Mosbi, an urban site

by Christine Stewart

Port Moresby is girt with mountains and is beautiful with its lake-like harbour.

Captain John Moresby, 1873.


Here in the dusty streets is the most polyglot town population…. Here the new order is being born; and this is the germ of the new nation. The melting in this pot … is limited to the indigenous groups for the most part; and the Australian sauce on top does not melt officially.

Charles Rowley, 1966.

Port Moresby’s ‘discoverer’ was right about the beauty afforded by the great sweep of Fairfax Harbour. Unfortunately, however, he arrived in the middle of the wet monsoon season, when the hills were lush with long green grass, and it never occurred to him that the reason for the absence of tall trees and jungle was the local rainfall pattern. An exceptional rainshadow along this part of the coast means that only scrawny sclerophyll eucalypts dot the harbour slopes and the plains beyond, and by the end of the dry season even the grass is dead.

The town grew on a peninsula separating harbour from ocean, flanked on both sides by a line of Motu-Koitabu villages strung along the coast from west to east. The Koita were originally an agricultural people who moved towards the coast from the foothills of the ranges to the east, while the Motu were fishing and trading immigrants. Intermarriage and mutual gain saw former enmities transformed as their villages joined forces in symbiotic relationship.

Nigel Oram describes how topography, land tenure systems and legislation, the self-serving wishes of the colonial administration and subsequent piecemeal planning have combined to produce a scattered and formless city, with residential and commercial areas interspersed with undeveloped land, much of it too steep to build on, and too high for the water supply to reach. To this list, Alan Rew has added the colonial policies of racial segregation which divided even the indigenous immigrants into ethnic groupings.

The harbour is bounded on its southern side by a long peninsula on which the original township was built. The Motu and Koita villages dotting the harbour’s edges hindered expansion along the shoreline to the north and west, so the town spread eastwards along the ocean shore past the canoe anchorage at Koki Point to Badili where, during much of the colonial era, most indigenous town workers were confined in barracks after the 9:00pm curfew excluded them from the town and confined them indoors. Curfew regulations and other laws restricting the movement of Papua New Guineans to and in towns, probably the most stringent in the world outside South Africa at the time, were gradually relaxed through the 1950s and finally repealed in 1959 following criticism from the United Nations.

Despite its poor climate and limited local agricultural resources, Port Moresby went from southern administrative headquarters to base for the Allied Forces in the southwest Pacific during World War II, to capital of the joint territory of Papua and New Guinea. After World War II, the town spread over the steep coastal hills and inland to the east. Extensive residential suburbs sprang up, including that of Hohola, the first experiment in indigenous housing. Urban development in colonial times followed a western pattern, predominantly by and for non-indigenous people, and the implementation of municipal management processes lagged well behind town growth. The repeal of laws restricting movement around the country and into towns led to a vast increase in urban migration during the 1960s, with permanent residence starting to replace temporary urban migration and the sex-ratio imbalance starting to even out, so that by the mid-1960s, according to Oram, migrant workers and their families had increased to an estimated 80 per cent of the population. The rate of urban population growth has continued to be high. Charles Rowley, however, pointed out that the sex ratio was by no means equal. In 1956, there were four thousand single men living in labour compounds, and he assumed that this number must have increased in the following ten years, influenced by the wage structure which was incapable of supporting a family in town. In his view, this situation provoked an increase in sexual offences, prostitution and homosexuality.

When I first arrived in PNG in the late 1960s, expatriates shopped in ‘Town’ on the peninsula, where the Pacific-wide trading companies Burns-Philp and Steamships operated department stores close by the main wharf, and the Hotel Papua and its adjacent movie theatre were the principal focuses of colonial social activity. Another retail centre complete with Burns-Philp supermarket at Boroko, one of the inland suburbs, competed with ‘Town,’ while the former site of the native-worker barracks, the Koki-Badili area with its market, tradestores and industrial area, had become the indigenous commercial centre. Increasing numbers of Highlanders were joining the ranks of urban migrants, and village ties were gradually being loosened by many urban settlers, although this process has not progressed to the extent anticipated by writers of that period. At that time, the unskilled migrant majority of the population was largely invisible to expatriate officials and academics, their settlements hidden in the hills, their comings and goings barely noticed.

