Pacific Correspondent Sean Dorney is leaving the ABC after accepting redundancy. After covering the region for more than 40 years, he says the Pacific is far more dynamic and (from an Australian foreign policy perspective) problematic than it was when he first went to the islands in 1974.
PROFILE: Papua New Guinea had not gained its independence from Australia when I arrived in Port Moresby in early 1974 to join the newsroom of the then recently created National Broadcasting Commission of PNG.
I was on secondment from the ABC and had the enormous privilege of being able to watch and report from close up PNG's emergence as a nation in September 1975.
One of the first trips I made around Papua New Guinea in that year before independence, 1974, was as an NBC reporter assigned to cover the visit of the then Prime Minister of Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
We flew in a chartered aircraft to various places around the country including the PNG Highlands and everywhere he went Ratu Mara told the crowds not to be afraid of becoming independent.
At the time, Fiji, only four years independent itself, was seen as a perfect model of stability.
There were some predicting chaos in a post independent Papua New Guinea.
Throw out assumptions
But one of the first lessons I learnt as a journalist in the Pacific was to throw assumptions onto the scrap heap.
In the 40 years since then, Fiji has had four coups and been under a soon-to-end military dictatorship for the past eight. In contrast Papua New Guinea has had eight national elections and many peaceful changes of government, some of them mid-term through Motions of No Confidence.
PNG has had its problems - the ten year secessionist war on Bougainville not the least of them - but with the people speaking 860 distinct indigenous languages it is a far more difficult place to govern than many outsiders realise.
In the years since I first ventured into the Pacific the number of independent Pacific nations has gone from five (Samoa, Cook Islands, Nauru, Tonga & Fiji) to 14 (Niue - 1974; PNG - 1975; Solomon Islands & Tuvalu - 1978; Kiribati - 1979; Vanuatu - 1980; the Federated States of Micronesia; the Marshall Islands - 1986; and Palau - 1994).
Of them all, Vanuatu's independence was perhaps the most traumatic with the first Prime Minister, Father Walter Lini, inviting Papua New Guinea troops to subdue the secessionist Vemerana rebellion led by Jimmy Stevens on the northern island of Espiritu Santo.
I had been in Vanuatu for Independence Day and then went to Solomon Islands to cover an election. I found out that the PNG troops led by Colonel Tony Huai were passing through Honiara on their way to carry out that mission.
So I went to the airport and while the chartered Air Niugini jet was refuelling I asked Colonel Huai if I could jump on board and accompany them to Vanuatu.
He agreed and I went. Unfortunately, the pilot got into trouble with Civil Aviation authorities later for picking up an unauthorised passenger.
Another trouble spot in the early 1980s was New Caledonia. I went there a number of times to cover the clashes between the indigenous pro-independence movement and those who opposed independence, the Caldoche, the descendents of French settlers, who also had a lot of support from more recent French migrants and others from existing or former French colonies like Algeria.
There was considerable anti-Australian feeling in those quarters and one night when I was attempting to file a story over the phone, the international operator in Noumea asked me if the number I had asked her to connect me to was Radio Australia.
"Yes," I replied.
"NO MORE LIES!" she shouted and disconnected my call.
One of the most positive developments in recent years in the Pacific is the way eight Pacific Island countries have stamped their authority on fishing for tuna in their combined Exclusive Economic Zones.
'Internet speeds have become the bane of my life'
Sean Dorney says one thing he won't miss is the technological challenges of Pacific reporting
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (the PNA) now have a secretariat in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, and its leadership on this issue has already led to the members getting at least three times as much revenue from fishing than they did just a short time ago.
But the future of some of the tuna species is a major concern because of over fishing.
Another worrying trend is population growth. Dislocation and the pace of change in island communities has led to a disturbing increase in youth suicide.
Several years ago, Fr Francis Hezel, who set up the Micronesia Seminar Institute in the FSM told me his research had shown that young people who were killing themselves, often by hanging, were doing it because of family conflict.
Fr Hezel told me that when he talked to the older Micronesians they spoke about how it was not unusual for youths to have acrimonious disputes with their fathers but that, in the traditional village setting, they could, for a while, flee the home and go seek solace from a favourite uncle, or an aunt - somebody who would offer them a shoulder to cry on and who could console them and work out a reconciliation.
That was often not there anymore. Fr Hezel said that in the rush to modernisation the shape of the Micronesian family had changed. The cash economy had created divisions and had contributed to the fragmenting of large kin groups, breaking them down - destroying this traditional mechanism whereby those feeling shamed could be comforted and not left feeling totally rejected and suicidal.
One of the more interesting geo-political developments in recent years is the way China has now become a major player in the Pacific.
Chinese construction companies are present in numerous Pacific Island nations working on infrastructure projects or prestige buildings funded often by soft loans. Chinese migrants have also established local businesses.
Australia remains the biggest aid donor by far but the Chinese are building the sorts of things Pacific politicians are happy to have.
And I think it is indicative of the Australian media's blindness about Australia's role in the region that there is so little coverage while Xinhua has a correspondent in Suva.
My own time of reporting for the ABC on what I believe are all these interesting matters is coming to an end.
Earlier, I mentioned my visits to New Caledonia. Our stringer correspondent in Noumea in the 1980s was Helen Fraser.
In her wonderful book on her period there, "Your Flag's Blocking Our Sun" (a quote from Jean Marie Tjibaou, the independence leader who was later assassinated), she describes how I guided her through a violent demonstration outside the Congress with me recording as we went a running commentary on the missiles being thrown by protesters, the tear gas being fired back by the gendarmes and the injuries on both sides.
The line in Helen's book that delighted me most and which I would not mind using to sum up my Pacific reporting adventures is: "I've never met anyone else who was such fun to be with in a riot."
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