By Daniel Jones 23/2/2014
While organising Clive’s film screening in Sydney I got a call from a Mr Johannes Van Der Linden claiming to be a former BCL mine manager at Panguna. He expressed interest in coming to the film night in Sydney but was worried he might be beaten up by what he suspected was a group of anti mining communist hardliners perhaps. I assured him he would be welcome to attend and would not be abused but he didn’t make it to the film night.
I contacted Johannes and suggested a visit, which he accepted, so Clive and I went along to their house in Austinmer. Upon meeting Johannes and his wife Emmy we were shown some of the beautiful carvings and artefacts from Bougainville including a hand-made hard wood dining table with double legs, very nicely made. He believed in the great potential for unique Bougainvillean made furniture with their prized rain forest timbers, something worth involving in their economy and trade links.
After expressing that our views maybe different Mr Van Der Linden told me of his work as a BCL mine manager, first in Analytical Services Department then Analytical and Environment Services and later in Corporate Services toward the end. He said he was “one of the first there and one of the last to leave”. He worked with Louis Togovono at the time, a very switched on Bougainvillean man, whom I had become familiar with from online forums. Johannes said “We want to have the same outcome an opportunity for the population to achieve their full potential and sustainable future for the people of Bougainville. We may not agree on how this can be achieved and both points of view should be discussed. I am not representing Rio Tinto, my only interest is in the future of the Bougainvilleans. Louis should play part in this”.
Johannes opinion is that; “for the people of Bougainville to achieve their full potential it is essential to reopen the Panguna mine to provide an income and capital to develop agriculture other local businesses and provide funding for infrastructure health and education. At present 85% of the funds to pay for these service comes from the PNG Government and International aid. Some of the best agricultural land on Bougainville is owned by foreigners. The population of Bougainville increased from 50,000 to 75,000 between 1970 and 1989, now it is 200,000. The people of Bougainville have a great capacity to technical work and the opportunity should be given to further develop this. A significant number of BCL trained tradesmen and professionals are working all over the world because their skills are recognised. All the positive issues instigated by BCL have not been recognized such as the infrastructure such as roads, Arawa town, the training of many young Bougainvilleans, the friendships between the local people and expatriates. Most expatriates which were mostly Australians recognised that the part of the income paid to the PNG Government was inadequate and this would have been renegotiated the year the uprising started. Of course the People of Bougainville, not just the landowners should get the benefits and there should be consensus within the population based on facts to recommence mining”.
He told me of his work, often but not always with Rio Tinto, from around the world including South Africa, Indonesia and Mongolia, mostly benefiting the mining Industry as a chemical engineer but he also worked at Port Kembla’s Southern Copper, the 200 metre high stack there was demolished only last week. Surprisingly this is where he also worked with Louis Togovono. Mr Van Der Linden supports Louis with admiration of his high standing and capacity for leadership. It was news to us that Louis is the son of Sir Paul Lapun, a Ministerial Member of the House of Assembly (1965) with an extensive political career but was also an early fighting voice against the land and resource theft occurring on their Island. This is evident in the interview documentation with Sir Paul Lapun (1988) provided courtesy of Dr Lasslett on a forum.
Good news as I find Louis certainly expresses intelligent resolve on forums of issues affecting Bougainville, sharing solutions to many economic and environmental problems within Bougainville that don’t necessarily involve mining. Examples include premium coconut oil production and chocolate production facilities. After learning what works and what doesn’t from mega mining projects and turning the other way Louis had thought he had left Rio Tinto only to find out they had bought his current workplace, such is the nature of capitalism. It is fortunate that Mr Togovono has so much knowledge and experience to offer his motherland and peoples in many areas of expertise especially alternatives to large scale mining and directions in agriculture and renewable energy.
