Logos of
Global Snakebite Initiative
Australian Venom Research Unit.

July 7th to September 4th 2013

A Brief History of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the eastern half of the World's second largest island but the largest island in the Tropics.

The island of New Guinea is comprised of a southern portion, which was joined to Australia by a land-bridge for 40,000 of the last two million years, and a mountainous backbone and a northern section which were created by collisions with incoming terraines from the Pacific, as the Australo-Papuan plates moved north. The archipelagos to the east represent terraines that have yet to collide with the mainland.

New Guinea has seen many colonisations going 40-60,000 years back into prehistory when man first arrived on the island. Sophisticated agriculture has been established in the Highlands for thousands of years, yet the first white men to enter this region did not arrive until the 1930s. New Guinea has long been seen as one of the most remote regions of the world with huge potential for biological exploration. It has drawn many explorers and field collectors. PNG is often said to attract "mercenaries, missionaires and misfits".

The first Europeans to sight New Guinea were 16th Century Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses called the land Ilhas dos Papuas, a bastardization of the Malay phrase Orang papuwah which means frizzy-haired men. Spaniard Ynigo Ortiz de Reyes named the island Nueva Guinea because it reminded him of West Africa. During the 17th and 18th Centuries New Guinea as explored, but not settled, by the Dutch, French and British.

Colonisation came in the 19th Century when the Dutch settled in the west (Netherlands New Guinea), ther Germans colonised the northeast (German New Guinea) and the British claimed the southeast (British New Guinea, later Papua). Germany lost all her overseas territories following WWI and both Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea were managed by Australia from 1918 until Independance as Papua New Guinea in 1975.

PNG contains 21 Provinces plus the National Capital District (NCD), which includes the capital Port Moresby. The country includes not only the eastern half of New Guinea but the Bismarck, Admiralty, Louisiade, d'Entrecasteaux and Northern Solomons archipelagos to the east. The population of PNG is approximately seven-million.

Papua New Guinea: the eastern half of the World's 2nd largest island
(Bougainville and Northern Solomons Archipelago is off the map to the east)
click on map to enlarge


National Flag of Papua New Guinea