Western Qld ‘cowgirl’ awakened by Pacific visit

I’m now back on the farm, where we run some 5000-head cattle breeding operation with three full-time workers quite a world away from Port Moresby, where I attended the Pacific Connect Business Network Dialogue last month. I see the divide, I see the need for connection, I see I am now a part of the network group and I am strengthened from my visit.  My opportunity to engage in and continue the fresh friendships nurtured over the short time I spent in Port Moresby has opened my eyes to the riches of culture, soils and untapped networks that are sitting beside us.

Since my return, telling of my travels, not one of my colleagues knew that PNG has over eight million people, or that there are seven universities, nor of the contrast between the different tribes’ rich cultural heritage, and its delicate and often fraught colonial relationship with Australia.  It wasn’t until the final day of the network dialogue that we were offered an extremely intimate exposure to this relationship with the “A Bit na TA” exhibition, at the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery.  This intimacy was enhanced having spent time with one of the Dialogue delegates, Fenella Sam, whose uncle played an integral part in the production of this exhibition. It is a very emotional exposure of the links with Australia from the perspective of the Tolai people of East New Britain.

It’s only now, on my return from my first and extremely eye-opening trip to Port Moresby with ICDP for the Pacific Connect dialogue, that I realise I can’t buy PNG coffee beans in supermarkets.  What else interested me, is that people living 1000km to the south of me, have a highly developed life with access to the internet and abundant information, and they’re quite happy to pay $5 for a cup of coffee. In the other direction however, the challenges are inconceivable, with communication being the primary hurdle as there are  1000 tribes and 800 languages to contend with.

Having been to boarding school in Townsville, I had met kids from Papua New Guinea, and my husband has many friends from Papua New Guinea, from his time at boarding school in Charters Towers, North Queensland. The standards of education in the room at the ICDP dialogue in Port Moresby seemed well above my colleagues back in the farming community in North Queensland.  The titles and resumés of the participants had me wondering how on earth could I offer something of value to dialogue.  As the dialogue unravelled, I saw each participant had something to offer and realised that I had experience and knowledge to add to the discussions.

Information access, trust, support networks and continuity of service are all principles we take for granted and have allowed us, as our forbearers have, to prosper in a harsh environment of “droughts and flooding rains” (thanks to Dorothea McKellar) in agriculture in Australia.  Keeping up with technology as it has crept into our society has helped us along the way.  I can only hope that our close neighbours have access to these principles to enable their success; I see now that the lifetimes of experiences in PNG, aren’t enabling our northern neighbours the same privileges, as the technology that is arriving en masse  and basic networks to deliver and benefit from this haven’t been implemented so broadly in PNG.

Hearing the story of the Pora family was incredibly inspirational and encouraging to think that progress has been possible for the people of Papua New Guinea.  However, the people need information, as knowledge is power. With this in mind, the seed was planted for a project within the Dialogue.  The term ‘digital disruption’ was foreign to me, not used in conversation around the cattle yards, or while mustering, yet when John Pora explained his story, I saw that we need to become global citizens and have a story.  The Pora story I heard was one of a family passionate about service, and that wealth is a consequence of this.  However, as technology enters traditional societies in Papua New Guinea, drones will detect and spray diseased plants and water monitors and information systems will be taking jobs away from people.  How will these societies stay ahead of creating the same mistakes of the other four industrial revolutions?

As a group we need to embrace their reality of agriculture in PNG and learn to work with it.  Our first step with our project from the dialogue, is to 1.  ‘ground-truth’ our assumptions.  Does the information required to assist agriculture in Papua New Guinea exist and can we access it to upload it to a platform available to potential users?  2.  Determine what force-fields exist which stop us from creating an application similar to those available for farmers in Australia.  3.  Determine what is preventing leaders from implementing ideas like Newcrest’s, to insist that companies in PNG must buy local, feeding workers local food with a maximum of 20% of their rations imported.  Hotels that accommodate multi-national companies’ executives should promote their use of local produce and encourage the marketing of its value back to the world that is benefiting from the natural resources of PNG.  4.  How can we use solar technology and information access to allow refrigerated vehicles to save the produce of the highlands from spoiling, and to enable planning of crops, ultimately allowing the PNG Agricultural industry thrive and survive on the world market?

I’m really looking forward to collaborating with the PNG dialogue team and seeing our project achieve some outcomes.  I’d like to thank ICDP for inviting me and welcoming me on this journey.


My take home memoirs from the discussions:

Money is relative:  the more money you have, the more relatives you have!

How can you change the world if you can’t change the toilet roll?  Education is great, but it must come with action.

Walk in with respect and doors will open.

Joanne Murphy

Joanne Murphy


Joanne leads a beef cattle operation in North Queensland. Clothes Peg Station has a wholistic approach to regenerative agriculture and uses digital innovation to enhance business performance and focus on a sustainable future. Joanne recently attended the 2019 Pacific Connect Business Network Dialogue.