West Papua Cartoon Exhibition

Published in:

1.  ANDREW DYSON Avoiding the real West Papua The Age, 15 May 2006.

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)

2.  PAT CAMPBELL West Papua, welcome to democracy The Canberra Times, January 2006.

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.

3. IAN SHARPE I saw a man who wasn’t there The Canberra Times 22 January 2006.

4.  PAUL ZANETTI 43 new asylum seekers land January 2006.

5. JON SPOONER The Foreign affairs department prepares a traditional refugee welcome

6.  JON SPOONER The Foreign Affairs Department adopts a pragmatic and principled position
The Australian, 11 April 2006.

7.  PETER NICHOLSON We’ll welcome them back with open arms The Australian, 25 March 2006.

8. JON KUDELKA The Australian, 2 May 2006.

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.

9. FONDA LAPOD  The adventure of two dingo  Rakyat Merdeka, 27 March 2006.

10. BILL LEAK  Don’t take this the wrong way, no offence intended, as Indonesia fornicates with Australia  The Australian, 1 April 2006.

11. PETER NICHOLSON SBY recalls ambassador on West Papuans The Australian, 4 April 2006.

12.  PETER NICHOLSON We will decide who comes to Australia The Australian, 8 April 2006.

13.  NIK SCOTT Dingoes offended being portrayed as John Howard and Alexander Downer copulating in Indonesian newspaper cartoon 29 March 2006.

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.

14. PETER NICHOLSON Excision beaches refugees zone The Australian, 13 April 2006.

15. JOHN DITCHBURN Australia’s coastline The Courier, Ballarat.

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.

16.  DAVID POPE Refugee pinball The Sun-Herald, 23 April 2006.

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”.

17.  PETER NICHOLSON Rebel Liberals may cross floor The Australian, 10 August 2006.

18.  PETER NICHOLSON Reality shows on border protection The Australian, 10 August 2006.

19.  MARK KNIGHT The Australian keeper The Herald Sun, 21 June 2006.

20. BILL LEAK Asylum Seeker-Migration Amendment Bill 2006 The Australian, 10 Aug 2006.

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.

21.  GEOFF PRYOR  Karaoke Night  19 June 2006.

22.  MATTHEW DAVIDSON  Can Howard find refuge?  The Age, 14 May 2006.

23.  JON SPOONER  The new prime minister of Australnesia  The Age, 15 June 2006. 

24.  BILL LEAK  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister John Howard relax  The Australian, 11 August 2006.

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.

25.  MARK KNIGHT  PM overboard-Migration Bill  The Herald Sun, 15 August 2006.

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.

26.  PETER NICHOLSON  Naomi Robson arrested in West Papua  The Australian, 15 Sept 2006.

27. PETER NICHOLSON Naomi Robson with cannibal tribes The Australian, 16 September 2006.

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.

28. JON SPOONER The things you see by a green light The Age, 9 Nov 2006.

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).

29.BILL LEAK The neighbour from hell The Australian.

THE CARTOONS IN CONTEXT (800-word essay)

Cartoon Exhibition Catalogue, Sampari 2016 (click to download/print)



1. Vanstone refuses to return Papuans, Sydney Morning Herald, Tom Allard, 18-20 Jan 2006

2. On the ground with the West Papuan asylum seekers, Crikey, Corey Bousen, 19 Jan 2006

3. Christmas Island detention places Papuan families in direct murder danger, Project Safecom, Media Release, 26 Jan 2006

4. What happens now we’ve got 43 West Papuans, Louise Byrne

5. Below a mountain of wealth, a river of waste, New York Times, 27 December 2005

6. John Pilger on West Papua and why the ghosts of Indonesia won’t lie, New Statesman, 13 Mar 2006

7. Papua anger focuses on world’s richest mine, Asia Times, John McBeth, 23 Mar 2006

8. Visa ruling puts Jakarta ties at risk, Sydney Morning Herald, Tom Allard, 24 Mar 2006

9. West Papua, Long boat to freedom, Transcript, SBS Dateline, Mark Davis, 29 Mar 2006

10. Howard unfazed by sex cartoon, BBC News, 30 Mar 2006

11. Australian cartoon irks Indonesia, BBC News, 1 Apr 2006

12. Free at last, West Papuan refugees rejoice in new dawn, The Age, Andra Jackson, 4 Apr 2006

13. The point of no return, The Age, Andra Jackson, 6 Apr 2006

14. Ignoring the lesson of East Timor, The Age, Mark Baker, 8 Apr 2006

15. Politically pesky Papuans, ABC-RN, 9 Apr 2006, Di Martin

16. Our duty to West Papua, The Age, Huge White, 11 Apr 2006

17. Indonesia threatens Australia over Papuan refugees, Australian News Commentary, 24 Apr 2006

   18. Boatloads of Extinguishment? David Manne, Castan Human Rights Law Centre, 5 May 2006

19. Can Howard find refuge, The Age, Michelle Grattan, 14 May 2006

20. Avoiding the real West Papua, The Age, Scott Burchill, 15 May 2006

21. Backbenchers revolt over asylum changes (Senate Committee), Lateline, 13 Jun 2006

22. Answering to Jakarta, The Age, Scott Burchill, 15 June 2006

23. Indonesians accused of torture, The Age, Andra Jackson & Sarah Smiles, 27 June 2006

24. What’s wrong in Papua, The Age, Kenneth Davidson, 29 Jun 2006

25. No government spin will undo Australia’s dirty push-back deals with Indonesia, Project Safecom, 10 Aug 2006

26. The Coalition Rebels speak out, Project Safecom, 10 August 2006

27. The flotsam downflow from Indonesia, Project Safecom, 10 August 2006

28. Fielding gets refugee version of border protection, The Age, 12 Aug 2006

29. Low population in Papua an indication of genocide, Radio New Zealand, 17 Aug 2006

30. Good neighbour, bad neighbour, what’s the difference, Jesuit Social Justice Centre, Adelaide, Tony Kevin, 22 Aug 2006

31. A new diplomacy over Papua, The Australian, Paul Kelly, 7 Oct 2006

32. Canberra’s treaty killing off Papuan democracy, The Age, 9 Nov 2006

33. Lombok Treaty, Article 2, 13 Nov 2006

34. Lombok Treaty, The Interpreter, Hugh White, 7 Mar 2008

35a. Garfield Barwick, UNGA, New York, 21 Sept 1962, 3pm, p53

35b. Garfield Barwick, UNGA, New York, 21 Sept 1962, 3pm, p54

35c. Garfield Barwick, UNGA, New York, 21 Sept 1962, 3pm, p55



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