Forty Years On The Pacific/Papua or British New Guinea

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Forty Years On The Pacific by Frank Coffee
Papua or British New Guinea

NO account of Papua would be complete without reference to the splendid work of its able Lieut.Governor—John Hubert Plunkett Murray. He has guided the territory through its most critical era. In 1908 when he assumed office the annual territorial revenue was less than $150,000. To-day, notwithstanding four years of adversity born of the war, the revenue is nearly $350,000 per annum, exclusive of annual subsidy. In 1918 he was able to give back to the Commonwealth $50,000—a third of that subsidy; and it will not be surprising if, at the expiration of another ten years, or perhaps even seven, he will be able to announce that Papua can stand alone.

One of the most critical times of any tropical state is when its agricultural resources are being tested. That time for Papua has now passed. Ten years ago there was not a plantation worthy of the name in Papua, and yet to-day we see upward of 50 (exclusive of the smaller holdings) in operation, and many of them exporting rubber, copra, and sisal hemp, the three chief products of the land.

With this increase in operations the number of indentured native laborers assigned annually to Europeans has grown from 2,000 to 10,000, and according to a recognized authority there will be another 10,000, and probably more, available for indenture within the next decade. Compare this with the Solomons, Samoa or Fiji!

As the "Outside" tribes, meaning those in the far interior come more under the influence of the Government, districts which are at present closed to recruiting will be opened to employers. To help this and other purposes along, Judge Murray has encouraged his District Officers to explore even the remotest parts of their districts. The response to his exhortations in this connection has been most satisfactory. Of the 14 districts into which the territory is divided for administrative purposes, only three remain partially unexplored—the Daru, Kikori, and Kerema districts.

The other eleven districts are all more or less well known, patrol officers and magistrates having penetrated into their innermost recesses. The great Owen Stanley Range, with its 13,000-foot peaks, has been crossed and recrossed by these officers, and the numerous tribes living on its slopes are gradually being brought under government influence. As soon as this is accomplished they become new fields open to the recruiters of plantation labor.

It will be readily understood that these natives, little more than savages when they first enter the labor field, require someone to watch their interests and to guide them to understand and fulfill their obligations to their employers under their contracts of service. This duty has, of course, been taken up by the government, and the guiding hand of Judge Murray has always been visible directing his officers along a path that is often strewn with obstacles.

A native enters into a contract of service for a term varying from six months to three years (the maximum allowed by law) according to the wishes of the native.

The employer undertakes the following: To pay the native a monthly wage of say $2.50 or $3.75, to provide him with a blanket, 10-inch cloth, and, where necessary, mosquito net, also 1/2 Ibs. rice (daily), 1 Ib. meat, 2 sticks of tobacco, soap and salt (weekly).

These items, together with fares to and from the natives' homes, recruiting fees, etc., bring the annual cost of a laborer up to $90 Of $100.

On the other hand a native who deserts from his employer without reasonable excuse (assault by employer would be one) or who, except on account of ill-health or other lawful excuse, fails to show ordinary diligence in the performance of work allotted him under his contract, or refuses to do such work, may be imprisoned for a period of—usually a month. No wages due under a contract are payable to a native for any time that he is in prison, and no time during which he is in prison is counted in reckoning the time which he must serve in order to complete his contract. Thus the law supports employer and employee, and it is to the credit of both that breaches of duty are comparatively few. In order to see that these duties are discharged, magistrates and inspectors pay monthly visits to the plantations in their respective districts, when breaches are dealt with on the spot. When an employer beats a native (and is convicted) on three consecutive occasions, he may be not only fined but forbidden to employ native labor. This drastic action, which practically prevents a man earning a living in Papua, is only carried out in grave cases.

Judge Murray's latest step is to cause a bill to be passed by the Australian Legislature enabling the natives to be taxed; not, however, for so.crude a reason (often given) that they should be taxed, but in order that they may receive —intra alia—some primary and technical education. Thus the money raised by the tax will be spent in teaching them to take their places as artisans, mechanics, agriculturists, etc., for as the Lieut.-Governor points out in his last annual report, Papua will never be a white man's country in the sense that Europeans will settle extensively, marry and live there, as in colder climes; so that as development goes on, as it surely must, the Papuan, like the Javanese, will be able to assist more and more in the work of his country. A few years ago it was a singular thing to see a Papuan doing a bit of rough painting or carpentering, yet to-day you will see them, though not in large numbers, driving launches, clerking, building houses and boats—in fact, doing most things that a skilled laborer can do. The tax mentioned above will be collected yearly and will amount to from $2.50 to $5.00, payable with some exceptions by all males between 17 and 40.

Among the pioneers of Papua the name of Sir Rupert Clarke, an Australian, will always be prominent. Over ten years ago his resource and ingenuity brought into being the Kanosia rubber plantation near Port Moresby, 385 miles from Cooktown. This was followed by others—the Rorona, Galley Reach, Kemp Welch River, Veimauri and the New Guinea rubber estates under the management of M. A. Bloomfield. To-day, the visitor can ride for miles through these promising properties, see thousands of pounds of rubber and hemp being packed for export. He can, if he will inspect some of the finest native accommodation houses in Papua, see a thousand or more native laborers in varying degrees of civilization, all helping in the work of progress. There is the man from the muddy delta in the Gulf of Papua where cannibalism was most rife until the government taught them better—here a stalwart warrior from the Mambare, six hundred miles from the Gulf, and there a knock-kneed mountaineer from the slopes of the Chirima.