For a book less than 120 pages in length, The Road feels heavy in your hands. John Martinkus has produced a forensic account of the struggle for independence in West Papua, skilfully laying bare the human rights atrocities occurring on Australia’s doorstep. Many go unreported and remain unknown by many Australians, at a time when the independence movement has reignited and a battle is on for the United Nations to oversee a referendum for West Papua.
Conflict in West Papua has often played out against the backdrop of global geo-political conflict. It has also often been cast aside as the world’s attention was fixed on more headline-grabbing conflict, such as War on Terror in 2001 and the Iraq War in 2003.
Martinkus is an experienced and esteemed foreign correspondent who has reported from nations such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka during occupations, but he soberly writes, “Never have I seen a people more systematically oppressed and isolated than the West Papuans”. He also details the difficulty in getting Australian media outlets to publish his reports of violence and torture in appalling arithmetic: “In order to get a story run you had to have more than 10 dead; the daily grind of one shot there, one beating there … never made it into the press.”
Though he has witnessed countless episodes of horror, Martinkus is a behind-the-scenes storyteller and does not cast himself in a starring role of intrepid correspondent. He lets the devastation of the movement – the tens of thousands killed or displaced, the deaths of activists and journalists who publicly admonished the occupying forces, the manipulation of social and mainstream media by government-friendly accounts – give weight to his words. A masterclass in longform journalism.