Port Moresby is the capital and largest city of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Located about 300 kilometers south of the Port of Lae (on the north coast) on the main island’s southern shores on the Gulf of Papua, Port Moresby has the highest population density of any city in the country. Growing shanty-towns and squatters’ settlements ring the outskirts of the town. In 2004, almost 338 thousand people lived in Port Moresby.
A 2004 article in The Economist ranked Port Moresby the world’s least livable capital cities due to high unemployment and the consequent high levels of violent crime. At that time, unemployment rates were estimated to be between 60 and 90 percent.
Before Europeans found Port Moresby, the harbor area was the home of the Motu and Koitabu indigenous peoples. These yam farmers and fishermen traded with other villages on the island’s coast. The Motu traded their pots for food and canoe logs and married other people living in the Gulf of Papua area, creating strong inter-tribal links. They conducted trade expeditions in up to 20 canoes with 600 crewmen. Carrying about 20 thousand clay pots per journey, the journeys helped create the Motuan identity. The voyages are celebrated today at the annual Hiri Moale Festival.
In 1873, Captain John Moresby explored the harbor, naming it after his father, when the British annexed it ten years later. The new Commonwealth of Australia inherited British New Guinea in 1906, being named Papua. Between the early 20th Century and World War II, Port Moresby grew at a slow but constant pace, particularly on the peninsula.
During World War II, Port Moresby was an important Allied base and an equally important target for the Japanese. In 1942, Japan’s ambitions became clear when the Allies stopped their invasion at the Battle of Coral Sea. During the war, Port Moresby remained neglected. After the war was over, the town had to be almost completely reconstructed.
After World War II, Port Moresby was the administrative capital of Australia’s territory of Papua and Australian-administered United Nations Trust Territory of New Guinea (which included the prior German New Guinea).
Sharing boundaries with Port Moresby, the National Capital District was established in 1974. Port Moresby became the capital of the newly-independent Papua New Guinea in 1975. Waigani was the site of new government buildings that opened in 1984. Some of these buildings have been abandoned since then due to general neglect.