The Motu-Koitabuan resentment of these immigrants grew as the newcomers began appropriating the informal sector economy. Percy Chatterton attributes the origins of the Papuan separatist movement of the early 1970s to the smaller size and compact character of this former British territory compared to that of New Guinea, and the impact of Sir Hubert Murray’s long rule as a paternalistic and protectionist Lieutenant-Governor. These facilitated the growth of a concept of Papuan unity in a way which did not happen in New Guinea, a growth which was then reinforced, as immigration increased, by the economic neglect of Papua brought about by the adoption of World Bank policies of the 1960s.

Port Moresby of the decolonisation era has been described as

hung in a state of endless becoming, caught midway between its earlier role as a small, European center with a surrounding galaxy of native villages and labor compounds, and the more integrated role its apologists would wish for it in the future … no longer, as it was between the wars, a small European town with a fringe of native villages and compounds. It is now a complex network of functional and spatial positions creating distinctive settings for social life while it gathers a culturally highly diverse population to fill them.

Everyone lived in the town, or wanted to—but no-one owned it.

Gina Koczberski and others consider that the colonial control of the urban population has been replicated in contemporary times, often in more draconian form such as police raids and the bulldozing of informal housing. Attempts to provide low-cost housing failed to satisfy the accommodation needs of the influx of migrants, even before Independence. A substantial proportion of the population, which, in 2014, has been estimated as anywhere between 300,000 and 800,000, now lives in comparatively unplanned, unstructured locations known as ‘settlements.’ John Connell estimated that there were over eighty informal settlements around Port Moresby in 2003. Keith Barber describes one such settlement, composed mainly of related families from an area in the north of the country, who deliberately moved from formal housing dispersed around town to a reproduced ‘village’ in a settlement area, which enabled them to be together, carry out a little gardening, intermarry and provide their own internal security. Anou Borrey describes another, with a multiplicity of ethnic groups and less internal cohesion—inhabitants from one section of the settlement do not move freely through another part, especially at night. But these settlements are not segregated from the rest of the town. Outsiders may see a city divided in simple spatial and socio-economic terms, with a working population living in ‘legitimate’ housing contrasting to an underclass of the uneducated, the unemployed and the criminal; but closer investigation reveals a city of complex social organisation, with regional enclaves established in many areas, and complex degrees and forms of socialities pervading the entire town—Michael Goddard’s ‘unseen city.’

My impression of Port Moresby over the years since the 1960s has been one of space both resisting and adapting to attempts from on high to manage and control it. These adaptations can sometimes happen with remarkable speed. A retail centre is developed, or grows around a major retail enterprise (usually a supermarket/variety store). Gradually it becomes a hunting ground for pickpockets, bag-snatchers and carjackers; its storefronts provide an outlet for the venting of frustrations in demonstrations and riots, requiring extensive boarding-up and security grilles. The colourful thronging crowds through whom I once threaded my way thin and disappear; eventually, the centre becomes a ‘no-go zone’ for most shoppers; commercial enterprises relocate elsewhere; the crowds migrate there and the cycle repeats itself.

Unofficial roadside markets selling buai (betelnut), fresh produce and second-hand clothes spring up and many are eventually ‘legitimised,’ achieving official recognition from the city’s governing body, the National Capital District Commission (NCDC). Residential suburbs, originally planned as spacious single-family accommodation, are transformed into multi-residential compounds with houses and their colonial domestic quarters converted to communal hamlet-style residences, offices, professional suites or ‘guesthouses’; at the same time, industrial and commercial yards in other suburbs include small living quarters originally intended for single security staff but today occupied by extended families. Roads, even the main highways, are prone to develop alarming potholes in the tropical climate; mounds of refuse compost quietly along their verges; flamboyant gardens flourish everywhere; and the most noticeable change I observed when returning in 1988 after an absence of twelve years was that all the tree saplings planted and nurtured in the dustbowl of the pre-Independence town had grown strong and tall, greening the ever-growing city.

