Vale, Tom Ernst

10 August 2016

You might also like

Pacific scholars and his many other friends at ANU are saddened to hear of the loss Tom Ernst. Tom had a long and close association with Papua New Guinea. He first went there in 1969, from the University of Michigan, to do his doctoral research among the Onabasulu people in the Strickland-Bosavi region on the Papuan Plateau. In the early 1970s during the lead-up to independence, he taught in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Papua New Guinea. In 1974 he was hired by foundation professor Bruce Kapferer as the first lecturer in the newly created Department of Anthropology at the University of Adelaide, where Tom stayed until 1990. From then until his retirement in 2004, he taught in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Charles Sturt University. During that time, he and his partner Kerry Zubrinich made frequent visits to Sydney and Canberra, often to participate in discussions and events focussed on Melanesia and the wider Pacific. In 2004 they moved to Canberra, where they continued their involvement in Pacific-focused activities, Kerry as a fellow of the ANU State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program and Tom as a visiting fellow in the Resource Management in the Asia-Pacific Program. Although Tom was not a prolific writer, several of his publications stand out as gems, including, for example, ‘Myth, Ritual, and Population among the Marind-Anim’ (1979), ‘Empirical Attitudes among the Onabasulu’ (1991) and ‘Land, Stories and Resources: Discourse and Entification in Onabasulu Modernity’ (1999). Tom was a gifted teacher and inspiring supervisor of PhD students, including at least three who became prominent Melanesianists in their own right: Neal Maclean, Michael Nihill and Jeffrey Clark. The impact of Tom’s teaching and scholarship and the esteem and affection in which he is held are evident from the following messages that were posted on ASAONET, the network of the Association of Social Anthropologists in Oceania:

  • “He was a thoughtful and well respected thinker and a great teacher who influenced and inspired many of the current Australian anthropologists working in PNG. A quiet and well read man, who loved the life of ideas. He spent much time discussing other people’s work. Never a pushy noisy academic but a deep thinker who pondered on things. A lovely person to have known. He will be much missed by many”. Andrew Lattas, Bergen University
  • “Very sorry to hear this - I only got to know Tom relatively late, but found him thoughtful, as Andrew says, very knowledgeable, with a charming smile and disarming manner. This is sad news”. Dan Jorgensen, University of Western Ontario
  • “Tom’s lectures on the Onabasulu turned me on to anthropology. Vale Tom”. Penelope Schoeffel, National University of Samoa
  • “Tom will be sorely missed and fondly remembered not only as an insightful and original thinker but also as a wonderful human being. He and Kerry were frequent overnight visitors to our home in Sydney during the early-mid 1990s, when they would make weekend trips there from Bathurst to participate in a Melanesia Discussion Group of which Tom was a founding member. He was not only a scintillating contributor to those discussions, but a delightful house guest, whom our then very young sons James and Jesse came to know and love for his kindness to them and quirky, child-friendly sense of humour”. Alan Rumsey, Australian National University
  • “Sad indeed. He was such a gentle, genial character, witty and wise”. Michael Young, Australian National University
  • “Tom set a shining example, in this post-factual age, for reading widely and carefully. I will fail in this, but at least I know there is a bar and that it is set pretty high. Sincere condolences to those he left behind”. John Burton, Australian National University
  • “I am so sorry to hear this. Quiet, respectful, intellectual, a fine ethnographer and always attentive to young colleagues. I will miss him”. Arne Cato Berg, University of Oslo
  • “That’s very sad to hear. He was a kind soul. He also brought the valuable notion of entification into our conversations. He will be missed”. Stuart Kirsch, University of Michigan

Alan Rumsey, Australian National University

Updated:  4 February 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director, Pacific Institute/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team