An archive trip to Port Moresby


Thanks to El Niño, Papua New Guinea was experiencing an intense heatwave and prolonged drought when I arrived in the capital early December 2018. Coming from a longer research stay in Australia, I was visiting Port Moresby in order to gather archive material for my PhD project about the country's mining history.

Papua New Guinea had just hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Commission (APEC) summit, and the signs and decorations could still be seen everywhere during my visit. The first few days were spent visiting the University of Papua New Guinea and the Michael Somare library. My research mostly deals with copper and gold, but a visit to the National Museum introduced me to another, less known Papua New Guinean mineral. Volcanic glass, or obsidian, was traditionally used for making tools and weapons, and was considered the most valuable mineral by many Papua New Guineans before the arrival of Western-style mining. A communication researcher at the university, Dr. Amanda Watson, helped me find my way around campus, and also invited me to join a local bushwalk that was held the next Sunday. I joined what turned out to be a largely mixed group of expats, civil servants, relief workers and more, all of whom wanted to explore the hinterlands of Port Moresby.

I had heard rumours of the extraordinary hospitality of Papua New Guineans, but it was still a surprise to behold firsthand. As a cold-blooded Norwegian, the tropical heat and humidity posed a challenge, but people kept offering to turn up the air-condition everywhere I went. When I asked for a look inside the National Archives of Papua New Guinea, the responsible officer for education and research allowed me access to that archive and several more I had not even considered. By chance, I met a local marine biologist, Selma, who just happened to invite me on a boat trip along the coast in order to show me another side of the city. These types of invitations happened repeatedly, and made it one of the most uplifting and important trips of my PhD research thus far. It also made it possible to access libraries and archives otherwise invisible from my desk in Trondheim.

Overall, the archive trip was a success from early on, but grew even better when I found previous unavailable material at the National Archives and the Mineral Resources Authority. On departure, my only regret was that I did not have more time to visit other archives in different parts of the country as well. Yet, who knows? Maybe next time?