A main street in Boroko—all the trees planted in the colonial era have grown, and gardens flourish. Source: Photo by Christine Stewart, 4 September 2007.

The informal sector is everywhere evident, constantly defying efforts to manage and curtail its activities. Itinerant vendors roam the streets offering cold drinks and tourist artefacts. Increasingly these days, goods offered for sale include Asian imports of pencils, bootlaces, razors and so on. In the morning, these pedlars are joined by men (and recently, the occasional woman) selling the daily newspapers. Stationary vendors of food, iceblocks, cigarettes and most ubiquitously, buai, are to be found everywhere. Security issues have seen many vendors shift from the pavements outside their houses back into their front yards where they continue their business through wire-mesh fences. Inside many yards too are makeshift shelters for pool tables, dart boards and ‘black-market’ beer supplies. Or a tiny store constructed against the front fence sells basic tinned and packaged foodstuffs through a weldmesh security screen.

A ‘tuckerbox’ store constructed in a fence beside a suburban road in Tokarara, heavily screened for security. The graffiti are unsurprising.
Souce: Photo by Christine Stewart, 4 September 2007.

Most of the steep hillsides are still under direct government control. They are ribbed by garden plots built in the Highlands style, with downhill drainage which suits a high rainfall climate and contributes to soil erosion in Port Moresby’s rain-shadow climate. Once considered impossible to build on, the slopes are increasingly leased to land developers, particularly where water views are involved. This often involves ‘eviction’ of settler housing and destruction of food gardens.

An important feature of the city is its remarkably effective public transport system. A bus service was already operating vehicles of doubtful quality in the 1950s. In the late 1960s, the Port Moresby bus service, which provided huge vehicles on limited routes, was largely superseded by a local company, Buang Taxi Trucks, which operated a fleet of flat-top trucks with canopies and bench seats. Similar vehicles still operate rural services out to those Central Province villages which are served by road. In town today, however, the twelve- to twenty-seater passenger motor vehicles (PMVs) swarm everywhere. Most of these are operated as part of large fleets belonging to prominent businessmen; registration, routes and fares are controlled by a statutory body, the Land Transport Board. Taxis are more often individually owned and operated, and most are of dubious trustworthiness. Attempts to regulate their presentation, roadworthiness and fare charges are consistently foiled or ignored. Regardless of appearance and even safety, though, the PMVs and taxis of Port Moresby enable even the poorest of the population to move readily around the city. Meanwhile, the elites drive in air-conditioned four-wheel-drives, with windows rolled up and all doors locked, along ‘safe’ routes between destinations which are modelled on modern global lifestyles—supermarkets with fenced car parks patrolled by security guards with their leashed guard-dogs, five-star hotels, air-conditioned restaurants with elaborate security measures, apartments in walled guarded compounds.

High-covenant houses and apartments built to take maximum advantage of the spectacular ocean views. The houses are owned by politicians and other elites, and the apartments are mainly rented to expatriates.
Source: Photo by Christine Stewart, 27 January 2006.

The elites are not, however, completely insulated from their surroundings. Complex kin and ethnic networks continue to bind them into ongoing relationships which cross spatial and class boundaries. For example, a prominent lawyer friend once told me that she numbered many raskols among her relatives. Another friend of mixed ethnicity often found herself hosting visiting relatives from the home villages of both her parents, along with those of her husband who came from a different province again. Port Moresby has flung itself together, it belongs to everybody and nobody, and the process of its self-determination and self-definition is ongoing.