In Louis’s own words “Bougainville at present does not have the capacity to deal with mega projects, the politicians there think they do. Maybe they need to go out and get a job overseas and learn how much government effort is required to keep these people in line. I prefer small mines or artisanal mines for starters and build up capacity that way. Better still focus on agriculture and the others renewables. One big hole in the tropics has far reaching consequences due to the wet conditions. It is also my view that some of the public servants and politicians dealing with BCL at the local level are seriously out of their depth. Thats why we have seen a fragmentation rather than a unification of the landowner associations. There some are incisive and divisive characters amongst the local players. And one of the biggest qualification they need is the gift of listening…no just hearing, but actually listening to the little people on the ground”.
Over coffee Johannes admitted that things went wrong with the [mining] environmental issues “that were supposed to flush the tailings out to sea” with which he admitted some responsibility and is concerned to this day about acid mine drainage, which he believed ought to be fixed now regardless of whether the mine re-open’s or not. He said “A best practice of tailings disposal through a pipeline to the sea was constructed in 1988 but not implemented because of the BRA uprising. The acid rock drainage would have been fixed soon as soon it had become apparent”. It was interesting to hear that ASIO had arrested Johannes on his return from Panguna after suspecting he had secret documents on events that had occurred. After pulling apart his belonging‘s and keeping him in custody overnight they found no secret documents.
Along came the social issues and shear injustice that sparked the war. Bougainvillean’s got next to no benefit from the mine on their land. Mr and Mrs Van der Linden as BCL employees recommended the company should have addressed this issue much sooner to prevent the conflict that arose. Had BCL listened and paid attention to Mr Van der Linden, Louis commented, there would have been a different result at Panguna. Emotionally Johannes and Emmy expressed their fondness for Bougainvillean’s. Twenty year relationships that had become like family, they felt sorry for what had resulted from the mining occupation.
As Clive talked with Emmy who spoke of such family and mentioned triplet babies whom one was the namesake of her ‘Emma’. Coincidently Clive knew exactly of the people spoken of and brought the bad news that Emma had died due to the blockade of medical treatment during the crisis. The news was upsetting but a connection had been made again with Bougainvilleans.
Clive lived in the same area where Emmy and Johannes long time Bougainvillean friends lived. James his wife and the triplets are named after the wives of three Managers of Bougainville Copper; Emma, Judith and Beverly.
Johannes said; “James and his family came down from their upper Bovo village to see us of when we were forced to leave Bougainville. We had known each other for 19 years”. As we heard from Clive who knows the family well that James , his wife and the two triplets died most likely from an infectious disease.
Johannes said “If the BRA would not have burned down the Arawa hospital and killed our Bougainvillean Doctor who tried to stop them they would mostly likely be ok”. “James the Medical Doctor and Louis Tagovono ,Sir Paul Lapun son, both started their working lives in the Analytical Services Department and were supported to become Professionals in their own right. Louis worked with me for more than 20 years on Bougainville and for Southern Copper in Port Kembla in Australia. Louis was nominated to take over as Departmental Manager from John in 1988”.
Clive asked Johannes what he thought Rio Tinto ought to do to be invited back to Bougainville. In reply he said “easy they ought to start a foundation to rehabilitate the Panguna site whether mining starts again or not”. He mentioned trying to get BCL interested in a foundation in recent years with Louis’s ideas focused on empowering Bougainvillean people rather than the education assistance hand outs they are doing now. However BCL has zero interest in such a foundation in their game plan, but still the importance of compensation to be addressed remains. The cost according to hydro geologist Dr Gavin Mudd, could go into hundreds of millions to remediate the mine, certainly not out Rio Tinto’s profit margin reaches of over nine billion and within its corporate social responsibility.
On the way out we were shown the garden which hosts a joint nature reserve with the neighbours and respect for nature. They really like the area and Johannes tells me he walks up the escarpment twice a week as he reveals his weight gym. In his eighties he likes to keep fit as he said he had always done including in his time on Bougainville hosting regular aerobics and fitness regimes for workers at the time.
It was good meeting them. As Johannes stressed that in all the documentation of research facts over the years no-one had bothered to come and talk with him. It was a pleasure to talk with Mr and Mrs Van der Linden I hope this will not be the last time we talk about Bougainville and help to piece together the history, and of peoples Bougainville experiences both tragic and inspirational to so many and to find a way forward.