Les McLaren is one of a group of Australian filmmakers who made significant documentaries in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s–1990s. We talked with him about their legacy.
When Les McLaren visited Port Moresby on holidays in 1970, he had no idea he’d spend the next ten years of his life living and working in PNG. Fresh out of film school, the 21 year-old arrived in Moresby when the Territories of Papua and New Guinea were still administered by Australia.
But profound political change was afoot; the eve of self-government in 1973 and independence in 1975 was an exciting time of experimentation and optimism in the capital. McLaren reflects that ‘it was thrilling and challenging. You’re in amongst it and trying to build a sense of understanding the culture you’re in, how it’s different and how it functions’.
After a brief stint flipping burgers at the Port Moresby drive-in, McLaren landed a job as an editor with the Tourist Board’s film unit. He soon fell in with a group of young, expat filmmakers who today read like a who’s who of Australia’s most critically acclaimed documentarians.