Bougainville Panguna
Panguna mine in Boungainville, 1971. (Image: Robert Owen Winkler)

The name "Bougainville" rests uneasily in the Australian subconscious, but many Australians may not be able to recall exactly why. A quick refresher is in order, because we’re about to hear a lot more about the place. And, just for a change, some of the news is good.

Australia's dark history in Bougainville

Bougainville is the largest island in the Solomon Islands chain to the north-east of Queensland, with a population of around a quarter of a million people. The island is presently an autonomous province of Papua New Guinea, with a referendum on full independence due to take place in mid-2019. Settled by Melanesian people at least 33,000 years ago, a unique matrilineal culture evolved with strong obligations to country and coming generations. The place has a bruising modern history, with colonial occupation beginning with a carve up between Germany and Great Britain in 1886 before authority was passed to Australia in 1946.