In touch with … Hannah Brimstone

Flinders law and behavioural science student Hannah Brimstone is a New Colombo Plan scholar studying law and international relations at the University of Papua New Guinea in 2019, and is completing a six month internship in Indonesia.

What topics did you study in PNG?

I studied at Divine Word University (DWU) in Madang and took four courses in the PNG Studies and International Relations degree. The four units I took were Geopolitics in Asia-Pacific, PNG Foreign Policy, Film Studies for Development, and Traditional Village Religions.

How are you ensuring you immerse yourself in cultural experiences – or is this happening without any effort?

Some without effort, others took a bit of planning. I lived on campus in the dorm and ate at the student mess. I was the only exchange student on campus so all of my friends are Papua New Guinean. This meant everything I did was an effortless cultural experience. I’ve been lucky to have visited a few villages, and have seen how people live day-to-day as well as what happens on special occasions.

Around Independence Day, I stayed in my course mate’s village up in the Highlands. The main part of the house was like an open-air area where we ate and some people slept, we used a pit toilet and showered with fresh cold water fetched in a bucket.

I got to see how the family made fire and prepared traditional food in bamboo. Because it was the big cultural show, in the mornings while I was drinking tea, I got to see people dressing up in bilas (traditional attire), having their faces painted, singing and dancing.

What does your internship role involve and can you describe a highlight?

I’m currently undertaking an internship with Newcrest Mining in Port Moresby, working on government relations and social investment projects.

I am learning so much about the PNG resource sector and the broad operations of a public company. It has been great to put the skills developed through both my law and behavioural science degrees into practice to assist in the preparation of various materials for both Newcrest and the Chamber of Mines and Petroleum.

It’s exciting to know that the documents that I have been working on will be used in discussions with government about various law and policy reform. It has also been so interesting to learn about the direct, positive impact the private sector has on local communities.

Newcrest provides support to some really important projects including sponsoring teachers, nurses and midwives to study, funding a medical centre that sees over 50,000 patients a year, and running the ‘Trupla Man Trupla Meri’ anti-violence campaign. Newcrest was also the major sponsor for Great Britain Rugby League PNG Tour, so seeing the Orchids (women’s team) and Kumuls (men’s team) beat the Brits live was a highlight!

What has been your top highlight so far for the total experience?

My time in PNG has absolutely exceeded my expectations, it’s hard to pick out just one highlight.

Some of the best parts from my semester include dressing in Kairuku bilas and dancing at the DWU cultural show, road tripping to Goroka for the Goroka Show and Independence Day, visiting my fellow New Colombo Plan scholar Dylan Male in Lae, and attending the Cocoa and Morobe Shows with Wafi-Golpu.

Buying lots of local produce from the Madang Town Market and learning to cook PNG style, joining the climate change discussion group on campus, and making a short film with my friend titled ‘BYOB – Bring Your Own Bilum’ which encourages people to reuse plastic bags and use their bilums (string bags) when they go shopping, which was premiered at the Human Rights Film Festival, and finally being given my own collection of bilums (I have 15 now).

Any key differences to what you were expecting or what you are used to that you would like to share?

PNG is very different to Australia but there are so many little similarities that make me feel like I never left home. For example, my first day at uni was state of origin, and there were Queensland and NSW flags everywhere. The next day, my course mate bought me a pie for lunch, and the local supermarket stocked Vegemite and all of my favourite Aussie snacks, which I had unnecessarily brought in my suitcase.

I think one of the most interesting things in PNG is the belief in magic and sorcery. Magic is a very normal part of everyday life in PNG, and individuals privately practice magic rituals for many different purposes, from improving gardens to causing sickness. My friend told me how they bury special objects in the four corners of her garden so her veggies would grow better. Another time we had bought a pineapple from the market and it was rotten inside so my friend’s mum put curses on the guy who sold it to us.

Sorcery and sickness is more serious. Sometimes people die of unexplainable causes and believe it’s sorcery. Family of the victims will seek payback and many people are killed due accusations of sorcery.

Can you describe a challenge you have faced, or has it been difficult being away from home for such a long stretch?

I’ve lived out of home for eight years and have already done a semester abroad, so being away from home is normal for me.

I think the hardest thing has been restricted independence. The reality is PNG isn’t safe to walk around alone, especially as a female. I have had to rely on other people, particularly men, which I found difficult to accept at first being the strong independent feminist that I am. It can be challenging at times, but this has also sort of facilitated relationships.

The best part of my PNG experience has definitely been the friends I’ve made. Never before have I experienced hospitality or the strong sense of community like I have here. I feel very strong connections with people very quickly and it has made the transition from home very easy. The DWU community made me feel incredibly welcome and included. There’s this concept called ‘pasin diwai‘ where students will greet and shake hands with you every time you meet, even if it’s the fifth or tenth time that day.

What are some key benefits you can see from this program?

I think the key benefit of NCP so far is my deepened understanding of PNG. PNG and Australia have so much shared history which I think majority of Australians don’t know enough about.

It’s embarrassing now to admit, but this time two years ago even I didn’t know PNG was colonised by Australia. In my short time here, I have learned so much, and I have been sharing my experiences with my friends in Australia and around the world through social media. I have a dedicated Instagram account where I post photos and little infographics with facts or tok pisin words that I enjoy.

I have also learned is about the importance of relationships, both people-to-people and people-to-land. I was fortunate enough to participate in a discussion group with students from PNG, Fiji and Samoa when I visited UPNG during the semester break. We spent a considerable portion of that session getting to know each other before getting to the actual objectives of the meeting. I thought there would be better ways to use limited time together, but the facilitator told me how it was as important to know who you are working with as it was getting the work done.

It has been interesting to learn about the concepts of wantok (close friend) and luksave (to recognise) beyond the dictionary definitions, and the implications that loyalty and relationships have on business – like networking but with obligation.

My course mates, my wantoks, will be PNG’s future leaders, which of course will be beneficial if I want to work in or with PNG in the future, but this experience has also taught me how to consider things within their deeper context.

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