Congratulations to Contemporary Histories PhD student Brad Underhill for winning the Vice Chancellor’s Prize for his honours’ thesis titled ‘Cooperatives in Papua New Guinea: Economic and Political Development or Colonial Control’, supervised by Associate Professor Helen Gardner.
The Vice Chancellor’s Prize is awarded to the top two honours students in each faculty. Brad receives $1000 and a commemorative plaque.
Here’s a summary of the thesis:
‘The co-operative movement as a post-war colonial development tool is generally regarded as an economic and social failure, an example of ill-planned and under-resourced management. From their inception in the early 1950s, and largely supported by high world copra prices, co-operatives rewarded Papua New Guineans with a significant lift to their financial well-being. But as passion waned, unskilled management and a lack of Australian colonial government support created an environment where failure of the movement was unavoidable. As such, co-operatives have been undervalued and overlooked as a platform for Indigenous notions of socio-economic development and micro-nationalist movements. This thesis is primarily arguing that, despite their economic failure, colonial sponsored co-operatives were instrumental in the long-term success of two independent, self-supporting, subsequent communal organisations in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea; the Hahalis Welfare Society on Bougainville and the Tutukuvul Isukal Association on New Hanover Island. Further, by making this link, this paper is challenging the standard analysis regarding the co-operative movement; of European domination, broken promises and financial disappointment. Instead, co-operatives can be understood in terms of what anthropologist Marshal Sahlins calls ‘the Indigenisation of modernity’, a utilitarian harnessing of the best aspects of European ideas for the communal development of the people of Bougainville and New Hanover.’