The Kauona Sirivi family in the photo are from Bougainville. At present
they are living in Palmerston North in the North Island of New Zealand.
Left to right, Sam, Josie, and Melanie, in front Imelda
Sam Kauona Sirivi has been given a scholarship by the New Zealand
Government to study to become a helicopter pilot. His plan is to return to
his homeland to work as a pilot and teach others to fly helicopters, a
valuable mode of transport on such a mountainous island.
Josephine Sirivi Kauona is studying computer skills and will work to
improve the communication between people on Bougainville and the outside
world. In 1997 she founded Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom and
became its first president.
Melanie and Imelda, Sam and Josie's daughters, have been attending school
in Palmerston North for the past year.
Their life over the last ten years has been filled with suffering and
struggles - struggling for the rights of the Bougainvillean people and
struggling to stay alive.
Foreign nations' activities on Bougainville
After the Spanish explorer Captain Alvara de Mendana first visited the
Solomon Islands in 1568 he made a return visit in 1594 to seek for gold and
other valuable resources, but became ill and died there.
The next Western visitor was the French sailor, Captain Louis de
Bougainville who named the big island after himself.
Some thirty years later the British, German, Dutch and French imperialists
began to establish colonies around the Asia-Pacific rim.
In the nineteenth century many Bougainvilleans were taken by Australian
slave traders to work in the sugar plantations in Queensland or the coconut
plantations in Fiji and Samoa.
In 1884 representatives of the German Imperial Government visited the area
and offered the protection of the Reich to anyone working there. Later
they used gunboats to extend their control and parts of the Solomons
Archipelago, including Bougainville, were controlled by the Germans while
the rest came under Britain.
Huge coconut plantations were developed along the eastern seaboard on land
belonging to the people of Bougainville. Today these plantations are
controlled by Australian multinational corporations. The Germans trained
the natives only to support their industries.
In 1918 when Germany was defeated in World War 1 and lost her territories
in the Pacific Bougainville became a Mandated Territory under the League of
Nations administered by Australia on behalf of Britain along with Papua New
Guinea (PNG). The people of Bougainville are culturally and ethnically
related to the Solomon Islanders, but not to the people of PNG. The people
of Bougainville were unhappy about this 'political marriage', but were not
During World War 2 Bougainville was occupied by the Japanese army. When
the Americans landed on the island there was fierce fighting, and hundreds
of Bougainvilleans, who were not actively involved in the conflict, were
killed. Again after WW2 Bougainville was linked to PNG under Australian
The people of Bougainville began their own enterprises growing cash crops
undertaking very tough physical work and became a successful agricultural
exporter. Highly educated people were attracted to the island and a
unique village-based education system was developed. Land and hard work
were the sources of the island's wealth.
Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL)
From 1929 Australian prospectors were given virtually unlimited licences by
the Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources. Land owners were seldom
informed and never consulted before they worked on their land. In 1965 a
rich copper deposit was drilled and a company set up to mine for copper.
This company was founded by CRA, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto, a huge
mining company. They allowed CRA to own 53% of BCL and the PNG Government
20%. How much did they allocate to the people whose land contained the
The villagers were fearful of activities that they did not understand, and
afraid that they would lose their land and the mountains in which their
protective tribal spirits lived.
The Australian Government saw the mine as one way of increasing the small
revenue of PNG.
English and Australian mining legislation gave the company an unlimited run
of the area up to 10,000 square miles around the deposit - in effect all
the resources on Bougainville. With the landowners there was no
Next CRA wanted a port and when the people resisted armed police used
batons and tear gas. The women threw themselves in front of the
bulldozers, ready to die for their land.
In a court case in the Australian High Court the Bougainvilleans claimed
ownership of the land and the copper as no compensation had been paid.
The Australian Constitution states that 'there can be no acquisition of a
person's property except on the condition that just terms of compensation
were payable.' In August 1969 the seven judges decided in favour of
Australia saying that "the terms which applied to the taking of land in
Australian States did not have to be applied to the Territory of Papua New
Guinea". The landowners had to accept an agreement with CRA.
After seventeen years of attempts to negotiate with CRA and the PNG
Government for better terms and for environmental control the Panguna
Landowners Association decided that they had no other alternative. They
had to mobilise.
An interview with Sam Kauona
Sam and Josie come from Navuia, a village in central Bougainville. This
is three hours drive from where the copper mine was developed, so they were
not directly affected by the mine, but they identified with the feelings of
those whose lives were changed by the mine.
Sam's view of the past
Sam talked about the political history of Bougainville. "It goes back to
before Papua New Guinea (PNG) achieved its independence. Bougainville
made its unilateral declaration of independence on 1 September 1975, over
two weeks before PNG declared its independence on 16 September 1975. Our
fathers said, 'We are Solomon Islanders. Our ethnic affiliation is to
Solomon Islanders and we have our relatives in the Solomon Islands."
"At that time Australia had a United Nations mandate to look after
Bougainville. Australia was also helping and grooming PNG to become
independent by 1975. The people of Bougainville made it known clearly to
the United Nations representative who visited our island in 1964 that they
did not want to become part of PNG. 'We want to be on our own or with the
rest of our Solomon Islanders.' There was a petition by our people given
to the United Nations representative letting them know that Bougainvilleans
wanted to be on their own." However the United Nations, on the advice of
the Australian Government and the rest of the world took no notice of the
"People put up a fight against the Government and the company, for reasons
that were political, economic, environmental and social. We were in a
situation of hopelessness. Multinational corporations were taking all the
resources from our island and putting back nothing. That is why the
Bougainville people said, 'This is enough'. They needed to get the
company, the Papua New Guineans and the Government out of their island so
that they could be on their own. This was the only option left for
Bougainvilleans to save their island from being torn apart by
In 1975 Papua New Guinea set up a provisional government but promised that
it was for only two years.
In 1975 the people had protested to the PNG Government against a company
mining for minerals on the island. The original mining agreement between
the mining company, PNG Government and Bougainville Provincial Government
was to be reviewed after seven years. When that review did not take place
there was deeply felt frustration.
By the late eighties there was a strong sense of social and economic
injustice done to the people of Bougainville. More and more land was being
claimed by the company and destroyed by the mining. The environmental
destruction of the island was unbelievable. For this reason the landowners
demanded compensation, but the Government refused. The company refused to
address issues saying that it was the job of the PNG Government.
Environmental impact of the mine
The mining completely destroyed the Java river system, one of the biggest
in Bougainville. That river as it flowed right from the centre of the
island carried tons and tons of what the company called tailings, waste
earth including deadly cyanide chemical, to the western coast of the
island. The fertile flat land located on the lower plains below the mine
area was completely destroyed by the tailings.
"When the mine was in operation you could not see that river," Sam said.
"It was turned into mud or slurry flowing down and covered hectares and
hectares of land down in the valley as it flowed to the sea. It polluted
not only the land, but also the sea and air. Pollution was evident in the
sea as a lot of fish and marine life was fast being destroyed. Air
pollution was suspected as birds, especially flying foxes, were dying in
Read Part Two to see how the landowners were provoked into action.