2007 Mt Hagen Sing Sing (Photo: Ian @ThePaperBoy.com)
There are sister-city relationships between cities all over the world and some of them have been in place for hundreds of years. The main purpose of a sister-city agreement is to foster networks of communication across countries and enhance economic ties. They also provide avenues for cultural exchange and education. In Australia, there are three cities that have sister relationships with cities in Papua New Guinea; Townsville and Port Moresby, Cairns and Lae and Orange and Mount Hagen. These agreements are one aspect of the deep links between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Orange, in New South Wales, is the only Australian city outside of Queensland to boast a Sister City relationship with a city in Papua New Guinea. Mt Hagen, the capital of PNG’s Western Highlands Province, has had a Sister City relationship with Orange for 30 years. The two cities share mining connections. Orange is situated near the site where gold was first discovered in 1851. Today it is just 25 kilometres from the Cadia Valley gold and copper mine. From its mining past the city has grown to a major hub of the Central West region of New South Wales. Mt Hagen has grown considerably in as the commercial and administrative centre of the Highlands region. It is also the closest established city to the Porgera gold mine of Enga province. Over the course of their sister city relationship the Orange and Mt Hagen local governments have engaged in collaborations across a number of different areas.

The relationship has involved developing capacity building initiatives in Mt Hagen. The Orange City Council has been able to share their knowledge and resources with the Mt Hagen Urban Local Level Government to improve service provision for their residents. From the foundation of the sister city relationship the Orange and Mt Hagen city authorities, with the support of AusAID, were able to undertake a large-scale planning project in Mt Hagen. The project, carried out through the Commonwealth Local Government Forums Good Practice Scheme, had two main objectives; to increase the capacity of the local government through the production of the Mt Hagen city plan and improve pedestrian safety in the town centre.

Performers at the 2007 Mt Hagen Sing Sing (Photo: Ian @ ThePaperBoy.com).

The project began in 2000 when Orange city officials first visited Mt Hagen, at the request of their sister city counterparts, to help identify the central planning issues in the city. As the population of Mt Hagen has grown the social dynamics of the city have also changed. People have moved to the city from other parts of the region and created informal settlements on the city’s outskirts. Social inequality in the city has been partly attributed to urban development policies that restrict where new arrivals can choose to live. These informal settlements do not have access to many services and infrastructure throughout the whole city is strained. Waste management is particularly difficult for the Mt Hagen city authorities, which has led to health problems for the city’s residents, such as periodic outbreaks of dysentery.

In 2009 Orange City Council staff returned to Mt Hagen to work with the local government in creating a city plan to manage growth. To assist in the planning project, local government staff surveyed the land use in the city, pedestrian traffic in the city, and waste management in the settlements. Sydney-based urban design firm, Crone Partners, worked with the teams from Orange and Mt Hagen to produce a comprehensive plan for the city’s development, including plans for government, airport and sporting precincts and new infrastructure projects aimed at combatting some of the problems outlined earlier. The project is now in the operational phase, focussing on the implementation of selected key elements of the new city plan.

Orange City Council staff have assisted in increasing the capacity of the Mt Hagen city authority staff to provide for the population’s needs. Orange has also benefitted as its Council staff have gained skills from participating in a cross-cultural project of this scale. Stephen Sykes, previously the Director of Enterprise Services with the Orange City Council, was heavily involved in the project. He has emphasised that more than just physical infrastructure is needed to build better communities. Building skills is also vital.

More recently there have been talks of further building on the sister city relationship by establishing business connections between the two cities. Earlier in the year a delegation from Orange City Council again visited Mt Hagen. The group included Orange mayor John Davis, sister cities community chair and deputy mayor Chris Gryllis, and Cr Reg Kidd. Cr Gryllis has been in talks with Factory Espresso, a coffee supplier based in Orange, about the potential for importing coffee from Mt Hagen.

A view of Orange from nearby Mt Canobolas (Photo: Brian Yap).

The group also had the opportunity to attend the Mt Hagen cultural show, a major event in the province, where they got a taste of the vibrant cultures of the surrounding areas. Orange City Council staff had previously acknowledged the potential for tourism in Mt Hagen, with a focus on the Mt Hagen cultural show, which offers visitors a unique opportunity to witness the rich traditions of the culturally diverse region.

The two cities also have a mutual appreciation for sport, particularly NRL, the national sport of PNG. The winners of the Western Highlands Governer’s Cup match were afforded the opportunity to visit Orange in 2010. And again in 2012 the Mt Hagen rugby league team made the trip to Orange as a part of a larger group visiting the city to strengthen the sister city bonds. When they were in Orange they had the opportunity to play the Orange side.

The sister city relationship between Orange and Mt Hagen has provided the basis for all of these initiatives. Both cities have seen the benefits of this partnership and through the work of their respective local government staff the connection between Orange and Mt Hagen remains strong.

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Anna Kirk - Project Director, Aus-PNG Network - Lowy Institute

Anna Kirk

Project Director, Aus-PNG Network

Anna Kirk was Research Fellow and Project Director of the Aus-PNG Network at the Lowy Institute, where her work focused on Australia’s relations with Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. Anna holds a Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Queensland, with majors in Peace and Conflict Studies and Spanish. Anna grew up in Port Vila, Vanuatu. During her undergraduate degree she spent a semester studying Spanish language at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. In 2013, Anna spent six months teaching English in Santiago, Chile.