Sunday, 11 April 2010

Avatar the movie: The troubling link to Cairns

Local Greens supporter and educationalist Steve Brech, has been taking a closer look at the movie phenomenon Avatar, that is set to be the biggest-grossing movie ever.

The story may seem fantasy, and bear resemblance to many third world struggle, but the connections to Cairns can't be ignored.


Around the Cairns region, we have the beautiful rainforest images that were an inspiration for Avatar director James Cameron, but there are some other shocking similarities to the situation in Papua.

I will present a series on CairnsBlog, revealing not only the similarities between the fantasy of Avatar and the Freeport Mine, but the almost complete interconnection between the economy of Cairns, the people of Papua and their struggle.

Before seeing the movie Avatar, I thought I'd read some reviews.

Viewing life from multiple perspectives looking for negative opinions and right-wing columnists is something I enjoy. Often these people who self-righteously pontificate on the failure of modern technology. The awful special effects ruining modern cinema and how forty years ago, actors really acted etc, etc give me the awareness I don’t get from the left or progressive media.

Philip French from UK's Observer, describes the connection between Avatar and other movies as, “another transposition to outer space of the western.” Times writer Alice Thompson says that Avatar is smug and simplistic and the right hate it. "Anti-American, sexist and heathenous: is Avatar the most offensive movie of the year?”

There is a certain percentage of people who would willingly sign up as friends of the Na’vi and probably send donations too, but where would you address it?

Well if you’re looking around for a similar cause, although this time there is a peaceful agenda, you have no further to look than the Cairns business community.

Avatar is of course an allegorical tale full of Archetypes, one of the many reasons the movie is so popular. However, the fantasy movie bares uncanny similarities to situation at the massive Freeport mine, that employees 19,500, in the Indonesian Province of Papua. Known as Grasberg mine, it is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world. It's situated near Puncak Jaya, the highest mountain in Papua.

You can see glaciers in the background. What do you expect at 14,000ft?

This place is very dear to the hearts of the business community of Cairns and through the economy, to you and I.

Islands off West Papua

  • “RAINFOREST - TWILIGHT FLYING OVER A LANDSCAPE of massive cliffs and towering mesas carpeted in rainforest. Great scarves of cloud swirl around the mesa tops. A primeval landscape, vast and forbidding…Suddenly the carpet of virgin rainforest gives way to --AN OPEN-PIT MINE. A lifeless crater -- as if a giant cookiecutter took a chunk out of the world. Down among the terraces are EXCAVATORS and TRUCKS the size of three story buildings.” -Avatar Script, James Cameron

There are many similarities between Avatar and the real live situation in West Papua.

  • An open-pit mine set in a far off land surrounded by forest
    PT Freeport Mine
  • A strange and exotic place with abundant flora & fauna.
  • A multi billion dollar operation, extracting precious minerals. Minerals modern human civilisation relies upon.
  • A private enterprise dependant on a private military force (although 15 000 TNI soldiers help sometimes).

  • A long running conflict with Indigenous owners of the land.

  • The Mine is isolated and every thing must be bought in on huge cargo vessels.
  • The Mine is not run or defended by a Government, but by a massive private firm that hires mercenaries.


  • An Indigenous population who fight with bows and arrows

  • A company that builds schools, only later to ‘shut them down’. Photographed in the 1990’s, this school was burnt down in Feb 2005

  • The Indigenous people’s home sits right where the company wants to mine.


  • A racist and trigger-happy military force that prides itself on killing Indigenous leaders.

    October 2003, Yustinus Murib appealing for dialogue with the Indonesian president and the international community, Kiyawage village.

    He was executed a few days later. The corpse of OPM leader Yustinus Murib displayed by Indonesian troops, 5 November 2003.


  • Numerous tribes from the same ethnic background uniting in solidarity against oppression. In February 2005, Manokwari saw a display of Indigenous pride and Christian unity.

    Representatives of Papua’s 250 tribes gathered to remember the arrival of the first missionaries and to call for a better deal from Jakarta.


  • The leaders of the Indigenous resistance are religious Papua’s religious leaders gathered in Manokwari to remember the coming of Ottow and Geisler, the first German missionaries, 150 years ago. Thousands gathered in Manokwari, the birthplace of New Guinea Christianity in 1855, to send Jakarta a message.
What has Cairns got to do with this blurring of fact and fiction and all these nasty things happening in an Indonesian province apart from some rainforest snaps?

