The author undertaking cultural heritage work (Northern Province, PNG).
In ‘Field Notes’ we invite Australian and Papua New Guinean researchers and practitioners to tell us about their work and how it has helped to build relationships between individuals and institutions.

How has the research project contributed to developing relationships?

I recently undertook research as part of an honours degree in Anthropology entitled “Racial Differences in Contemporary Service Practices in PNG” (James Cook University, 2013). Through this study I had the opportunity to present a Papua New Guinean perspective on the nature of interactions between PNG and Australia, specifically within contemporary society in PNG. It was particularly evident from the study that often in PNG a racial lens is used by Papua New Guineans, prior to interaction with Australians. Race as a lens, constructs distinctions related to notions of class, status and power. This is not isolated to PNG-Australia interactions; however, racial distinctions often inform perceptions that then prompt certain attitudes, behaviours and actions. Through different presentations, I have had the opportunity to speak with individuals, community and partner organisations both Papua New Guinean and Australian on this research topic. The research highlighted the close historical connection between Australia and PNG, which has shaped and continues to shape PNG-Australia relationships and interactions.  The research provided a contemporary PNG understanding of the nature of interactions as they occur, between Papua New Guineans and Australian expatriates, in PNG.

Speaking at a public forum in Cairns (PNG-Australian partnerships series: A PNG Perspective, 26thSeptember 2013, The Cairns Institute, JCU), the research was able to articulate a Papua New Guinean perspective on the nature of PNG-Australian interaction and how this plays out in work practice and interpersonal exchanges. This understanding has contributed directly to supporting appropriate modes of engagement with communities in PNG.

More recently, as part of a JCU PNG Student Association forum (Sustainable Futures of PNG Student Forum, October 2014, JCU), I was fortunate to engage in a dialogue with PNG students, who were studying abroad, on concepts of contemporary PNG identity. This discussion encouraged the notion that contemporary identity allows space for culture and tradition as well as modern values. Acknowledging this identity can be a positive tool which can inform PNG-focused development agendas.

Nalisa presenting her research (Photo: JCU PNG Students Association).

How does this research contribute to the development of the research community in PNG and the use of research by decision-makers in that country?

As a Papua New Guinean, and a researcher, my hope is that any research I am associated with appropriately articulates PNG perspectives and the PNG context. This research can then inform development agendas that are targeted to PNG (i.e. sustainable practices; culturally appropriate engagement; capacity building; practical, tangible outcomes; appropriate policy and decision-making).

Beyond this, my research and work experience has highlighted the importance of presenting a clear and realistic picture of different circumstances as they occur, being mindful of the diversity within PNG. Transparency within research is an important factor. This requires providing descriptive and sometimes very specific explanations to ensure an in-depth understanding of the issues being researched.

An important aspect of being part of a research community is the opportunity to interact with a diverse range of people, with a variety of skills, to share knowledge and build networks that can strengthen research capacity and outcomes, as well as the research community as a whole. This inevitably improves the quality of research which can provide a better platform for tangible development outcomes in PNG.

How has the research activity contributed to the understanding of the whole of PNG on the part of Australian researchers?

Being able to participate in public forums, such as the PNG-Australian partnerships series (September, 2013), and others (The Sustainable Leadership in Indigenous Research Conference, July, 2013; Talanoa Pasifika Conference, July, 2014) has allowed me to engage directly with Australian researchers, specifically in relation to developing an understanding of PNG-Australian relationships. These forums have provided me with the opportunity to inform Australian researchers of conceptual understandings of culturally appropriate engagement in PNG – and also how to practically apply this understanding on an individual or community level.

Furthermore, my research has highlighted the importance of clear and open communication. Working at specific sites in PNG I was able to apply my research and effectively manage the expectations of both PNG and Australian colleagues and be a conduit for equitable and meaningful interaction across the cultures.

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