John Fien, Gewa Au, Paul Keown, Premila Kumar and Sereana Takivakatini
Our identity as human beings remains tied to our land, to our cultural practices, our systems of authority and social control, our intellectual traditions, our concepts of spirituality and to our systems of resource ownership and exchange. We are part of the environment; we live with the environment; we rely on the environment. Destroy this relationship and you damage, sometimes irrevocably, individual beings and the environment we know.
(Au Gewa Renagi, Alukuni Village Elder, Papua New Guinea, September 1998)
The South West Pacific contains many of the world's great sites of mystery and romance; the very names-Bali-hai, Espirito Santo, the Trobriand Islands, Pitcairn Island, Noumea, Tahiti, the Bay of Islands, Viti Levu and so on-have a magic all of their own. The South West Pacific covers five per cent of Earth's surface and, of course, is mostly ocean with but a sprinkling of islands, the vast majority of which are either the peaks of deep-sea volcanoes covered in tropical forest, or coconut fringed sandy isles and coral cays.
In part, the mystery and romance comes from the great distances that European and North American explorers had to sail to get to the South West Pacific. This was the last great region to be colonized, many islands in the late nineteenth century and others not until well into the twentieth century. The South West Pacific is where Gauguin retreated for new experiences of light and colour to paint, where Robert Louis Stevenson settled to write, and where James A. Mitchener was inspired to pen Tales of the South Pacific, from which Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II composed their Broadway musical, South Pacific.
The South West Pacific stretches from the coasts of Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand eastwards to include the small island states of Samoa, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands, Palau, the Cook Islands and Kiribati, and the French territories of Tahiti and New Caledonia. The waters of the South West Pacific have seen the great Polynesian canoe odysseys and the misnamed 'voyages of discovery' of