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Public service announcements targeting the state of Queensland (where most of the migration traffic between PNG and Australia occurs) warn Australian men working in the mining industry of the health risks of sex with Papua New Guineans.
In reality, while many PNG women would jump at the chance of overseas travel—something that is accessible to only a tiny minority of the population, usually through educational exchange and, yes, marriage to foreigners—most are deeply attached to their home and relations, and understand that life in other countries might be isolating and difficult.
Race in Papua New Guinea, as Ira Bashkow has so elegantly shown in The Meaning of Whitemen (2006), is often understood through an idiom of consumption, and white people are known and appreciated through the goods they possess.
At first, embarrassed, I wondered if he was hitting on me, but I quickly realized that he was actually asking a broader, political question about race relations: Why, he continued, did white people in PNG “keep to themselves” so much?
Why did they seem unwilling to establish long-term relationships with blacks?
The politics of migration in the Pacific are defined and policed by Australian authorities—for most Papua New Guineans, “overseas” means Australia, their former colonial overseer, and Australian media regularly expresses terror at the thought of masses of Papua New Guinean “boat people” crossing the Torres Strait.
In these accounts, Papua New Guineans are often depicted as vectors for infectious diseases like cholera, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, threatening Australian public health and the solvency of the Australian health care system.