Well if you need to ask that question you obviously haven’t woken up to the fact that for the last 35 years Cairns has been used as the logistics base for the largest gold reserves and copper mine in the world.

Cairns came into existence as a service centre for the Hodgkinson Goldfields in the 1870’s forcing various Aboriginal clans and tribes off their land. One hundred years later, in 1975 the Freeport mine switched its logistics base from Darwin to Cairns. Although this time the dispossessed, like the Na’vi people in Avatar, are from the various tribal groups in central Papua.

Cairns continues to charge ahead economically and will continue to do so as long as we continue to support the death, murder, rape and military oppression of Papuans for Gold, copper and anything else we want.

This is a story the Cairns business community don’t want told, and goes to great lengths to cover up. In following reports, I will be lifting the lid a fraction on facets of business that many who read this will know in intimate detail.

Almost everything about it stinks.

The fact that PT Freeport is conducting a legal business benefiting every consumer in Western society is not at issue. What is, is the very reason that Avatar is perhaps going to become the most popular movie in history: the love of the triumph of good over evil in the minds of millions of individuals throughout Australia and the world.

Every 10 days a ship leaves Cairns bound for Amamapare.

I’m hoping people won’t ask wether we in Cairns are doing anything legal or illegal. As Bryan Law and Margaret Pestorious regularly remind me, the death of Jesus was sanctioned by law, as was the mass murder and genocide in Europe by the Nazis. I merely want people to be informed about how our companies make their profits and where the money, earned by hardworking employees up and down the coast of Queensland is coming from.

Yes, we need copper and gold. However, as is often the case, the process is far more important than the product.

Finally, I pose a question. If you owned a Polish woodcutting business with a government contract at Auschwitz in 1943 and were asked to provide fencing material, would you have asked what the fence was for? Probably not. You would already know the answer and even if you had baulked at maintaining the genocide of Jews, the Nazis would get their wood from somewhere else and probably had you killed too.

A similar discussion along these lines needs to be had here in Cairns.

  • In Part 2, Steve Brech writes about the Cairns Economy and Freeport
    (NB: All photos and the Avatar script, reproduced with permission)

10 comments:

Syd Walker said...

Hi Steve.

Could you please explain why humanity 'needs' more gold?

What do we need it for? To add to the massive quantities currently horded in vaults?

Wouldn't it be better to acknowledge that modern gold mining is merely a flow-on effect of an economic system lacking in rationality (at least from the perspective of the great majority of people)?

Incidentally, I realise gratuitous references to imaginary events at Auschwitz are de rigeur in articles by aspiring fillum critics - but as we happen to be debating in a medium not controlled by those who rigorously police the fillum industry, may we broaden the speculation?

Could it be, in the hypothetical case you mentioned, that fencing material was required by the German authorities at the time to mark off the well-documented swimming pools constructed for the use of guards and inmates?

Three paragraphs from a recent article by Gilad Atzmon may serve as a useful corrective to Hollywood / History Channel / BBC / ABC / CNN/ Murdoch (etc etc) spin on the historico-religious One True Faith that some folk work very hard to make compulsory for us all:

"If, for instance, the Nazis wanted the Jews out of their Reich (Judenrein - free of Jews), or even dead, as the Zionist narrative insists, how come they marched hundreds of thousands of them back into the Reich at the end of the war? I have been concerned with this simple question for more than a while. I eventually launched into an historical research of the topic and happened to learn from Israeli holocaust historian professor Israel Gutman that Jewish prisoners actually joined the march voluntarily. Here is a testimony taken from Gutman’s book

"One of my friends and relatives in the camp came to me on the night of the evacuation and offered a common hiding place somewhere on the way from the camp to the factory. …The intention was to leave the camp with one of the convoys and to escape near the gate, using the darkness we thought to go a little far from the camp. The temptation was very strong. And yet, after I considered it all I then decided to join (the march) with all the other inmates and to share their fate " (Israel Gutman [editor], People and Ashes: Book Auschwitz - Birkenau, Merhavia 1957).

I am left puzzled here, if the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war? Why didn’t the Jews wait for their Red liberators?

Ed in Edge Hill said...

Boring!

I'd rather read about Lara Bingle or Delta Goodrem.

