plantation companies listed on the Australian stock exchanges, in the great trading companies like Burns Philp and W R Carpenter. It was there in the radio serials such as the ABC Argonauts series on the adventures of a young Australian patrol officer in Papua New Guinea.

Now much of this has gone. As always when I write these sorts of posts, I checked with my daughters. The canvass that I was talking about did not exist for them. There is nothing that I can see in their school course on the Pacific, nothing even on New Zealand. The Pacific has become a place of resorts, where cruise ships go.

In my next posts I will take some examples from Pacific History, then talk about my own family as a Pacific family.

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