This exhibition of 29 cartoons by Australia’s most beloved cartoonists was displayed during the 2016 Sampari Art Exhibition & Sale for West Papua at the Australian Catholic University Art Gallery, 26 Brunswick St, Fitzroy (2-11 December 2016). The cartoons were originally published in mainstream media in 2006 after the arrival of forty-three asylum seekers from West Papua. They narrate and amplify the war-of-words between Canberra and Jakarta, and between Australian politicians, over the refugees’ claims of genocide and Indonesia’s racist militarized rule. That Australia’s powerful media moguls published them suggests that they too believed it was time to question Australia’s long-standing support of the Indonesian colonial occupation.
The exhibition was sponsored by Taking Off Tours and United Image Photography. Eight of the beautifully printed works were sold. Copyright of the rest remain with the cartoonist, although most gifted prints to the FRWP Womens Office. The images are reproduced here, in low resolution, with explanatory text. The newspaper articles that many of them illustrated, along with the comprehensive Exhibition Catalogue, are reproduced at the end of the essay.
2006 began for West Papua watchers on 17 January with a photo on the internet of 43 Papuans under a tree alongside a double-outrigger canoe bearing a banner Save West Papua People From Genocide. The asylum-seekers had left Jayapura on the north coast of West Papua early in December 2005, circumnavigated their huge homeland, and crossed the perilous Torres Strait to Mapoon on the the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, all without modern navigation tools. DAMIEN BAKER 43 West Papuan asylum seekers at Mapoon in Far North Queensland
Torres News, Mer Island, 17 January 2006.
Australian Quarantine, Customs, Police found the West Papuans moments before Damien Baker and Corey Bousen from Torres News. The journalists had convinced Murdoch’s newspaper in Cairns to hire a helicopter after they’d heard on the Aboriginal grapevine that the Papuans were three days overdue. However the Papuans had beached and reported the previous day, and Baker’s first photo was of a government helicopter circling them to enforce a new 32km ‘no fly zone’. (In 2006 Mapoon had a population of 239 Aboriginal and Torres Strait descendants). Later in the day they were transported 80 kms down a dirt track to Weipa, and then 4,000 kms across Australia to a detention centre on Christmas Island (just 500 kms south of Jakarta).
THE CARTOONS (images and text)
PAT CAMPBELL captures the pain of the West Papuan mothers, hesitating to put their children on the canoe to Australia, urged on by a Victoria Crowned Pigeon even though the kangaroo’s pouch is closed. (The Victoria Crowned Pigeon was adopted on 19 October 1961 by the West Papuan parliament along with the Morning Star flag and a national anthem). Seven of the 43 asylum seekers were minors (twin-boys aged three, a four-year-old girl, two fourteen- and two sixteen-year-old boys). Four were unaccompanied minors, and Amanda Vanstone, as Minister for Immigration, became their legal guardian. She’d employed David Manne, a fearless lawyer from the Refugee Immigration Legal Centre to prepare all the claims, and sought the advice of Paris Aristotle (Foundation for Survivors of Torture) about settling them in Melbourne under the stewardship of Jacob Rumbiak, a respected leader of West Papua’s independence movement.
Meantime, Custom officials burned Exodus, the asylum seekers hardy little canoe, hand-hewn from a special ‘canoe tree’ planted decades before, and a war-of-words was erupting between Canberra and Jakarta. President Yudhoyono fired first, demanding the Australian Prime Minister return the Papuans to Indonesia, claiming he would personally ‘welcome them back with open arms’, arguing that Australian protection visas would undermine his nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Howard however was unable to oblige as his Immigration Minister was determined to uphold Australia’s legal obligations to the UN Convention on Refugees.
On 24 March 2006, Australia’s Immigration Department artfully ignored the warnings of senior Foreign Affairs officials and issued the West Papuans with protection visas on the basis of “well founded fears of persecution”. Rakyat Merdeka, a newspaper in Jakarta, immediately commissioned cartoonist FONDA LAPOD to ink a response. Lapod drew Prime Minister Howard as a dingo, mounting Foreign Affairs Minister Downer (also a dingo) barking “I want Papua Alex, make it happen”. By the time BILL LEAK’s equally controversial rejoinder was published by The Australian a few days later, President Yudhoyono had recalled his ambassador and was threatening to review Indonesia’s cooperation with Australia over people-smuggling and counter-terrorism. West Papuans who saw these two cartoons at the exhibition were shocked that Indonesians and Australians would condone such crude portraits of their leaders.
