President's Report to 2016 AGM

In late 2015 it was suggested that the Management Committee take part in a planning workshop to consider the future role and direction of the association and identify priorities for action. Whilst our social gatherings and our journal, Una Voce, are the backbone of the association, sustaining the association by appealing to younger members and growing the contemporary relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea is considered vital.

One of the outcomes of this workshop highlighted the potential for PNGAA to act as an umbrella group for diversified affiliated organisations such as social, special interest, philanthropy. There is a need to better identify and build relationships with kindred organisations or groups who share similar objectives or have overlapping interests, in particular activities and projects.

One of the seven primary objectives of the PNGAA is ‘to strengthen the civil relationship between the peoples of Australia and Papua New Guinea’.

The PNGAA Management Committee has committed to engaging positively and proactively in the PNG/Australia relationship raising awareness especially amongst Australians and Papua New Guinea about our strong historic ties, roles and continuing relationships.

The Committee has been energetic in developing a project for the re-use of former ASOPA buildings at Middle Head, Mosman, NSW; a site with a long-term association between Australia and PNG. I particularly thank Paul Munro for the depth of background research he has put in to this proposal to assist the committee to date. The proposal is for a permanent memorial at the ASOPA site, along with a suitable living, interactive, tribute in the form of an Australian Community Centre for Pacific Nations—a focal point for the PNG/Australia/Pacific relationship. A place which could be used as a cultural, educational and resource centre. This project aims to engage our community of Australians and Papua New Guineans and it needs your help!

Providing those plans come to fruition, PNGAA will need to play a co-ordinating role with a wider group of organisations with similar objectives; to do that we need both physical support and active interest.

The PNGAA is a strong association with an established network and role. It has a relatively resourceful and experienced team of extraordinary volunteers and members from diverse backgrounds.  It has a wide scope of activity and interests which are reflected in its social activities and its highly regarded journal, Una Voce. It is no longer ‘Sydney centric’. Its vast geographic demographic means that physical work falls to a small number of people and therefore any assistance our members can offer is vitally important.

In his latest book, The Embarrassed Colonialist, Sean Dorney highlights that Papua New Guineans know more about Australia than Australians know about Papua New Guinea. This needs changing. Papua New Guinea acknowledges Australia’s role in its history. But not many Australians recognise the role Australia played in PNG’s history. As Max Uechtritz wrote recently, there is a ‘historical blindness and ignorance’ on Australia’s part about Papua New Guinea.

Yet the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby has 360 staff, more than in the Washington DC embassy. Its population is almost twice that of New Zealand and heading to match ours by 2050. Australia provides $500 million of aid a year to PNG, and Australian NGOs and churches inject many more resources through funds and in kind.

Reflecting on 2015 it is clear that the PNGAA has engaged in strengthening this civil relationship between the two countries but it needs even wider support to become truly successful.

The PNGAA again underpinned the publishing program of the 2016 Crocodile Prize which allowed nearly 350 copies of the Crocodile Prize Anthology 2015 to be printed and distributed throughout Papua New Guinea. The 400-page Anthology was handed out freely to libraries, schools, universities, hospitals, aid posts and other relevant places in the provinces and districts of Papua New Guinea. The Anthology contained the best stories, poetry, essays and journalism from the Crocodile Prize contest, every one of them written by a Papua New Guinean about Papua New Guinea. Traditionally Papua New Guineans are storytellers with a heritage handed down through generations of oral history. This needs nurturing and growing and we are pleased that some of the Croc Prize entries have appeared in Una Voce. It is hoped to continue this support in 2016.

The major project of 2015 was the PNGAA Art Exhibition, curated by Julianne Ross Allcorn and held in September. Celebrating 40 years since PNG Independence, this was a new and innovative project for the PNGAA. The exhibition attracted PNG artists and there was much optimism as workshops were planned for both children and adults. Regrettably the artists were unable to travel, when visas were unable to be issued in time and despite months of preparation by all concerned. It was an exciting opportunity to genuinely strengthen the civil relationship between people of both countries. Whilst it was disappointing that the PNG artists could not make it, it highlighted potential opportunities. I thank Julianne Ross Allcorn for her extraordinary efforts which contributed to the success of the exhibition. Juli has stepped back from the PNGAA Management Committee after seven years but we look forward to her creative ideas and contribution in the future. We thank Sara Turner for coming in to the role of Events Coordinator.

June 2015 saw the inaugural A4 colour issue of Una Voce, an exciting move which continues to be well received by members. I thank Editor Dianne Guy for her huge contribution with Una Voce and for developing the new format with Greg Leech. Growth and change are important to ensure any association remains relevant to its members and it is felt that this move has been positive. Technology makes it hard to escape the exposure to particularly bad news about PNG on public media, and bad news creates a bad impression. We need to counter this with inspiration and articles and deeds encouraging optimism to ensure that divisions are redressed and the future is cohesive for all. The PNGAA Management Committee welcomes Belinda Macartney into the role of Editor, commencing with the September 2016 issue.

The labelling and wrap days, held in Sydney, are happy, social events and all are welcome. Thanks to Roy Ranney and Murrough and Joy Benson for organising these.  A special thanks to the Chatswood Bowling Club for the generous donation of space to ensure these can occur.