Housing in Port Moresby

Housing after World War II

With the easing of restrictions on the movement of indigenes into urban areas in the aftermath of World War II, migrants began to trickle steadily into Port Moresby. The colonial administration had no general long-term program for housing the newcomers, in what had become in many respects an Australian small town. Before the war, indigenous workers recruited from beyond the immediate villages had been accommodated in barrack and dormitory conditions. The only habitats in Port Moresby not fully controlled by European interests in that period were the local villages of the Motu people, the traditional coastal inhabitants of the area who had intermarried to a degree with the Koita, who lived inland. A few of the early postwar migrants managed to establish themselves in these villages, on the basis of old trading relationships and sometimes through intermarriage with the Motu-Koita. Apart from this, migrant housing in the decade after the war was principally of three types: workers’ ‘compounds’, established by government departments and companies such as the traders Burns Philp, Carpenters and Steamships; domestic quarters attached to European residences (commonly referred to by Europeans in kitchen pidgin as ‘boyhouses’); and so-called settlements.

The establishment of the first postwar settlements was achieved not by illicit squatting but by arrangement with local traditional landowners, as in the well-documented case of Rabia Camp at Kaugere, and occasionally with town authorities. The distinction between these two types of liaison was less clear in practice than on paper, since the Motu-Koita regarded the Port Moresby urban area as essentially their land, despite some areas having been acquired by the administration through early transactions classified as purchase by the latter. For example, a downtown settlement, Ranuguri, which is partially on government land and partially on customary land, began when migrants from the Gulf district were invited to move into buildings vacated by the army at the end of the war. According to some commentators, the arrangement was intended as a temporary measure by the administration while it built proper housing for employees. While this suggests that the administration itself told the settlers to move into the buildings, there is equivocation among the settlers themselves over who issued the invitation. I was told, for instance, by a long-term settler that the customary landowners invited his kin to take over the buildings. This interpretation, which ignores official classification of the piece of ground on which the buildings stood as government land, is predicated on the old trading relationships between Motu and Gulf people, and on the established Motuan practice of inviting individuals from their trading-partner groups to settle on their land.

The settlements grew in size and number as the first-comers were joined by near and distant kin from their places of origin. Their growth caused concern to traditional landholders and to the administration. For the Motu-Koita landholders, it became increasingly difficult to collect the rent-in-kind or continue the personal exchange relationships that had been integral in the negotiations with the first small groups of settlers, while the administration feared the prospect of overcrowding and the gradual transformation of small but tidy groups of makeshift houses into large and unruly conglomerates. When the settlements first appeared they were tolerated by the administration, since they provided a solution to the problem of housing workers during postwar reconstruction. But, after a few years, officials became fearful that a migrant underclass would develop. Some settlements were at one point denied water supplies and garbage and sanitary services in an attempt to discourage the migrants, according to Ryan, or to remove the settlers from land required for other purposes, according to Oram. Other strategies, such as plans by the Housing Commission (established in 1968) to resettle the occupants in better-organised cheap housing estates, came to only partial fruition.

By the 1970s, the administration had accepted the inevitable presence of settlements and had moved from attempts to discourage them to various assistance schemes, a transition that mirrored similar changes in government policies elsewhere in the Third World. In 1973, the flow of people into town was beyond the capacity of the Housing Commission’s resettlement scheme and new self-help policies were introduced. Some existing settlements were provided with paved footpaths and basic services such as water taps, and blocks of land were allocated on selected sites around the town on which people could build their own shelter (theoretically in accordance with building regulations). The scheme was elaborated to include loans to enable tenants to build adequate housing for themselves. One product of the combination of the Housing Commission’s resettlement plan and the self-help policies was the development of Morata suburb on the edge of the Port Moresby town area, a planned operation begun in 1971, which involved rental and self-help housing. In addition, community welfare groups attempted to assist particular settlement populations in their attempts to get basic services such as water supplies and to develop handcrafts and other income-generating activities.

