The government's "step-up" plans for greater Australian engagement in the South Pacific might, just as accurately, be labelled as a catch-up or a wake-up.
Our muddled images of the Pacific islands sometimes amount to little more than a mish-mash of palm trees and coral reefs, Spam and kava, guest workers and sea level rise, cosmetic rivalry with New Zealand followed by competition with China.
Such ignorance reflects more or less benign neglect, sometimes with an unearned whiff of paternalism mixed in.
Many of our defining artistic images of the South Pacific date from farther afield, from Hawaii or Tahiti, or farther back, from the voyages of Cook and Baudin, la Perouse and Banks.
Few Australian novels, plays or poems inform our view of the region; the cane cutters in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll are locally-born not islanders.
Randolph Stow's To the Islands is set a continent and an ocean away.
In his historical works and even some detective stories, Peter Corris took the islands seriously, but that level of commitment remains rare.
As for Australians in government, only a few (notably Greg Urwin and James Batley) have devoted themselves to a deep, rich understanding of the islands.
By contrast, I recall one high functionary concluding that the Pacific islands were merely "swamps run by madmen".
Another described time spent on one Pacific island as "like being stuck on an ocean liner - with none of the amenities".
Our attention might occasionally be distracted towards the islands (by a measles epidemic, a cyclone or an incipient coup) but too frequently we insult them by not thinking about them at all.
How many ordinary Australians could identify four or five Pacific islands on a map, let alone name the leaders of those countries?
More Australians have been more intrigued by the most physically stunning country in the world, no more a Pacific island than Iran is part of the Middle East or Britain a component of Europe.
The island of Papua New Guinea maintains the sacred site of Kokoda, has absorbed huge amounts of Australian taxpayers' money, contains massive resources prospects and arouses still a residual sense of obligation on our part.
Sketches of Fiji provides a welcome correction.
Andrew Drysdale is a 73-year-old whose parents set up the first dry cleaning business in Suva and whose own career was intertwined with Fiji's national airline. his book contains too many apologetics.
He starts by insisting that his is not an historical record, but more of a telling story.
He offers a sketch as an alternative classification: "it's just what came to mind as I typed". Even at the end of a quite long chronicle Drysdale inserts a final query, "so why these notes?"
Such self-deprecation is largely unwarranted. Drysdale characterises Fijian humour as "a quiet joke in a quiet voice", and his own voice is invariably quiet, discursive, conversational.
At its best, that voice approaches lyricism, as in the episode when Drysdale paddles a tin boat sealed with sap from breadfruit trees up the Tamuvua River, "through the mangrove swamps and hundreds and thousands of tiny crabs with bright yellow claws covering their faces".
Memories of an ordinary Suva market inspire in Drysdale a bout of nostalgia for "ropes of Fiji twist tobacco in huge balls almost two feet across".
Drysdale is, rightly, proud of his two terms as CEO of Fiji's Air Pacific (1986-98). That job as boss reflected an interest in flying and aircraft sustained since Drysdale's selection as the first apprentice at Fiji Airways (1963), at a time when some fellow trainees bubbled up their raisin-jack home brew on the airline's test truck.
Our muddled images of the Pacific islands sometimes amount to little more than a mish-mash of palm trees and coral reefs, Spam and kava, guest workers and sea level rise.
Drysdale tells better stories for lay readers when harking back to earlier days in Pacific aviation, whether adjusting "pesky" crankcase cracks, changing the on-board "toilet", landing on crushed coral runways or checking the pilots' "relief tube". He is often amused, sometimes charmed and invariably kind-hearted in appraising others.
Sketches of Fiji does address, as sub-plots to its main narrative, years of poverty in the Drysdale family, tensions between Fijians and Indians, pretentious silliness among the British colonial administration and class snobbery.
A wry judgement in passing seems more Drysdale's style than any hint of polemic. The same delight in craft well done is evident when Drysdale appraises, layer by layer, the technology of cooking in an underground oven. Ensuring crisp crackling on the pork represented a special achievement., while turtle meat always turned out tough and dry.
Throughout Drysdale remains cheerful, even in an otherwise dire account of juvenile boils, ringworm and head lice. Very little in Fiji or the wider world seems to have bluffed or fussed Drysdale. Autobiographies do not always boast such a balanced, considerable and thoughtful narrator.