In May 1994, the island of Bougainville was in the midst of a brutal ten-year conflict. I found myself with the rebel leader, Francis Ona, head of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), in his village above the destroyed Panguna mine site. Below us spread an industrial apocalypse – one of the world’s most advanced copper and gold mines torched beyond repair, as men scavenged materials to create homemade weapons in armouries set up next to huge, rusting mining trucks.
Ona said to me solemnly, in words I would never forget: “We are at war with Australia … but it is not our intention. We wish Australia could be neutral, but instead they continue to support the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.”