To appease Indonesia, Prime Minister Howard developed legislation to immunize Australia from West Papuan asylum seekers. The Migration Amendment Bill 2006 that he introduced to Parliament blocked access to Australia for all boat people and warehoused them in another country, out of reach of the Australian media and the Australian legal system.
DAVID POPE in Refugee Pinball paints a work-a-man prime minister telling his Immigration Minister ‘we’ve disabled the tilt’, meaning he was confident his Migration Amendment Bill 2006 would restore the relationship with Indonesia that her asylum of the the West Papuans had lacerated. Vanstone, a veteran politician who will always be remembered for her ingenious protection of the Papuans’ claims from interference by the Prime Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs, is seen rifling through a travel magazine, apparently already aware that Howard would sack her, as he did a few months later and sent her to the Italian Embassy in Rome.
The Migration Amendment Bill 2006 was considered so brutal that three of Howard’s colleagues—Petro Georgiou, Russell Broadbent, Judi Moylan—crossed the floor in the House of Representatives and voted against it. The bill passed by a narrow majority. NICHOLSON (below) picked up Broadbent’s plea in parliament at the end of a long passionate speech: “If I am to die politically because of my stance on this bill, it is better to die on my feet than to live on my knees”.
The Migration Amendment Bill 2006 was thoroughly rejected by a Parliamentary sub-committee chaired by Liberal Senator Marise Payne, which noted it breached Australia’s international legal obligations and “represents deficient foreign policy, in terms of a perceived attempt to appease Indonesia over the situation in West Papua”. However, John Winston Howard — who by 2006 had been prime minister for ten years, winning second, third and fourth terms in 1998, 2001, 2004 — was still confident he would get his legislation through the Senate. GEOFF PRYOR has him karaoking with well-known Indonesian political and military identities.
Subsequent to an extraordinary grass-roots campaign right around Australia, Senators Judith Troethe and Barnaby Joyce (from the Coalition Government) and Steve Fielding (Family First Party) said they would vote against the bill in the Senate with Labor and The Greens. Facing defeat in the upper house (for the first time), Howard quietly withdrew his scandalous legislation.
With West Papua proving to be such a hot and enduring media issue since January, Channel 9 and Channel 7 decided in September to go ‘cannibal-hunting’ in the forbidden province. Sixty Minutes (Channel 9) found Wawa, a ten-year-old boy apparently under threat of being eaten by his tribe. Today Tonight (Channel 7) was less lucky: The Indonesians arrested the whole crew for trying to enter West Papua on a tourist visa. PETER NICHOLSON, who produced eight cartoons in 2006 lampooning Howard’s ridiculous war against the West Papuans, painted Channel 7 host Naomi Robson’s adventure in colour as well as black-and-white.
Meanwhile Indonesia was still waiting to be recompensed for the non-refoulement of its 43 citizens. Minister Downer dug deep and found a draft of an old security treaty, which he re-negotiated as the Lombok Treaty with his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirajuda in November 2006. (Indonesia tore up the 1995 Suharto-Keating agreement after Australia led a 22-nation peace-keeping force into East Timor in 1999). The Lombok Treaty includes an outlandish clause that outlaws discussion or display, in Australia and in Indonesia, of any form of West Papuan political identity. This has included, for example, the Morning Star stitched onto a hand-bag or wristband or drawn on a car sticker. JON SPOONER captured the realpolitik of the treaty, but also the revulsion of many Liberals for most aspects of Indonesian governance in West Papua.
In the final cartoon BILL LEAK paints Indonesia as ‘the neighbour from hell.’ Ironically, this was also the view, though more diplomatically expressed, of Sir Garfield Barwick after voting for the New York Agreement in the 1962 UN General Assembly (by which Indonesia gained administrative rights in Dutch New Guinea and became Australia’s closest neighbour). Barwick believed Indonesia’s claim of sovereignty should have been resolved in the UN’s International Court of Justice; preferred ‘for the sake of the indigenous inhabitants’ that the Netherlands administration remain; and stressed ‘the long-term interests of stability and progress in the region would only will be served if Indonesia delivered a bona fide performance of the self-determination provisions of the New York Agreement’ (Official Records, UNGA, 17th Session, 1127th Plenary Meeting, 21 Sept 1962).
THE CARTOONS IN CONTEXT (800-word essay)
Cartoon Exhibition Catalogue, Sampari 2016 (click to download/print)
CARTOON EXHIBITION POSTER
RELEVANT NEWSPAPER ARTICLES FROM 2006
CARTOON EXHIBITION SPONSORS
TAKING OFF TOURS TRAVEL AGENCY 618 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
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UNITED IMAGE PHOTOGRAPHY 24 Macquarie St, Prahran, Victoria
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