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The nations of Australia's region, from south Asia through to the small island states of the Pacific, are experiencing remarkable amounts of change, economically, culturally, and politically. In the face of the 'critical junctures' that the region is encountering, where much that had been assumed to be true is now open to review and challenge, how can the contemporary landscape, and the future, be best comprehended?
This question provides the basis for the Alfred Deakin Research Institute's focus on Australia and Change in Asia and the Pacific, and in particular its developing research program concerned with Australia's nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea. How can PNG navigate its way through the many trials that confront it? What does the future hold for its people as they respond to these challenges? We argue that answering these and related questions will be constructively informed by taking a humanities-based approach: by aiming to understand the contemporary region through a better appreciation of its history and culture.
Members of the International Development research group
Members of the Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific
This project begins with the premise that PNG's history of independence and nation-forming contains many valuable lessons for its contemporary leaders. History is often left out of considerations of current policy, beyond a cursory background statement, but paying too little heed to what has gone before runs the risk of ignoring earlier approaches that were effective and appropriate. It is thus vital that contemporary and future leaders learn about how their foremothers and fathers responded to challenges that, while different in nature, were similarly important to the wellbeing of their fellow Papua New Guineans.
What this project envisages is making a substantial contribution to the historiography focused on Papua New Guinean life stories, through a combination of research and writing by the project's members and promotion and facilitation of biographical scholarship by Papua New Guinean writers and researchers. While this is a worthwhile objective in itself, the project makes 'real world' connections with groups such as Leadership PNG, in order to foster a greater understanding of leadership behaviour by prominent capable Papua New Guineans from the past who should serve as role models, shaping the conduct of the next generation of leaders.
The premise of this project formed the focus of a forum that took place at the PNG National Research Institute in November 2012, which was made possible by funding from Deakin University's Centre for Sustainable and Responsible Organisations. The forum brought together many leading Papua New Guineans and scholars, to follow an approach adapted from the 'Appreciative Inquiry' model of management theory, which begins organizational analysis not by concentrating on performance deficiencies but on instances where 'things went right'. The participants agreed that PNG's history of achievement in the face of great odds was often not told, and they were invited to contribute stories from their own experience of women and men who had shown really positive examples of leadership behaviour. Apart from ADRI's Dr Jon Ritchie, speakers included the Director of the National Research Institute (and ADRI Adjunct Professor) Dr Thomas Webster, Mr Peter Aitsi (country manager for Newcrest Mining Ltd), Dame Carol Kidu, Ms Theresa Meki, and Mr Lahui Ako, whose biography of the Papua New Guinean soldier Ben Moide was published by UPNG Press in 2012.
The project will examine cohorts of students from Indonesia and PNG who have studied in Australia over the past five decades and as such, it clearly demonstrates the benefit of taking a humanities-based approach to an issue of contemporary development policy. It is being undertaken in collaboration with institutions in PNG and Indonesia.
Visit the project website.
ADRI is working with partners DeakinPrime (the corporate education arm of Deakin University) and the Australian Public Service Commission to deliver an outstanding program of leadership development and enhanced understanding of the countries in Australia's region in 2013, through participating in the LAFIA program this year.
ADRI's involvement forms part of its constructive engagement with policy formation, in this case through its support for the centrepiece of the LAFIA program, which takes the form of study tours of senior Australian public officials to countries in the region, specifically Indonesia, India, Papua New Guinea, and the Kingdom of Tonga. Associate Professor Ismet Fanany and Dr Jon Ritchie provided academic guidance for the visits to Indonesia.
Read more about the LAFIA Asia 2013 Program.
ADRI has proudly been involved with the conduct of three annual symposia on PNG since the first event took place in May 2011. The series has grown into what is now regarded as 'a key event for researchers and policy makers engaged with the country' (Development Policy Centre, 2013). The most recent symposium, with the theme of 'Leadership for the Next Generation', was held on 4 and 5 April at Deakin University's Geelong Waterfront campus, and attracted participants from all over Australia and PNG, as well as from other countries. A feature of this year's event was the active involvement by ABC Radio Australia, with live broadcasts and interviews of key Papua New Guinean and Australian participants.
The late Sir Ebia Olewale (1940-2009), one of Papua New Guinea's founding fathers, was one who demonstrated throughout his life the qualities of ethical and effective leadership that the next generation of Papua New Guinean leaders aspire to.
His biography, Ebia Olewale: A Life of Service (UPNG Press, 2012), researched and written by ADRI's Jonathan Ritchie with the support of the PNG Sustainable Development Program, charts Olewale's remarkable life from his birth at Tureture village in PNG's Western Province, his education at the famous Sogeri High School (where the young men who would form the elite of the new nation were schooled), his involvement in nationalist politics, his years as Minister in the independent nation, to his final years of service with the PNG Sustainable Development Program and his return to his beloved Western Province.
This book is a demonstration of the power stories of the lives of eminent Papua New Guineans can have in modeling leadership behaviour in the contemporary PNG setting. All who knew Olewale described him as a 'humble' man, and this humility is a quality that is valued highly by people in PNG. More such life stories demand to be written; this forms a central component of the 'Life Stories and Leadership' project.
The book can be purchased directly for PGK 80 plus postage from the publisher, UPNG Press and Bookshop, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
ADRI's focus on the changing region in Asia and the Pacific relies on a collaborative approach that reaches across to regional institutions that share our belief in the importance of a humanities and social sciences basis to understanding the contemporary world. We are proud to include two leading and prestigious PNG institutions as partners in our work.
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