An honours year in PNG

By Stephanie Harris

In the months of May and June, 2017, I was afforded the opportunity by the New Colombo Plan (NCP) to travel to Papua New Guinea to conduct fieldwork for my honours year research with Curtin University’s Geography Department and the Pacific Livelihoods Research Group.

(Map source: Australian National University)

The purpose of my fieldwork was to investigate the difficulties experienced by many Papua New Guinean people in saving money. This would involve interviewing a variety of people in both urban and rural settings to gain an understanding of the unique difficulties they face: be they geographical, social, political, cultural, and/or economical.

East New Britain

My trip began in the beautiful Rabaul Harbour on the Gazelle Peninsula, East New Britain (ENB). Rabaul and Kokopo, the two main towns in the Gazelle, are relatively developed urban and semi-urban hubs with high levels of cash flow due to the cash crop economy; therefore, it was decided the Gazelle region was an ideal location to investigate the difficulties in accumulating money.

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In East New Britain I spent a great deal of time interviewing women in the markets. These days were very rewarding, being able to listen to the stories of women and to learn about their daily lives.

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In the evenings, after a long day in the field, I would often go for a snorkel at our accommodation.

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But the highlight of ENB was the opportunity to see a Bainings fire dance in a village called Gaulim in the Bainings Mountains.

West New Britain

In West New Britain (WNB) our first stop was at Bialla. This is a remote part of WNB, close to the border of ENB, where oil palm farmers are abundant. It is here that I accompanied my supervisor, Gina Koczberski, to interview women on oil palm smallholdings, to evaluate the effectiveness of the Mumma Lus Fruit Scheme (introduced 20 years ago), and to determine any issues that may have arisen.

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While in Bialla we visited Hargy headquarters. We were shown around the developments of a new school and women’s centre, and had the opportunity to visit some of the Village Oil Palm (VOP) blocks.

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Stopping at roadside markets during our travels, women would often call out to me ‘nice meri blouse!’, ‘yu PNG meri!’.

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Leaving Bialla behind, we headed back towards Kimbe, the capital of WNB, where we were due for a couple days break at a relaxing resort. I went on a day trip snorkelling from the many islands dotted across the WNB coast and saw some fantastic reef and beautiful fish.

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I met some wonderful people in PNG, and sadly missed them when it was time to leave.

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It had been a successful trip gathering data, and the hard yards of the honours year were yet to come.

Photo Credits: Stephanie Harris, Timothy Sharp, Jarad Wennal, Linus Pileng.

This research was supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) New Columbo Plan and the Australian Centre of International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

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