Let’s be honest: Australians have never had much time for our South Pacificneighbours. The island nations that lie to our north and north-east, stretching from Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to Vanuatu, Fiji and beyond, may be close to us geographically, but we have not found them especially interesting, important or profitable.
With a few honourable exceptions, and tourism aside, Australians have been indifferent to our nearest neighbours’ dramatic landscapes, their rich and diverse cultures, and their general welfare, and we have seen relatively few opportunities for trade. Only their strategic significance has attracted us: the islands scattered widely across the north of our continent are critical to our protection from armed attack. Our closest neighbours are crucial to the defence of our continent simply because of their proximity.