RGSQ Lecture Series - The Thomson Oration
Pacific Islands: Sinking Islands and Sinking Geographies
by Prof John Connell, The 2019 Thomson Medal Awardee
The Pacific islands have recently emerged into a new geopolitical era – waystations in China’s new Belt and Road initiative – and Australia has consequently rediscovered our neighbours.
Pacific politics is shifting fast. Meanwhile Pacific nations concentrate on shaping their own destinies as part of a Blue Pacific: not small island states but large ocean states. In the midst of this intriguing turmoil, what do we really know about these countries – beyond occasional tourist destinations or perhaps renewed penal colonies? Are the atoll states really sinking and are their economies facing frustrating times? What might their disappearance mean? What of our former only colony Papua New Guinea?
Examples from PNG (Bougainville and Manam), Kiribati and Tuvalu, illustrate the extraordinary diversity of change and the new structures of mobility, with evolving cultures of migration that are about to transform rural and regional Australia, and especially Queensland. Fascinating and complex changes are happening in the economies and societies of the Pacific – from struggles for independence in New Caledonia to the rise of the Kingdom of Papaala in Bougainville, from ‘disappearing’ Melanesian islands to ‘appearing’ islands in Tonga – yet, all too often, we have lost sight of this region and condemned our neighbours to irrelevance.
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