History on Wednesday: “Thinking in Papua New Guinean terms” The sensitive files case of 1972 and Australia’s experiences of decolonisation
“Thinking in Papua New Guinean terms” The sensitive files case of 1972 and Australia’s experiences of decolonisation
Dr Jon Piccini, Australian Catholic University | 12:10pm, 23 August, 2023
In early 1972, as the Territory of Papua New Guinea geared up for national elections, a team from the Commonwealth Archives Office began removing ‘sensitive’ files held by the Australian colonial administration in Port Moresby. This attempt to migrate archives and the scandal that ensued reveals how the end of Australia’s empire created divided loyalties. Within the Department of External Territories and the Australian Administration, the question of who owned the colonial archive was starkly posed. Were records produced by Australians in fact Australian, and in need of recovery “whether the law is on our side or not”, or the property of a new nation? For the Library Association of Australia, whose members played a vital role alongside local nationalists in successfully contesting the removals policy, debate focused on the question of archival and professional integrity. Was the problem that those removing the files in Port Moresby were “clerks” who lacked “professional judgement”, or a deeper, ethical one concerning the fate of what we now call the post-colonial archive? In offering this Australasian perspective on the migrated archive, I reveal how for many Australians, decolonisation was not a far off problem, nor even a metaphor, but a practical reality that reshaped their perspectives on Papua New Guinea and, in some cases, Australia as well.
About the speaker:
Dr Jon Piccini is a historian of twentieth-century Australia and its global entanglements. In particular he has published two monographs exploring the engagement of Australian activists, politicians and ordinary people with global ideas, firstly the ‘global 1960s’ and secondly Human Rights. His current projects include a history of American ‘Rest & Recreation’ leave in Sydney during the Vietnam War, and an intellectual and cultural history of Australian engagement with decolonization after the Second World War.
School of Humanities Common Room – A22, Level 8, A18 Brennan MacCullum Building. Spaces are limited for in-person tickets, so please register as soon as possible if you would like to reserve a spot.
Zoom info to be sent ahead of the event.