Dr Jonathan Ritchie is a Deakin University Fellow and Member of the Contemporary Histories Research Group. Dr Ritchie and is currently undertaking a major research project, PNG in World War II:
2017 will be the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific in 1942. In that catastrophic year, Imperial Japanese forces landed across Papua New Guinea, in Solomon Islands, and in many small Pacific islands. In Papua New Guinea, they were slowly beaten back in savage fighting along the Kokoda Trail, at Milne Bay, and in the northern beachheads battles at Buna, Gona, and Sanananda, in a lengthy war of attrition that continued until Japan’s surrender in 1945.
The 2017 anniversary will see the culmination of a major research project being coordinated by the Contemporary Histories Research Group’s Dr Ritchie, in collaboration with the Australian Government through its Australian Aid program and the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery. This project, which commenced with the 2014 Kokoda Oral History Pilot Study, will see hundreds of oral history interviews being recorded by Papua New Guineans with men and women across PNG about their, or their family members’, experiences of World War II. The recordings will form the core of the PNG National Museum’s oral history collection, a resource that will be available for researchers in PNG, Australia, and around the world in the years to come. More importantly, it will be an enormously valuable repository of national cultural heritage to all Papua New Guineans now and in coming generations.
The material that this project has already brought to light presents a nuanced alternative understanding of the War’s impact: at the time, both far more pervasive and profound, affecting all Papua New Guinean societies; and now, in its relationship to questions of national and regional identity and development needs. The indigenous voice has been set aside far too often when major events in world history are analysed; this project will help to fill in this gap in our shared understanding.
Dr Ritchie will be spending around half his time between now and the end of 2017 in Papua New Guinea, working in close collaboration with the National Museum and using this project as an opportunity to inspire young Papua New Guineans to take up History studies, at universities, schools, or through community participation. The Australian Government is providing financial support both for Dr Ritchie’s role in PNG and for the many ancillary activities connected to the project, including grants for further research, workshops, and a major international symposium on the subject of World War II to take place in Papua New Guinea in 2017.
The PNG in World War II project is Contemporary History in operation: taking the way in which we remember the past to contribute to a better understanding of the present and shaping the future.
Photo with permission: J. Ritchie 2014