New Internationalist

An Evergreen Island

Issue 346

This independently produced documentary about the South Pacific island of Bougainville tells a rare but hugely encouraging story. For all those who believe that it is impossible to live without the products of transnationals, this film will serve as a challenge. And for all who believe it is possible, it’s an inspiration. In 1972 Australian mining company Conzinc Rio Tinto (CRA) began commercial production from a huge copper-ore deposit it had located in Bougainville’s Panguna valley. After 17 years of petitions and lobbying for a fair deal from CRA, the people of Bougainville forced the mine to close. To pressure the people into reopening the mine, Bougainville was blockaded by Papua New Guinea. The nine-year blockade — ultimately unsuccessful — kept away food, medical supplies, fuel and humanitarian assistance from the island.

An Evergreen Island shows how Bougainvilleans used ingenious alternatives to survive without these essentials and rebuild their communities. For instance, we see fermented coconut oil being used to run generators and vehicles. A salvaged truck gearbox helps create hydroelectric power from a river. Nails are made from cyclone fences. Without medical supplies and health professionals, traditional bush medicine undergoes a revival. It’s ‘mekim na savvy’ — learning by doing.

There are no blueprints for building alternatives to the global free market based on community values and self-determination. But this documentary suggests that community values and self-determination are vital components of the process. If we could harness just some of the Bougainvilleans’ courage, resourcefulness and vision we would be well on the way to a brighter future.

Distributed by Video Education Australasia (VEA), 111A Mitchell St, Bendigo, Victoria 3550, Australia.

Aziz Choudry

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