One of the most intriguing aspects of this unique country is that first contact in Papua New Guinea with the highland people only happened just over 80 years ago.
Incredibly that first contact was made by an Australian prospector called Michael Leahy from rural Queensland, who fully documented his experiences in a daily journal and also took an extensive series of photographs using his Leica camera – providing an amazing insight into an amazing series of events!
Prior to the discovery of significant gold deposits at Edie Creek on the north coast of New Guinea there had been no attempt by the Australian government to venture inland and explore the very rugged interior.
It was simply assumed that because as the highland terrain was so difficult, nobody could possibly be living there.
That assumption was based on the chain of mountains that run east to west across the country. Unknown was the fact that there are actually (in very simple terms…) two parallel mountain chains and in between them are a series of fertile valleys which were populated with a large number of highland people.
Ironically, the highlanders lived very parochially in thousands of separate small communities – each with it’s own network of enemies & allies, the result being that there was very limited travel in the highlands themselves and nobody had ventured out.
The fertile soils of the valley provided the communities with what they needed and it was just too dangerous to travel outside the safety of their tribal territory, so there was a kind of “Lost World” of people completely isolated from the rest of the world and living what was basically a stone age existence.
Michael Leahy, his brother Dan and Patrol Officer James Taylor were the people who made that “first contact” during the four years they spent exploring the highland region looking for gold.
Australian writers & filmmakers Bob Connolly & Robyn Anderson discovered the treasure trove of Michael Leahy’s journals and images some 50 years later.
They subsequently turned it into an excellent book & documentary of the same name – First Contact.