Brech is Shite said...

ha ha ha can't wait for Part 2, what the fuck would steve brech know about the cairns economy ! this guy is unbelievable - take your hippy economics and piss off to kuranda where your hippy mates will be too stoned to care when you start with all your opinionated shit.
How about Steve Brech does an article to try and convine us why we should listen to him on any topic at all.
Honestly, we need to start getting these idots to put up some sort of resume before they spew their rubbish propoganda politics onto our community. I'm gonna go cut down a tree in Brech's honor ..

One of the Beautiful People said...

I agree with Ed. I thought this was going to be a movie review about Avatar, instead it was just some political shit. The best blogs have movie reviews, restaurant openings, pictures of all the "beautiful people" around town. I say forget all this political shit and you'll have many more readers.

Hank said...

I like the political shit.

Thanks Steve. Good to air this; get it in the open so we may be able to think about what next?

Do we go along? Or do we object?

Paul Larin said...

With the quality of some comment here I reckon a page three bikini girl wouldn't go astray, maybe even a Bolt like comment section as well. Being a Bogan means you don't have to feel the pain of actually having to think. I like to read the posts but finding intelligent responses in the comments section is becoming harder to find.

howard said...

Forget about Steve Brech for a minute ( i don't know him but most lampoon him here)- but perhaps if some of you had lived in PNG in the 1990's and known how many OPM (Free Papua Movement) people had fled across the border as they were sytematically wiped out in theior homeland..then you would not glibly have a go the way some of you have here. The Indonesian Govt. had a systematic approach bordering upon genocide-in order to get rid of the local indiginous tribes people as well as a program of resettling (Javenaese) Indonesians to eventually out number their fellow Melanesians in Irian. Like most things Cairns the majority do not know what they are talking about here.. You have a beer and then shoot from the hip Sunday arvo style and utter such shite as to be dangerously laughable..becuase you think someone is an idiot doesn't mean he is wrong on every matter. Not only is this an issue but some may not be aware that there have been many border incursions into PNG by Indonesian troops down the years to attack OPM refugees (whom PNG are now moving back over the border into Indonesia) You may also not know but The Australian Army assists PNG Defence Force and patrols this border and has been attacked on many ocassions..mmm didn't know that did you.. The upshot of all this is that Australia assists PNG reaptraiting OPM persons back to (Irian Jaya or West New Guinea) and they then do evrything in there p[ower to escape south by boat.. These people are genuine refugees and deserve to treated as such.

If you want to know more visit
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_New_Guinea and scroll down to

Indonesian clampdown on independence activities and educate yourselves perhaps

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/EA14Ae03.html

James T at Paramatta said...

I'd very pleased that Mike published this piece and Steve Brech's argument and points here is compeling.

These are the discussions we need to have.

You can go anywhere for a silly movie review" but anyone who has been follwing this blog for the last few year will know it's not about that.

We live in an age of greed and more greed and our natural resources are more and more rare....... yet people are often that last to be thought of by governments.

Thanks for this story - it's a shocking situation.

Desperate Dan said...

Can I suggest you all read this where Steve probably got the idea for his article. Here Monbiot, in typically lucid style, makes the analogy with the Americas.

Steve said...

First up, Syd, most of the stuff they're digging out of Grrasberg will end up supporting the infrastructure of the systems we are all used to; Mobile phones, cabling, building, info tech devices and then the more exotic and heavily government subsidised military and space products. The fact that Gold is the international choice of money markets as a commodity of value means that if you use the banking system have super or use any form of transport (including walking with shoes)then you, as a civilisation are relying on gold.
Howard is spot on, and in my years of research on the topic I have spoken with Austrlian ex-army guys who described how the OPM would try and lead the TNI into the paths of Aussie patrols to try and start border skirmishes. (the ADF didn't fall for their ploys when my contact was there) I have been researching this subject now for 4 or 5 yers. When I first got here 20 years ago I wanted to find out why Cairns is where it is and why it has such a different feel to places like Darwin or Townsville. After doing 2 years of local history and 4 years of education and after 20 years of speaking with and listening to locals. I realise that sadly almost every topic is NOT politically-left or right, socially-wrong or right, the complex nature of our community needs to be understood and the people who say they have run or are running our business's need to start making better choices than the ones they've been making since 1890. My next piece on Grasberg and the connection with the business community of Cairns may shock a few people, but not the people you may expect.
Steve