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White prestige in a colonial ‘Port’ town

August 15, 2012 6 comments

Not a White Woman Safe – Sexual Anxiety and Politics in Port Moresby 1920-1934

By Amirah Inglis

  • First published 1974, ANU Press
  • Reprinted 2009, UPNG Press,
  • 168 pp. Non-fiction

A book review by Nickson Piakal

 

Originally published in 1974, ‘Not a White Woman Safe’ is a thoroughly researched book by Amirah Inglis that brings into focus the White Women’s Protection Ordinance of 1926 by the Australian colonial administration in Port Moresby.

Passed into law under the watch of Sir Hubert Murray as the Administrator of Papua then, this discriminatory piece of legislation was put into effect with penalties that were deemed draconian, even by the standards of that time.

This book clearly depicts Port Moresby of that era; an ultra-repressive “white man’s town” where the social castes were distinctively defined. It is set in a time when “Natives (and dogs) are not allowed” access to public amenities.

It chiefly explores the underlying myths surrounding the white man’s perception of the Papuan’s sexual mores leading towards their resentment and paranoia that gave rise to the “Black Peril”: the unnatural fear of sexual attacks on white women and girls by black men, even when there was not even a single recorded case of rape.

Two cases of convictions under this law, one of which saw the first public hanging, are further highlighted to illustrate the outrageous double standards practised by the colonialists, and their incapacity in telling the truth about these incidents because of their guilt in the knowledge that these were clear cases of mistrials.

A brief review of the literature of that era on Papua is also thrown in for a good measure to give the reader a better handle on the colonialists’ school of thought.

The book’s title drew a lot of frowns from peers, but it remains true to the adage that one should not judge a book by its cover.  Having completed it, I am left with a lot more to mull over, especially as a Papua New Guinean.

Its use of documented case studies in relating key facts is quite insightful, and this alone lends more weight to its objectivity as a historical review. This also makes it a compelling book to read, and to have as a reference guide for anyone who wants to look into Port Moresby’s more forgetful past.

This book is a must read if one wants to get a better understanding, not only of this prejudicial piece of legislation but to get a better glimpse of the socio-political climes of Port Moresby in its formative years, and to see a more impartial view of Sir Hubert Murray and the type of leadership he yielded.

  • This book is on sale at The UPNG Bookshop at the Waigani campus of the University of PNG
  • It’s on sale online for $39.99 at Amazon
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