Mining the Pacific

Early gold mining

Gold was first discovered in Papua New Guinea in 1852 as accidental traces in pottery from Redscar Bay. By the end of nineteenth century, prospectors had discovered gold deposits in many parts of Papua New Guinea, including Port Moresby in 1873 and Ok Tedi River in 1876. 

In 1910 Arthur Darling identified gold at Morobe. Many scenes from the Morobe goldfield are included in the album displayed. Including Merri Creek , a tributary of Edie Creek above the Morobe goldfield. The Morobe goldfield reached its peak production in 1938 when 700 expatriate and 6218 local miners produced 404,000 ounces of gold. The last dredge closed down in the mid-1960s.

Copper mining

The 1960s to the 1980s saw the establishment of copper mining in Papua New Guinea, particularly at Panguna on Bougainville Island and Ok Tedi in the Western Province, which continues to be mined.

The 1980s gold boom

Following the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975, with an increase in the price of gold and new technologies for gold mining, many new exploration licences for gold were sought from the new government. New deposits were found in the Morobe goldfields and the discovery of gold on Lihir Island led to a gold boom for Papua New Guinea in the 1980s. 

'The Geology and Mineral Potential of Papua New Guinea', by Greg Corbett, edited by Anthony Williamson and Graeme Hancock, On the Mineral Resources Authority, PNG website, 2008. 

Phosphate mining

The British Phosphate Commission (BPC) was a board composed of Australian, British and New Zealand representatives who managed the extraction of phosphate from Christmas Island, Nauru and Banaba/Ocean Island from the 1920s until the 1960s.

Phosphate was important to Australia and New Zealand as a fertilizer for improving the quality of farming land. The indigenous people were paid for the phosphate, but as the photographs show the effect of the phosphate mining was immense. On Banaba/Ocean Island, between 1900 and 1979 mining stripped away 90% of the island's surface. The same process occurred on Nauru from 1907 to the 1980s.
The environment was changed completely from one that provided them with resources and food to the stark pinnacles left over from the mining, making the land uninhabitable. The Banabans/Ocean Islanders were relocated by the British authorities to Rabi Island, Fiji in 1945.