In retrospect, the attempts by the colonial administration to deal with the continual arrival of migrants through the development of a variety of habitats in the late colonial period, documented by Oram, can be seen as a process of piecemeal reaction, rather than systematic planning. As Oram has pointed out, the distribution of housing areas in Port Moresby by the end of the colonial period did not conform to any recognisable spatial theory. There were ‘high-covenant’ housing areas occupied almost exclusively by Europeans, low-covenant planned estates such as the ‘partially integrated’ suburb of Hohola with a few Europeans but mostly housing Papua New Guineans, cheaper rental housing, self-help (‘no-covenant’) housing areas, the original settlements, company compounds and domestic quarters. While some cheap indigenous housing areas established by the administration were deliberately sited away from high-covenant European residential areas, they were not hidden but lined major roads and were not far distant from European housing, while some workers’ compounds and all domestic quarters were integrated into European-dominated areas.

The difference between high-covenant housing for Europeans and low-covenant and other types of housing for Papua New Guineans in the late colonial era is conventionally related in the literature to other racially segregatory practices of the period. But, importantly, the variety of indigenous urban housing itself engendered another type of distinction. There was a perceptual dichotomisation by Europeans of migrant Papua New Guinean urban habitats based on a concatenation of the spatial relationship between European and indigenous housing and the degree of orderliness of the latter. The low-covenant houses, company compounds and domestic quarters were reasonably tidy in appearance, and their comparative physical proximity to European housing implied the relative social proximity of their inhabitants, as workmates, subordinates or domestic servants. This was not necessarily manifest in friendly relations; in fact, discriminatory attitudes and cultural misunderstanding were common and regular occupational contact and interaction did not guarantee friendly socialising outside working hours. But the image of social proximity, however limited, was in contrast with that engendered for Europeans by the migrant settlements on customary and government land and the self-help housing areas, a little more removed from the elite European housing estates and rarely entered by whites. The initial small settlements that appeared in the immediate postwar period had been neatly laid out, but they took on an increasingly untidy appearance as they grew. Similarly, in the self-help housing areas, an unruly impression was created by the improvised nature of houses made from whatever material settlers could obtain and clustered asymmetrically on land blocks that had originally been surveyor-planned. A social researcher of the period, who bemoaned the ‘appalling symmetry’ of the rows of neat low-covenant houses, and preferred the creative approach of self-help housing areas, conceded of the latter that ‘To European eyes the results may not be as aesthetically pleasing as are the serried ranks of little boxes’.

Literature on Third-World settlements, and slums in general, commonly makes the point that such habitats are unfairly judged by outsiders on their untidy appearance. The aesthetic judgment of settlements in urban Papua New Guinea was not made simply in a comparison with European housing styles, however, but was contextualised in a dualism of the latter and an idealised ‘traditional’ rural village. In this respect, settlements and architecturally changing urban villages were both seen as aesthetically deviant. For example, in a discussion of the growth of Lae, a city at the mouth of the Bumbu River on Papua New Guinea’s north-eastern coast, Willis comments on the five ‘traditional’ villages immediately across the river mouth:

Despite their proximity to the city they have not yet been assimilated into it and are still a separate entity. The village houses, often built from reclaimed scraps of timber, iron and fibro-cement, seem dilapidated even by comparison with the houses in the adjacent ‘squatter’ camps. They stand in strong contrast to the neat bungalows of the city and to the other traditional villages to east and west where houses are still built of native materials and have a neat, post-card picturesqueness.

Under the labels ‘settlements’ or ‘squatter settlements’ or sometimes ‘shantytowns’ (the latter term has now almost disappeared), the customary and government land settlements and the no-covenant housing areas were discursively collapsed together, reinforcing the image of a socially distant population. The connection of a spatial and aesthetic dichotomy of urban indigenous habitats with a relative degree of social distance of their inhabitants from the economically dominant white population was reflected in journalistic literature of the period. For example, Peter Hastings wrote in 1969 of an ‘urban proletariat, unskilled, living on the breadline in shanties erected in increasing numbers on the bare brown hills of that disagreeable town … a polyglot force of men without jobs, women or land — the dispossessed of the new dispensation’. Osmar White in 1965 similarly sequestered in print those migrants to Port Moresby who ‘set up squalid shantytowns on its perimeters, subsisting as best they could on wages for casual, unskilled labour’.

