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.

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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.

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