Adventure Kokoda

Port Moresby

Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, is situated on the south-eastern coast of Papua.

In 1966 the total population was 42,133; 32,222 indigenous and 9,911 non-indigenous. Port Moresby is cut off from the northern parts of the island by the massive cordillera which extends along the length of the New Guinea Mainland. The longest road extends only seventy miles from Port Moresby and communications with other parts of the Territory is mainly by sea or by air. Port Moresby lies in a dry belt with a mean annual rainfall of 39 inches, and the hinterland and coastal areas in the vicinity of Port Moresby are sparsely populated.


A deep, land-locked harbour was discovered by Captain John Morseby [q.v] on H.M.S Basilisk in February 1873 and was named Port Moresby by him after his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby.

South Sea Island teachers of the London Missionary Society were left at the large Papuan village of Hanuabada [q.v.] on the shores of Port Moresby, in November 1973.

In November 1884 they were joined by the Rev. W.G. Lawes [q.v.] and his wife, who built a mission station. European and Asian traders had fished for beche-de-mer and pearl shells in Torres Strait and at the south-eastern end of New Guinea from the 1860s, but the first trader to erect a store in Port Moresby did so in about 1880. In 1884 a British Protectorate was declared over the southern part of New Guinea and Port Moresby became the capital of the new Protectorate.

During the period of the Protectorate, from 1884 until the Territory was annexed in 1888, 552 acres of land in the Port Moresby area were acquired by the Administration for future urban development. Most of the land acquired was in the neighbourhood of the port or in the Badili area. The land was surveyed, and a road and site layout prepared which has remained largely unaltered until the present day. A government bungalow was built on the site of the future government house overlooking the harbour near Hanuabada.

From 1888 until 1941 Port Moresby grew slowly. The economy of the town was based on its port and on the presence of the headquarters of the Administration. Economic development of the Territory, called British New Guinea then, Papua after 1906, was slow and during the first half of the period Samarai [q.v.] was a more important entrepot than Port Moresby. The European public service was small. Until the early years of the twentieth century Port Moresby was considered an unhealthy place for Europeans to live in; in 1898 thirty-five men and fifteen women lived in the town. An increasing number of women came to live there and by 1915 there was a school for European children. Approximately four hundred Europeans lived in the town in 1941, many more men than women, although the precise ration is not known. There was also a small number of Euro-Papuans and descendants of South Sea Islanders and of Indonesians. The Papuan population living within the town boundary was very small and it is unlikely to have exceeded a thousand in 1939. The majority were migrants, living as single men, who returned to their villages after being employed for a few years. The remainder of the Papuan population, consisting of some four thousand people, lived in Hanuabada and in other villages outside the boundaries of the town.

Port Moresby developed by degrees into a modern township; the main growth was on the peninsula, where port facilities and other services were gradually improved. Electricity was introduced in 1925 and a piped water supply provided in 1941.

Owing to the threat of war, European women and children were evacuated form the Territory at the end of 1941 and men under forty-five years of age were conscripted into the army. The Japanese landed on the New Guinea mainland at the beginning of 1942and made their first air raid on Port Moresby on 3 February. Many Papuans fled when the bombs fell and the people of the villages were evacuated to a number of places along the coast. They did not return to their homes in the Port Moresby area until 1945. After the Japanese air raids members of hastily formed and ill-trained Australian military units looted and caused much damage in the town. Port Moresby became an important military base where the American Allied commander in the South-West Pacific, General MacArthur, and his headquarters for a time. The Japanese advanced on Port Moresby across the Owen Stanley Range and in September 1942 reached a point approximately twenty-five miles from the town. They were driven back by Australian troops and Papua was clear of Japanese troops by the end of January 1943.

In 1945 Port Moresby became the capital of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, when the two Territories were under a single Australian Administration. The development of the town was rapid. This was mainly due to the expansion of the public service and to expenditure on building and services by government agencies, There was a continuing increase in the number of European and indigenous public servants working in Port Moresby. Since 1945 the Administration has continued to spend large sums of offices, on housing for public servants, and on services for the town. Since 1964 the Administration has also spent large sums on defence installations in the urban area. Industrial development is limited to a brewery, a small tobacco factory and a number of service industries. Port Moresby is still predominantly a port and administrative town.

Europeans still occupy many of the senior positions in the public service, and ownership and management of private businesses are in European hands. Since 1959 restrictions on people of Chinese origin, resident in Australian New Guinea, entering Papua have been lifted and a small but important Chinese commercial community has been formed in Port Moresby.

Although the population of the Port Moresby villages has experienced a natural increase, migration from other parts of the Territory has been the main cause of the growth of the urban population. Although the exact figure is not known, some 75 per cent of the indigenous population are migrants. The most important areas from which they migrate are the Central and Gulf Districts of Papua, but migrants also go to Port Moresby from all parts of the Territory. Though many migrants live with their families in the town the proportion of men to women is nearly two to one. The majority maintain close ties with their areas of origin, but a new generation is grown up which may regard Port Moresby as its home.

Development is dispersed over a wide area but there are four main centres of population. Government headquarters are at Konedobu near Government House and near Hanuabada. The peninsula, with the port, remains the main commercial area, and a number of government offices, including the Supreme Court, are situated there. It is also the location of the House of Assembly buildings, and the centre of a large and predominantly European residential area. The main focus of indigenous life in the town is the market at Koki and the adjoining commercial area at Badili. The principal missions have churches in the area, and there are a number of government-owned and mission-owned schools. There is a small industrial area at Badili, with a brewery, tobacco factory and a number of workshops. To the west there is a large indigenous residential area comprising government housing area comprising government housing areas, private labour compounds, four Papuan villages, and a number of migrant settlements. These settlements are situated on land to which the villagers have rights. The majority of the migrants' settlements are occupied by members of a single ethnic or language group. The householders live with their wives and family in houses which they or other members of the group have built. Over 25 per cent of the total indigenous population lives in the area of which Koki is the centre.

The centre of the fourth area is Book, a short mainly European suburb on the plateau a short way from the coast. Here the most important post-war development has taken place, beginning in 1950; houses in the predominantly Papuan suburb of Hohola were first occupied in 1960. A new residential area is being developed along the northern boundary of the town. The main commercial centre for the area is at Boroko.
There is a light industrial area near the international airport at Six-mile. There are also a number of important educational establishments, including the University of Papua and New Guinea, opened in 1965; a teachers' training college; the Papuan Medical College; a high school; and other educational establishments.

Most urban services are provided directly by the Administration but, largely because of the different standards of housing, the expatriate population derives more benefit from them than the indigenes. At the first elections of the Port Moresby Town Council held in April 1971, nine Europeans, eleven Papuans and on e New Guinean were elected. A system or ward administration with representative ward committees has been established, and a welfare programme begun. The jurisdiction of the Port Moresby Local Government Council extends over a wide rural area but is restricted to indigenes.

Until the early 1960s Port Moresby could have been described as essentially a European town with Papuan areas on its fringes. Now, as they achieve higher standards of education and obtain better paid and more responsible employment, indigenous people are beginning to play an important part in the life of the town.

Encyclopedia of Papua and New Guinea
Peter Ryan
Melbourne University Press, 1972