Sunset over Mount Kauka
You see dried grass over rough cut logs

Preaching to those who will not listen, & who pay the price for it

Two Sides to Every StoryPHIL FITZPATRICK

Two Sides to Every Story: A short guide to cross cultural awareness in Papua New Guinea, Philip Fitzpatrick, Pukpuk Publications, 2016, ISBN: 978-1537118406, 114 pages, US$5.53 plus postage from Amazon Books

SEVERAL years ago I wrote a paper about cultural awareness. It was based on my experiences working in Papua New Guinea, with indigenous communities in Australia and in some South Pacific islands, including Vanuatu and the Cook Islands.

My target audience was resource and project developers in Papua New Guinea. With that in mind I consulted many sources including a number of Papua New Guineans working in the field - geologists, camp managers and anthropologists.

I was prompted to write the paper, which finds a new life in this book, after watching the unnecessary problems that development workers and project managers seem to experience in Papua New Guinea because of their lack of cultural awareness.

I was also motivated by seeing the equally unnecessary stresses that were visited on local communities because of this ignorance.

By the time I came to write the paper, I had experienced countless situations where the advice I had offered in social mapping and other reports had been consistently ignored both by the proponents and the government.

The basis of the paper was the proposition that if a project developer or aid donor takes the time to understand the communities in which they plan to work, things will be a lot smoother for them.

Central to this is the briefing of staff, especially those in frontline positions in contact with local people. If these employees understand the people with whom they are going to work, a lot of problems can be avoided.

I also included a section looking at the issue from the other side of the fence. This was designed to explain to local workers and communities the culture of the development workers and aid donors, in effect a reversal of the usual expatriate-targeted cultural awareness programs.

I’ve always had trouble working out why some expatriates behave the way they do in Papua New Guinea. Quite often it is not the way they behave in their own countries. So I figured it must be doubly hard for workers coming from the villages to understand them.

Over time I have developed the firm view that social mapping studies in Papua New Guinea are carried out simply to quickly jump through legal hoops with no intent of taking them seriously.

On more than one occasion I was accused of making recommendations that created unnecessary complications for projects. Other people working in the field report similar experiences.

The paper went absolutely nowhere. I included it as an addendum in all my social mapping and other reports, and it was also comprehensively ignored.

Developers and project managers know only too well that what they regard as an unnecessary commercial incumbency can be filed away unread because they will never be brought to account by the government.

It is doubtful whether anyone in government actually reads the social mapping reports submitted to them.

The only satisfaction I got was watching developments and projects come unstuck for precisely the reasons I had diligently enumerated. However, there’s not much joy in saying ‘I told you so’.

I know several people who tried to make the resource developers and project managers operating in Papua New Guinea see sense, arguing that it was in their own best interests to at least consider the advice offered. Ironically, most of them had paid for the advice they were ignoring.

Not the least of these champions was John Fowke, who tried valiantly over several years to pass on his hard-won knowledge only to experience brushoffs and hollow promises.

Now that I am officially retired, I thought, bugger it, I’ll publish the paper. Even if no one reads it I will at least know it’s out there and available for anyone who is interested.

Of course, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Neither do I claim it to be a comprehensive account.

Social change has been going full tilt in Papua New Guinea for a long time and the old ways and beliefs are slipping away at an increasingly rapid rate.

Understanding the hybrid cultures that are evolving is incredibly difficult, not just for expatriates but for Papua New Guineans too.

So, for what it’s worth, this book, taken from that much ignored paper, offers the knowledge and wisdom of one wrinkled elder.


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Michael Dom

Phil, I hope this is not going to be "A great rant from an obviously rabid agnostic lefty member of the green Gaia movement who thinks the world will be fine if we just all hold hands and sing kumbai'ia whilst eating lentils cooked on a fire of dried cow dung".

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