Sociological research did not in fact support this image: Richard Jackson commented that while there might be a ‘grain of truth’ in the view of settlements as repositories of ill-adjusted transients, ‘a strong case can be made in support of the opposite view: that the settlements are frequently the homes of people less transitory, no more unemployed and just as urbanized as other sectors of the population’. A survey in another town, Popondetta, had shown that nearly two-thirds of the administration’s labourers, and many tradesmen, lived in settlements, as did ‘business managers, teachers, and two members of the national Parliament’. An examination of the ‘Six-Mile’ settlement in Port Moresby in the 1970s indicated that about 70 per cent of the adults were employed and in a sample of settlements in several urban centres, it was found that households (built largely around nuclear families) contained an average of between one and two wage-earners. In this respect, Papua New Guinea’s settlement-dwellers were socioeconomically similar to those in many other Third-World settlement and slum communities. Yet the image of dispossessed squatters in settlements, contrasting with a more socially proximate working urban indigenous population in other types of housing, prevailed in popular European discourse. While this simple dichotomy misrepresented the complex demography of Port Moresby, it became institutionalised discursively, and has survived the colonial period and a continuing process of change in the nature and variety of habitats in Port Moresby.

In the 1960s, some settlers who could more justifiably be called squatters were appearing in Port Moresby. The earlier settlements were enclaves of people sharing a region of origin, such as the Eastern Gulf people at Ranuguri settlement, or Purari people at Rabia camp. Later migrants from other areas, particularly the Highlands, were naturally excluded from building houses in these existing micro-ethnic enclaves. Lacking traditional exchange links with Motu-Koita landholders, or the wherewithal to obtain no-covenant land blocks from the administration, those who were unable to negotiate some kind of arrangement with customary landholders were often obliged to find a niche on unused government land. An example is Gordons Ridge settlement, where migrants from the Simbu and Goilala districts developed discrete groups of shelters on a hill overlooking one of the most exclusive European housing estates of the period. Their appearance caused concern among the Europeans below, and many of them were persuaded to resettle at Morata, the newly developed suburb containing a mixture of low-covenant and no-covenant housing. Some squatters, however, remained and the Gordons Ridge settlement gradually developed, with the inhabitants improving their dwellings, planting trees and building an access road, consolidating the habitat and gaining legitimacy, if not absolute legality, as it grew in the 1980s.

By the 1970s, a broad range of housing, from unauthorised buildings on government land, through various types of customary or administration-authorised dwellings on unused land, to planned self-help housing on leased blocks, was being referred to in common European discourse as ‘the settlements’ or ‘squatter settlements’. The broad and indiscriminate use of such terms, together with the difficulty of precisely categorising the variety of indigenous housing that had developed in Port Moresby, could have been responsible for the disparity in academic literature of the period (among empirically careful researchers) in representations of the actual numbers of ‘settlements’ in existence at different points in time from the 1950s until the 1970s. At any rate, in the face of continuing changes in the nature of the town’s habitats, the institutionalised notion of settlements (incorporating the notion of squatters), was to prove resilient in the following years.

Housing after independence

When Papua New Guinea became an independent nation in 1975, and the European population began to dwindle, the housing areas it had inhabited were taken over by indigenes. This substitution, in combination with continuing housing projects, increasing urban migration and the demands of the extended kin systems typical of Melanesian societies, began to change the spatial distinction between the housing types discussed above, without significantly altering the institutionalised notion of a dichotomy of ‘settlements’ and formal (ie, low- and high-covenant) housing. Building projects were extending some of the formal housing estates in the outer suburbs to the point where they began to connect with self-help housing areas that had originally been discrete and with enclaves of squatters who had established themselves quietly at the periphery of the urban area since the 1960s. At the same time, the inhabitants of these latter areas were building extensions to, or upgrading, their houses, if they were able. Consequently, while some settlements remained demarcated by boundary fencing, the overall visual and spatial distinction between squatter settlements, legitimate settlements and planned low-cost housing estates became less clear in some outer suburbs of Port Moresby after independence. In addition, the untidy development of suburbs with basic infrastructure provided the opportunity for individuals or families to establish illicit dwellings in the interstices of growing communities of migrants from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, where few questions of legitimacy were asked unless serious trouble arose. In this respect, for example, parts of the formerly European-dominated suburb of Boroko and of the low-covenant suburb of Hohola had a significantly different mixture of housing types by the 1990s than they had in the early 1970s.

