Talanoa Oceania 2012 (conference report)

Conference Report by Dr Roannie Ng Shiu and Nacanieli Rika, Co-Convenors of Talanoa Oceania 2012.

The 5th Talanoa Oceania conference was held in Canberra from 9-10 November. Talanoa Oceania in Canberra and the Australian National University (ANU) Pacific Institute and Pasifika Australia units organized this conference. The conference was co-hosted by the ANU and the Canberra City Uniting Church. The conference was officially opened with the blowing of a conch shell as senior members of Talanoa Oceania in Canberra led in Pacific diplomats. Sioana Faupula, Chairperson of the Talanoa Oceania in Canberra Committee welcomed everyone and Rev Dr Jione Havea, foundational member of Talanoa Oceania, provided a context and background to the concept of talanoa and previous Talanoa Oceania conferences. Participants attended the conference from Canberra, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga.

Given that the conference was in its fifth year, a broad approach to the conference themes was taken as participants reflected on important social and economic issues for people of Oceania. The major themes included Pacific seasonal worker schemes, Pacific Islander migration and contributions to Australian life, mentoring and leadership, peace-building and conflict resolution in the Pacific, development, gender, education, religion, culture, Pacific capacity building, Kava in Australia, health and wellbeing and language and communication. The conference consisted of 36 presentations, from Canberra based Pacific diplomats, academics, representatives from non-government organisations, church community, journalists and local community members. The presentations were a mix of individual speakers, panel sessions, singing, documentaries and digital stories with the majority of participants being of Pacific Island descent. A significant feature of the 2012 conference was the strong focus on Melanesia including PNG, West Papua, Solomon Islands and East Timor [download a copy of the Talanoa Conference Booklet 2012].

The conference provided a tripartite forum in which diplomats and people of influence, academics and students and local communities in Australia were able to openly exchange views  on key issues from temporary migrant worker schemes (Seasonal Worker Program and Regional Seasonal Employer Scheme) to peace-building and conflict resolution in the Pacific.  In keeping with the spirit and essence of talanoa (to dialogue and to talk) the conference attendees and presenters were able to engage in lively and often spirited discussions and debates.

The conference celebrated local Pacific youth with two special events.  First, was the Pacific Youth Showcase performance on the Friday night.  Conference attendees and local community were treated to an evening that began with a Kava/Ava/Yaqona ceremony and included music and dance performances from ACT and Queanbeyan Pacific youth groups representing Aotearoa/New Zealand, Fiji/Rotuma, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga. A group of 10 senior secondary schools students from Beenleigh State High School also performed on the night. The second event was the Pacific Youth leadership forum hosted by Pasifika Australia.  The forum began with a special opening by HRH Princess Angelika Tuku’aho who spoke on what it meant to be a young Tongan female leader.  The forum also included presentations by Dr Roannie Ng Shiu (Pasifika Australia) and Matthew Bray, a medical student from Monash University.  Although the forum was meant to be a closed session for youth only, the youth in attendance were able to discuss the key issues facing their generation today.  These issues included helping their identity journeys, attracting youth back into Pacific churches, and strengthening their appreciation of their cultural heritage.

The conference was widely reported in local and national media with a news feature by ABC Canberra and two radio interviews for ABC Pacific Beat and ABC National Drive radio programs. Two media reports based on presentations at Talanoa Oceania 2012 are now online:  Pacific migrants succeeding in Australia (Australia Network News) and Pacific Islanders find “promised land” in Australia (ABC Radio National). The conference was also officially photographed and videotaped by Julia Gray of Sunameke Productions. Plans are being made for a publication from the conference and the ANU is in discussion to potentially create a secretariat for Talanoa Oceania.

We would like to give a special thanks to all of the Talanoa Oceania 2012 Organising Committee. This includes members of the Pacific community representing Talanoa Oceania in Canberra: Sioana Faupula (Chairperson), Nacanieli Rika (Secretary and Co-Convenor), Stella Naimet (Treasurer), Nicole Alexander, and Kepueli Vaka (Director of Pacific Youth Showcase). We would also like to thank the members of the Committee representing the ANU Pacific Institute and Pasifika Australia: Dr Roannie Ng Shiu (Co-Convenor), Cathleen Nansen, George Carter, Joel Nilon and Dr Mike Cookson.

Finally, the Talanoa Oceania 2012 Committee would like to acknowledge the generous support of the following sponsors: ANU Pacific Institute; ANU Equity Office and Pasifika Australia; ANU College of Asia and the Pacific; State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program (SSGM); “Engendering Persons…” (Prof. Margaret Jolly’s ARC Laureate Project); Pacific Islands United; Canberra City Uniting Church and Canberra Region Presbytery; and the ACT Office of Multicultural Affairs.

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