More than a name

As Alfred Deakin's 153rd birthday approaches Dr Jonathan Ritchie is driven to keep former prime minister's good works going in the Pacific.

The name Alfred Deakin features heavily in the life of Dr Jonathan Ritchie.

He works at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute (ADRI) which, inter alia, provides a home to all the personal papers of Australia's second prime minister.

And last year, via the Director of ADRI, Professor David Lowe, Dr Ritchie gained an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship to look at nation building in the South Pacific.

"Even when I am overseas, I am never far away from the fact that I have got this fellowship with this name on it," Dr Ritchie says.

"At ADRI, too, it is one of the challenges for us to come up with projects that relate to the type of subjects that he was interested in."

One of those projects was Papua New Guinea, where Dr Ritchie was born and which is both a main research interest and a passion.

"Deakin was Australia's second prime minister at the time when Australia took over control of the territory of British New Guinea," Dr Ritchie said.

"I have often quoted a speech that he made in parliament about what his dreams were for the administration of this new territory.

"In the context of the time it was quite an enlightened approach. He said we would learn from some of the excesses of colonial rule in the past and do better.

"I think we saw Australia at its best during its time in charge because the administration involved partnerships and most importantly, friendship, with the people of PNG."

"The Rudd Government has some ideas for Pacific partnerships for development all couched in the words of an equal amount of effort by both parties.

"That is quite a divergence of policies from the past 10-15 years.

"They were more a case of wringing your hands or megaphone diplomacy as it was called, Australia telling them what to do.

"Certainly through ADRI we will approach all this with a fresh look."

Dr Ritchie has just returned from PNG where he was researching the history of the country between World War II and Independence.

"I interviewed five Papua New Guineans about their own recollections of growing up in the colonial period.

"That is all fitting into this ARC project that this Alfred Deakin postdoc is allowing us to build up steam on.

"We've got one iron in the fire and one about to go into the fire.

"The other thing, well in some ways it comes down to the pressing question when you look at PNG and South West Pacific: how did it get to this stage?

"How was it that the institutions that were handed over, whether it be parliament, hospitals, churches or universities, have not worked as well as they could have?

"I think if we can do the research, hear all the stories that there are to be told, then we will go a long way to answering that question.

"That's very important for the countries involved, and also for Australia.

"It's not in our interest to be surrounded by failing nations.

"And when you look at the resources that for instance Papua New Guinea has ? oil and so on ? there is no reason why it can't be a successful nation.

"In partnership with the Papua New Guineans, the Solomon Islanders and so on, we can help create a sense of national identity and pride."

Dr Ritchie comes to Deakin from Trinity College at the University of Melbourne.

"I was working there on a bridging program for Aboriginal people," he said.

"I loved that work, but we had a huge breakthrough in April last year which said to me it was time for me to move on.

"Out of the blue, I had an e-mail from Helen Gardner from Deakin's School of History Heritage and Society telling me about the advertisements for the Alfred Deakin post doc.

"So this was a really wonderful opportunity to come to Deakin and reawaken my research in an area that was of real interest to me.

"I had done my PhD on the PNG constitution. "The area of politics in the South Pacific is something that has been dominated by ANU.

"For another university to gain a profile in this area requires a lot of graft.

"The 18 months of this Alfred Deakin post doc have given me the time to do a lot of that graft, presenting at seminars, talking to people and generally helping build up Deakin's profile."

Read the Eureka Street article written by Dr Ritchie:

Read the article Dr Ritchie prepared for ABC News:

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