Defin­ing mo­ments in Aus­tralian his­tory

Australian Geographic - - Contents -

IN 1906 THEYOUNG na­tion of Aus­tralia be­came a colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tor when it as­sumed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ex­ter­nal ter­ri­tory of Pa­pua – the south­ern half of what is now Pa­pua New Guinea.

Aus­tralia saw the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the ter­ri­tory as an op­por­tu­nity to se­cure its borders, ex­pand com­mer­cial and colo­nial in­ter­ests and prove it­self as a ma­ture and mod­ern na­tion.

Ger­man colo­nial­ism

On 7 Fe­bru­ary 1883, the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald pub­lished an ar­ti­cle about Ger­man in­ten­tions to an­nex the east­ern por­tion of the is­land of New Guinea. (The western part was al­ready con­trolled by the Dutch.) Be­cause the is­land lies only 150km north of Cape York, the ar­ti­cle height­ened anx­i­eties here about the Aus­tralian con­ti­nent’s vul­ner­a­ble and sparsely pop­u­lated north­ern borders.

A month later, Queens­land’s colo­nial gov­ern­ment pre-emp­tively an­nexed east­ern New Guinea. But Lord Derby, Sec­re­tary of State for the Colonies, promptly re­pu­di­ated Queens­land’s claim when news reached him in Lon­don.

Free to act, Ger­many an­nexed New Guinea’s north-east­ern sec­tion in 1884 and named it Kaiser-Wil­helm­s­land. At the same time it claimed the Bis­marck Archipelago, which in­cluded New Bri­tain and New Ire­land off New Guinea’s north-east­ern coast, as well as other small is­land groups.

Bri­tain re­sponded by pro­claim­ing the pro­tec­torate of Bri­tish New Guinea (cov­er­ing south-east­ern New Guinea), pro­vid­ing a buf­fer be­tween Ger­man ter­ri­to­ries and the Tor­res Strait, which was vi­tal to Aus­tralian nav­i­ga­tion.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of the Pro­tec­torate was shared be­tween Bri­tain and the colonies of Queens­land, New South Wales and Vic­to­ria. But in 1906 full con­trol of this area was handed to the Com­mon­wealth of Aus­tralia and it was re­named the Aus­tralian Ter­ri­tory of Pa­pua.

World War I

Shortly after the out­break of World War I in 1914, Aus­tralian mil­i­tary and naval forces oc­cu­pied Kaiser-Wil­helm­s­land to pre­vent it be­ing used as a Ger­man naval base. After the war, the United Na­tions man­dated that Ger­man New Guinea come un­der Aus­tralian rule. Both ter­ri­to­ries, how­ever, were ad­min­is­tered sep­a­rately and re­tained their own iden­ti­ties. In 1949 the Pa­pua and New Guinea Act brought both ter­ri­to­ries to­gether un­der one ad­min­is­tra­tion based in Port Moresby.

Dur­ing the 1960s de­bate grew, both in Can­berra and Pa­pua New Guinea, about the fu­ture role of Aus­tralia’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. There was a view that the Aus­tralian ad­min­is­tra­tion favoured Euro­pean in­ter­ests over those of lo­cals. By Novem­ber 1973 Pa­pua New Guinea had at­tained self-gov­ern­ment and on 16 Septem­ber 1975 it was granted in­de­pen­dence.

Part of the Defin­ing Mo­ments in Aus­tralian His­tory project. To find out more: nma.gov.au/defin­ing­mo­ments

An Aus­tralian pa­trol of­fi­cer (left) trades a stick of to­bacco with lo­cal tribes­men in New Guinea, in about 1950. This mask (be­low) was one of many arte­facts col­lected by

Sir Hu­bert Mur­ray, who in 1908, was ap­pointed lieu­tenant-gover­nor and re­mained head ad­min­is­tra­tor of Pa­pua un­til his death in 1940.

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