The PNGAA had several social functions in various locations within Australia—eight lunches in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Ballina and Canberra—with thanks to all coordinators. The film KIAP: Stories Behind the Medal had a highly entertaining belated launch and official viewing in June 2015 in Sydney, with film director, Greg Harris, speaking about his journey making the film. This was followed with a Q&A panel including Ross and Pat Johnson, Quentin and Jan Anthony and Mark Lynch, contributing to a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. The PNGAA was delighted when the film was also shown at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra as part of the 40th anniversary of PNG Independence.

The PNGAA Collection is a wonderful resource of a unique time in PNG and it has been thanks to the persistence and expertise of Dr Peter Cahill, for almost 25 years, and the assistance of the Fryer Library, that this collection exists and continues for the future. It is critical that Australia’s role in developing Papua New Guinea, and the continuing close relationship shared between our two countries, is properly recognised and celebrated.

Time and technology have moved on since the collection was started in 1992 and the collecting criteria of the Fryer Library have also been redefined. With a proposed new PNG/Australia/Melanesia centre, the PNGAA Management Committee now asks that any donations are directed to the PNGAA Management Committee in the first instance. It is imperative that items collected are digitised and easily available. Photos and some documents are a valuable resource for our journal, Una Voce, and also for the PNGAA photo gallery on the website. If you would like to donate items to the PNGAA Collection, please express your interest initially to Steve Burns, who has recently joined the Management Committee. As the PNGAA Management Committee Coordinator, Steve is available to discuss donations and current options with you.

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru group held its annual service and lunch in Canberra in late June 2015. Its education program, Project 150, is about giving secondary students the opportunity to learn an Australian perspective of the Pacific in WWII.  History teachers can use resources linked to the Australian curriculum, especially Years 9 and 10. Lesson plans, background notes, worksheets, resources, all developed by teachers, and an educational copy of the DVD Some Came Home are available for interested schools. The teaching supplement can also be used to link the two world wars, as a lead up to Kokoda as well as highlighting the effects of war on Australian POWs and civilian internees and their families. I thank Patrick Bourke for coordinating this and for his continual efforts in reaching out to schools. I know he would welcome further assistance!

A submission by Natalie Baker has been accepted at the 2016 National History Teachers' Conference so she will be presenting to this in late September, a valuable opportunity. You can read more about this in the June Una Voce under "Memorial News". Work commenced on collecting stories for a book to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the fall of Rabaul and the New Guinea Islands in 2017, with thanks to Gayle Thwaites for coordinating and editing this. Gayle also regularly updates the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Facebook page (over 2000 members) with fascinating information. Keep an eye on it! Phil Ainsworth continues to assist the PNGAA Management Committee in many areas but especially with the Rabaul and Montevideo Maru group. In his role as President of the NGVR/PNGVR Members’ Association he brings strong links with an affiliated association, reflecting what is possible with others. He actively worked on the historic books produced by that association in 2015/16, contributing greatly to the historic documentation of Papua New Guinea.

Administration of the association continues to be an ongoing challenge to busy volunteers. We are fortunate that Doug Wood contributes his skills as PNGAA Treasurer and that his firm, Foster Raffan, supports the PNGAA so generously. Rebecca Hopper stepped back after two years supporting the PNGAA as Secretary, with Murrough Benson assisting with mail. The roles of Membership Officer and Secretary are crucial and I thank both Roy Ranney and Murrough Benson for the enormous time and organisation they contribute to ensure the smooth running of the association and that our members are looked after.

The PNGAA has a constitutional requirement that the President has a maximum four-year term. I strongly support the fresh energy this process injects into an association and therefore members will urgently need to consider who their next President will be from the 2017 AGM, a voting year for the PNGAA.

As I reflect on 2015 it has been a great pleasure to work with the many people who directly help the committee in so many ways and I thank them all sincerely: Murrough Benson, Ross Johnson, Nick Booth (website), Kieran Nelson (Facebook), Dr Peter Cahill, Tim Terrell, Linda Manning, Marie Clifton-Bassett, Greg Harris, Jan Kleinig, Gayle Thwaites, Patrick Bourke, Jeff Baldwin, Charles Betteridge and I know there are more. Sadly we lost several of our greatest long term supporters in 2015 including former President Harry West, OAM, Stuart Inder, MBE and David Marsh, OBE.

The 2015 PNGAA Management Committee is to be sincerely thanked for their commitment and dedication: Julianne Ross Allcorn, Doug Wood, Roy Ranney, Phil Ainsworth, Paul Munro, Rebecca Hopper, Dianne Guy, Jon Ritchie. As mentioned, some of the 2015 Management Committee have stepped back: Juli Allcorn, Rebecca Hopper, Dianne Guy and Jon Ritchie. In 2016 we warmly welcome Murrough Benson, Sara Turner, Steve Burns, Steven Gagau and Belinda Macartney.

The PNGAA Management Committee and subsidiary working groups, all volunteers, are an extraordinary group of people who each make an enormous contribution with vibrant, fresh ideas and sheer hard work! Central is the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea—how to acknowledge our joint history whilst working towards a collaborative future that we can all share and enjoy.

Andrea Williams