A further change after independence was that the homologic relationship between two- or three-bedroomed housing and European nuclear families was displaced under Melanesian kinship sensibilities. The exigencies of an unavoidable obligation to provide assistance to members of one’s extended kin-group — referred to with ambivalent sentiments as the ‘wantok system’ by urban Papua New Guineans (wantok is a Tok Pisin term used to refer to kin, both near and distant) — meant that the urban house became a locus of the nominal occupants’ kindred. It has been argued by Keith Barber that it is analytically useful to regard urban Papua New Guinean households not as physical units of co-residence but more flexibly as sets of changing social relations, acknowledging the social context in which they are embedded. This perspective avoids positing households as fixed sets of people, and more accurately reflects the change in the nature of householding when European residents were replaced by indigenes. Household numbers fluctuated with the movement of relatives from home areas into town and back, and among wantoks’ residences in town. This did not escalate into major overcrowding of individual houses, however, although domestic quarters attached to high-covenant houses were now often used as accommodation for migrant kin.

An associated phenomenon was a new kind of squatter, the ‘illegal’ occupant of formal housing. As industry grew in Papua New Guinea’s towns, large-scale employers rented houses, or blocks of houses, for employees. ‘Compounds’ now included all types of housing, up to relatively luxurious dwellings for the new Papua New Guinean elite as well as for highly paid foreigners. Where colonial employers had enforced the expulsion and exclusion of illicit occupants of compound and rental housing (mostly the wantoks of employees) relatively efficiently, Melanesian sensibilities made the task far more difficult for indigenous bosses, even though the policy of evicting such occupants remained. For example, when I lived in the large housing compound of the University of Papua New Guinea in the early 1990s, constant complaints were made by legitimate inhabitants and those employees waiting to be allocated housing about the number of squatters occupying dwellings of various kinds. The latter were often relatives of employees who had gained access to houses through their kinship connections, and sometimes were ex-employees of the university who had simply failed to move out. Despite the occasional flurry of memoranda and threats of forcible eviction, there was little real action against the squatters. Administrative staff (including some who were complainants) were constrained as a body by the dense kinship networks under which the squatters had established themselves in the first place.

Developments such as these indicated a continuing housing problem in the capital city, which was a legacy of the colonial administration’s slow response to postwar urban migration, an absence of adequate long-term town planning, and a lack of affordable housing for non-elite workers. By the late 1980s, a new belt of self-help settlements, on leased land blocks, was beginning to establish itself at a few kilometres’ remove from the expanding city’s edge in an area where there had previously been only one or two small settlements containing single micro-ethnic groups. As well as containing recent migrants from rural areas, these habitats were the recourse of former city-dwellers seeking refuge from the financial problems of living in town and the increasing limitations on personal freedoms presented by Port Moresby’s growth. Moving to locations such as ‘Eight-Mile’ (the name refers to the distance from downtown Port Moresby) was a strategy to avoid the city’s ‘law and order’ problems, obtain access to gardening land, yet remain close enough to take advantage of employment opportunities in town.

In contemporary Port Moresby then, while most settlements established during the late colonial period still exist, and illicit housing is still built by squatters, the distinction between different types of urban habitat and the associated socioeconomic status of inhabitants is even less clear than it was by the early 1970s. Squatters can be found in many types of housing, from high-covenant to illicit lean-to shelters, and, while some self-help areas have boundary fencing, there is no clear spatial separation overall between various types of urban ‘settlements’ and other types of housing. Despite the increasing complexity in the mixture of housing in the contemporary city, however, the discursive dichotomisation of the city’s habitats into legitimate housing and ‘settlements’ has survived from colonial times.