Mining and Development – PNG Research Update

December 8, 2014

By Emma Richardson (PhD Candidate)

It’s nearly Christmas and I’m currently completing the final weeks of my research fieldwork in New Ireland Province, PNG.   On my arrival back in New Zealand on Christmas Eve I will have undertaken two months research on Lihir Island (where Newcrest Mining Ltd. is currently operating) and two months on Simberi Island (where the Simberi Gold Company Ltd. is currently operating).  Within this time I will have spent approximately three months living within village environment and the remainder of my time within the mine company environment, residing within mining camps and spending time within the two company community relations departments.

community relations Simberi

(Community Relations Office, Simberi Gold Company Ltd, Simberi Island)

It would be an impossible task to summarise my experiences of my time on Lihir and Simberi Island’s into a few short words, and I think perhaps inappropriate. Inappropriate because it’s not my experiences that matter here, but the experiences of the Lihirian and Simberian people living with large scale mining.   Instead I recall the words of a Lihirian woman whose response to learning that I was staying within the nearby village of Sianios for two months was [and I paraphrase]:  ‘I’m glad you are here and I think you are in the right place, in the right place because now you will know how hard life is for us… Know what it is like to have rats in your food, to have no light at night and no cold drink when you are hot’.

In terms of my research to date, so far I have undertaken approximately 80 interviews with individuals and groups across Lihir and Simberi.  While I’m yet to analyse these interviews, it’s already abundantly clear that on both islands, there’s shared frustration over the weak (and some would argue non-existant) connection between customary landowners to mining benefits.  For some, such frustrations exist in the context of optimism for  and over future mining benefits, but for others frustration exist in the context of fear, fear of continued mining, of an uncertain environmental future and the perceived anticipated risks of ongoing business as usual.

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