It may be just off the coast of North Queensland, but Papua New Guinea is metaphorically very far way from most Australians. Arriving in Port Moresby, the distance of experience from Australia’s southern cities could hardly be greater. Physically, the city feels like it is caught mid-step between an ambiguous colonial past and an explosive future, built on an 8% growth rate in annual gross domestic product predicated on a burgeoning LNG sector.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises a “high degree of caution in Papua New Guinea because of the high levels of serious crime”, with Port Moresby being a hot spot: “Carjackings, assaults (including s-xual assaults), bag snatching and robberies are common.” Old hands mutter that you can get about the streets OK for the most part, but not everyone wants to take the chance. Staying within secure cars and premises, the sensation is one of being piped from place to place. The power relations inherent in preserving personal safety can be complex and uncomfortable. Many buildings sit behind wire and guards. The Australian diplomatic compound –colloquially known as “Fort Shit Scared” — is surrounded by a solid white wall topped with barbed wire.