eJournal of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies
Issues 1.2 and 2.1, April 2010
Oceanic Transformations by the Yarra, The Melbourne Conference of the AAAPS, April 2010

Oceanic Transformations was the title of the third conference of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies in Melbourne in April, following on from Oceanic Connections two years ago

Figure 1. Helen Hill
in Canberra. Held in the Conference Centre at Victoria University's Flinders Street Campus, looking down on Flinders Street Station and the Yarra River, it took advantage of its location to bring plenty of passing traffic into an art exhibition curated by Loketi Latu on the ground floor with a launch the day before the conference proper started. As conference organizer, I was immensely gratified to have been able to find so many people from within Melbourne's Pacific Islands community who wished to play a part in the organization.

An innovation this year was to hold several 'pre-conferences' at the conference venue, the day before the academic papers began. One was of postgraduate students writing theses on the Pacific, facilitated by Paul Sharrad; another was of journalists and media people interested in the Pacific, brought together by John Wallace of the Asia-Pacific Journalism Centre. A third was of church people with experience in the Pacific, facilitated by Jeff Wild of the National Council of Churches and a fourth, co-sponsored with the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), was on Civil Society Linkages between Australia and the Pacific Islands. ACFID brought Emele Duituturaga of the Pacific Islands Association of NGOs from
Fiji to introduce the day. These pre-conferences put some big issues on the table and set the scene for the official opening and public meeting that evening at the Richmond Town Hall, a short tram ride away.

At the Town Hall President Clive Moore welcomed members and guests and emphasised the role of AAAPS in promoting knowledge about and study of the Pacific in the wider community, as well as in academia. PNG High Commissioner Charles Lepani continued the theme in relation to PNG, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee Australia-PNG Committee, Richard Marles promised to make the Pacific a more significant part of Parliamentary discussions and Dr Teresia Teaiwa reminded us that Pacific Studies is a lot more entrenched in New Zealand than it is in Australia.

The conference was designed around a series of plenary sessions on cross-cutting issues, the first being Pathways Towards Sustainable Development in the Region, featuring Emeretta Cross of Kiribati on Climate Change, Prof David Harrison of the University of the South Pacific (Suva) on Tourism and Tim Anderson of University of Sydney on Land. Plenaries were followed by five concurrent sessions, each with three papers. This year, in addition to the usual academic disciplines of History, Anthropology, Political Science and Creative Arts we also called for papers on Tourism, Environment, Regional Organizations, Health, Education, Language and Interpreting, Media & Communications, and Social Transformation and Advocacy.

We were fortunate to get AusAID funding to bring five keynote speakers to the conference under the Seminar Support Scheme. They provided great insights into current issues in their countries. A lively plenary on Pacific Initiatives for social change heard about popular theatre in Vanuatu from Siula Bulu of Wan Smol Bag Theatre Company, and on malaria eradication in Solomon Islands from Dr Lyndes Wini of the Ministry of Health. The closing session on 'Experiences of Democratization in the Pacific' was an emotional experience as 'Alisi Taumoepeau of Tonga and Mosmi Bhim of Fiji spoke about the costs of the struggles for democracy in their respective countries. The other AusAID funded visitor Dr Michael Mel, of Performance Studies at the University of Goroka was kept busy not only in his session on the use of film in social transformation but also taking part in a roundtable discussion with Teresia Teaiwa and myself broadcast out to the Pacific chaired by Bruce Hill of Radio Australia. Radio Australia conducted a whole hour of programming from the conference venue and interviewed a number of participants for later programs.

A number of members put in huge amounts of work to make the program a success. Guy Powles and Irene Paulsen worked tirelessly on the program, producing a most valuable book of abstracts whose production was sponsored by Ernst and Young. Many thanks to Emeretta Cross, our conference administrator. Jon Ritchie worked financial miracles as conference treasurer. Jane Landman organized the conference lunches. Stream convenors such as Bev Snell of Health, Emma Wong of Tourism and Nic McLellan of Regional Organizations attracted some innovative papers. Susan Cochrane put together several stimulating sessions on Art and Culture working from Brisbane. A student task force (Ben Anwyl. Regina Gatu, Amatus Douw, Lynda Koerner, Cameron Molitoris and others) did a huge amount of 'behind the scenes' work, picking up our visitors at the airport, registering attendees, and generally making sure the program went smoothly. There was a strong sense of co-operation from beginning to end.

Kilisitina Sisifa and Loketi Latu ensured that the conference dinner, again at the Richmond Town Hall, was a success in addition to their other contributions to the conference. The food, the West Papuan and Maori singers and the after dinner speaker, Clement Paligaru of Radio Australia, created a great atmosphere where conference delegates could relax, have a good time and discuss many issues coming out of the first day and the pre-conferences. Indeed the whole event created such interest among the Melbourne-based Pacific Islanders there was a call for AAAPS to have more activities at the State level in addition to the biennial conference, and so the idea of having State branches was born.

All participants put a lot of work into their papers and ensured a very engaging time was had by all. It is hoped to publish a selection of the papers as a book and anyone may add their PowerPoint presentation or pdf file of their paper to the AAAPS website. Members can email their conference papers/powerpoints as attachments to Samantha Rose. She will then post them on the 'resources' page. Please note that files over 10MB will need to be compressed as 10MB is the limit for attachments.

At the AGM on the last day Clive Moore, Grant McCall and Max Quanchi were farewelled from their executive positions and thanked for all their pioneering work. They will, we hope, continue to be involved in the lead up to the next conference. Several members will be attending the Pacific History Conference in Goroka and it was good to have two colleagues from Goroka at this conference.

Pacific Studies in Australia needs the support of groups outside of academia if it is to grow and expand. The Oceanic Transformations conference made overtures to journalists, Pacific Island Diaspora communities, health workers who regularly work in the Pacific Islands, musicians, artists, church people, Civil Society and others. The constitutional amendment being planned might include a possibility for affiliated organizations and the State or national level in addition to individual membership. Hopefully these partnerships will grow over the next two years and we will see you all in Wollongong in 2012.


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Last modified: 28 June 2010 1539