Papua New Guinea celebrated its 47th year of Independence last week on 16 September. It’s journey toward Independence came after colonial administrations from Germany, Britain and finally by Australia who returned autonomy to the people in 1975.
A diverse country of more than a thousand different cultural groups and languages, Papua New Guinea is one of the largest Pacific nations and by far, one of the most diverse. As a result of both Australia’s proximity and historical ties to Papua New Guinea, it is now home to the largest Papua New Guinean diaspora – who contribute deeply into the narrative of Australia while remaining deeply connected to their Motherland.
As an acknowledgement of Papua New Guinea Independence, we had the honour of sitting down with Wap-hill Imbun - a Papua New Guinean- Australian, whose ancestry links her back to the Enga Province of the highland's region of Papua New Guinea and who currently resides on Dharug Country / Western Sydney. Wap-hill is a member of ‘Wantok Sydney’ and the curatorial mind behind the Instagram page ‘@Pasifikavisuals’ - a truly exemplary page on Pasifika representation – past, present and how that shapes us into the future.
AM: This year is Papua New Guinea’s 47th year of Independence. Independence days mean different things for different people – what does Papua New Guinea Independence mean for you?
WI: For me, it means coming together to celebrate our independence. Celebrating the fact that we are no longer ruled by any other country. Independence Day also serves as a reminder of how unique and diverse Papua New Guinea is. Trying to put everyone under one umbrella took a lot of work in order to unify the country– so that’s something to celebrate as well. We are all from different provinces, and distinct cultural affiliations but Independence Day is a chance to come together and say we are all Papua New Guinean, we are all on this journey together and we recognise ourselves as wan kantri (one country).
Living in Sydney the Papua New Guinean community is not that big compared to places like Brisbane, where they have a larger PNG community – but we do what we can with what we have. So, Independence Day celebrations are appreciated, because we can still bung (gather) and share our kaikai (food).
AM: You run an amazing page on Instagram called ‘Pasifikavisuals’ where you curate images from around the Pacific – both past and present – and assist in the retelling of the Pacific narrative online in an accessible and autonomous way. What inspired you to start ‘Pasifikavisuals’?
WI: Pasifika Visuals is my way of channelling my creativity into curating an array of visuals and stories that reflect the diversity of Pacific people. I wanted to show that we all come in different shades, sizes, hair textures, everything. That we're not all under one region, or culture and that the Pacific holds more than one image.
For example, I have love for Polynesia, but they do take centre stage when it comes to representation of the Pacific; and it’s important to remember that Melanesia is also a major part of the Pacific as well as Micronesia which often gets left behind in the narrative.
I use Pasifika Visuals to encourage Pasifika people to share their own visual stories, by sending in submissions. This is important to highlight as the outside world has and continues to misjudge Pacific people, as well as our cultures and stories.
Pasifika Visuals is a space for the Pacific people to correct and rewrite the narrative when it comes to images and stories not conveyed by us. Wap-hill Imbun,
AM: Do you think being a Papua New Guinean woman gives you a distinct approach to running a page like ‘Pasifikavisuals’ that perhaps allows you to view its curation differently?
WI: I think it does in a sense that I can see that there is room to show more of the lesser-known Pacific Islands on Pasifika Visuals. Papua New Guinea is very diverse, each province is unique in its customs and languages, and they all have their own assigned days to celebrate that - so I think that helps me understand the importance of providing space to show the varying cultures of the Pacific.
AM: What have been some challenges to running “Pasifikavisuals”?
WI: Finding visual stories on smaller islands such as Tokelau continues to be a challenge because there is not enough information present. So, I use Pasifika Visuals to engage people of smaller island countries with limited information to send in their visual stories.
Another challenge is knowing whether the information that is out there is correct especially with archival images. Because for one, archival images were not taken by Pacific people and so the information or captions that accompany archival images are not always correct. And there is also the challenge of showing archival images that are not pleasant in a sense that not all Pacific people were warm to having their pictures taken. And you can tell when you look at the archival images that their spaces were being invaded and to have a camera shoved in your face is reflected in those photographs – so, I do rethink about whether I want to post any photographs like that. I love looking back at archival photographs, and I know a lot of people who follow Pasifika Visuals do as well, hence I am still trying to find the balance of how to be educational but also respectful of the Pacific people in the archival photographs.
AM: The Australian Museum holds 60,000+ Pasifika treasures, 40,000+ of which are from Papua New Guinea. What would you see as a proper way to engage with these for the Papua New Guinean diaspora in Sydney?
WI: “Just return them” is always the answer people give when you ask a question like that, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. However, since they are here in Sydney, and that they are a dominant presence in the museum, I think it’s important that we at the very least should go and acknowledge that they're there. I would encourage Papua New Guineans in Sydney to take time to visit and learn about our culture, our history and who we are while living away. It’s one way for us to stay connected to Papua New Guinea and the artifacts that are kept at the Australian Museum.
AM: In light of Papua New Guinean Independence Day – what are your hopes for Papua New Guinea into the future?
WI: As a country we are very proud of who we are, which is great, but we have and continue to allow countries and businesses from overseas to slowly strip away who we are by taking up space on our lands. My hope is that we take back control and progress forward, not backwards. Another hope would be for gender equality in spaces that are male dominated such as politics, even though we did have a few women candidates this year, it’s still not enough for the change that needs to happen to prevent big issues like violence against women.
AM: What are some words of wisdoms for young Papua New Guineans living in Australia?
WI: Acknowledge the indigenous land you live on, a simple start can be learning the indigenous name of the area you live in. Take advantage of what's available to you, what's on offer - because living in Australia has its advantages especially when it comes to education, health, and security. I would also say attend Pacific events held in Australia, so that you can meet other Pacific islanders and Papua New Guineans. And make plans to visit museums and galleries that are providing space for Papua New Guinea to be shown.