The diversity and richness of Papua's Melanesian cultures has long been a preoccupation for European anthropologists. In the Baliem Valley in the Highlands of Papua, American flying crew discovered a population of over a million people in the 1940s.
After World War 2 the Pacific became a 'nuclear playground' as the US, Britain and France conducted atomic and nuclear tests in the region.
The people of the pristine Bikini Atoll were evacuated to make way for US atom and nuclear bomb tests in July 1946.
The Bikinians still have not been able to return home and remain scattered throughout other parts of the Marshall Islands fighting compensation claims. Today scuba diving in the Bikini Atoll amongst the wrecked and scuttled ships is considered one of the best dives in the world.
The British navigator James Cook first charted the islands of Vanuatu in 1774.
He decided to name the archipelago New Hebrides, after islands in the far north of Scotland.
Competing British and French claims to the islands led to the formation of a condominium (joint) government, allowing for joint British-French rule in 1906.
In 1980, the country became independent under the name Vanuatu meaning Land Eternal.
In 1964 there was a major copper discovery at Panguna in Bougainville, and a mine was established by Bougainville Copper Limited. During the peak of the mine's operations there were 10,000 'foreign' workers in Bougainville, the majority from the Papua New Guinea mainland. Certain landowner groups were not happy with the mine and the presence of 'foreign' workers. Sabotage of the mine in 1989 was the catalyst for a 9-year armed struggle, which saw the closure of the mine and a blockade of Bougainville by the National Government. The BRA (Bougainville Revolutionary Army) fought against the PNG Defence Force and then fighting broke out between rival groups of Bougainvilleans.
The Bougainville civil war officially ended in April 1998.
During the course of the 9-year war, almost 40,000 Bougainville islanders became refugees, and up to 20,000 people died.
Bougainville's first president Joseph Kabui (an ex-provincial premier and secessionist rebel) was elected in mid-2005.
French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France with substantial internal autonomy.
It consists of five main island groups scattered across 5 million sq km midway between Australia and South America.
Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia. A rugged, forest-clad island surrounded by coral reefs, Tahiti has long been a tourist destination.
Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, now has half the population of French Polynesia. Some people believe that the people of Tahiti first found their way from Hawaii by following the spring migration of the golden plover.
Unique in the Pacific, Tonga has never been colonised.
The Kingdom of Tonga is the sole constitutional monarchy in the Pacific. An ambitious young warrior and strategist named Taufa'ahau united the island group into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845.
His descendent King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, crowned in 1965, headed a hierarchical system of government devised around nobles and commoners that continues today. King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV died on 10 September 2006. His 41-year reign made him one of the world's longest-serving sovereigns. He was succeeded by his eldest son, King George Tupou V.
ISLAND OR FLOWER?
Bougainville is a large island to the north of Australia.
The island was named after the French navigator Louis Antoine de Bougainville, whose name has also been given to the creeping tropical flowering vines of the bougainvillea family.
Bougainville's lush forested interior, volcanic mountains and abundant resources make it suitable for the cultivation of cash crops like cocoa and vanilla.
It is estimated that through imported diseases brought to the country by missionaries, sandalwood and blackbirding* traders the population of Vanuatu dropped from approximately 1,000,000 people in 1800 to only 45,000 in 1935.
Today Vanuatu has a population of 205,754 and is recognised as one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.
*Blackbirding is the late 19th century practice of enticing or kidnapping men and women from the islands of the South Pacific to work on sugar plantations in the colony of Queensland.
AUSTRALIA'S ONLY COLONY
At the end of World War 2 in 1945, the eastern half of New Guinea reverted to Australia and became the Territory of Papua & New Guinea (PNG). PNG was granted self-government in 1973, and full independence from Australia was achieved in September 1975. Papua New Guinea is still the recipient of Australia's largest allocation of foreign aid.