PhD Research Project: Making a “Little PNG” in Perth

Ellena Holm

The Papua New Guinean migrants in Western Australia (WA) are building a strong and diverse community. When I started my PhD research in 2021, the community welcomed me. Since then I have been attending church services and community events, like Independence Day. I have heard many incredible stories of migration from Papua New Guinea to WA. My PhD research aims to help share as many of these stories as possible, and understand how Papua New Guinean migrants build lives in a new place and maintain connections to PNG. The stories of Papua New Guinean migrants are a key narrative missing from the conversation of migration to Australia.

Making Dough Balls on a Camping Trip

There are a thousand small ways that Papua New Guineans make a home far from their ples. Selling bilums in Perth, buying buai from Cairns to chew after lotu and making huge feasts with food from many cultures across PNG at community events. Importing Wopa biscuits and Maggi stock cubes takes work, between DHL expenses and tricky customs rules. But the community overcomes these challenges by working together. Buying cream crackers shares wealth with family far away and lets family in Perth eat in the PNG way. The PNG way shines through in so many small acts of giving and receiving. It is evident in the remittances sent back home for phone credits or to set up stores, despite the high cost of living in Perth. These small acts of giving and receiving are at the heart of my research. I want to share these stories so that more Australians can learn about the strength and connection that ties PNG together. 

About Ellena

Photo from Uncle Ken’s Collection, near where Mt Hagen is today

Papua New Guinea has been a part of my life for a long time. My father’s mother’s uncle, Great Uncle Ken, was a surveyor with the Leahy Brothers in the 1930s.

I grew up in the small town of Finley in rural NSW with my mother (Jenny), father (Malcolm), and little sister (Talei). My parents worked hard so that my sister Talei and I could have the chance to move away and continue our education. With their love and support, I am here in Perth, studying at Curtin University with the Pacific Livelihoods Research Group. Although I live far from my family, I still feel that love and support through the little things we do for each other. They support me through purchases such as Doctor’s appointments and flights home. I have heard similar stories of sacrifice from the WA PNG community to ensure that siblings, children, nephews and nieces can take advantage of incredible opportunities in Australia.

Interested in Sharing Your Story?

For my research, I am interested in hearing people’s stories of migration to better understand the ways they connect with people back home. These conversations often take place over a coffee at a café or at community events. Although I want to understand people’s individual migration pathways and stories, no person will be identified in any published works. I plan to publish my research in both journals for a research audience, and in ways that reach a wider public audience. 

In addition to interviews, I am also seeking to learn about the Papua New Guinean community in Perth through a short survey. The survey asks about the reasons people have moved to Perth, how long they have been here, and where they migrated from. It also asks about people’s employment and their involvement in community groups. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete. The link for the survey can be found here.

Bilums from Telefomin

I plan to visit Brisbane and Papua New Guinea as part of my studies. I would love to speak with people about what they send to Perth and PNG and what they receive in return. Learning about how migrants’ expansive networks thrive here in Australia can tell us much about the migrant experience.

Please email if you would like to get in touch or if you know of someone in Perth, Brisbane or PNG who would like to share their stories.