Centre for Global Research member and Convenor of Languages, Dr Kerry Mullan, recently returned from a two week study tour to New Caledonia with students from RMIT and the University of Melbourne.
This is the second time Kerry Mullan and her Melbourne University colleague have run this study tour to New Caledonia, and they learn something new every time, writes Kerry.
“The more we return to this French territory in the Pacific, the more fascinating and complex it seems. Located 1,210 km northeast of Australia, the territory is divided into the south province, which includes the capital Nouméa; the north province; and the Loyalty Islands. New Caledonia has a land mass of 18,576 km2 and a population of 268,767: a mix of Kanak indigenous peoples, French, Polynesians, Vietnamese, Javanese, Chinese and Japanese, as well as a smaller community of North Africans.
“Following pre-departure lectures and workshops in Melbourne, the tour itself starts in Nouméa, where we stay on the university campus - students mix with local and international students and attend four university lectures of their choice. Site visits in Nouméa include museums, a talk by a local filmmaker at La Maison du Livre, and a day at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. The Centre opened in June 1998 and is named after Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the leader of the FLNKS independence movement, who was assassinated in 1989 on the anniversary of the signing of the Matignon Agreement.
“New Caledonia went through great civic unrest in the 1980s, euphemistically known as “les évènements”- ‘the events’. This led to the signing of the Matignon and Noumea Agreements in 1988 and 1998, intended to lead the territory towards independence by 2018. (New Caledonia’s current status is unique among French territories – it is known as ‘a territory sui generis’, since France has already transferred over a number of powers.)
“We then take a 5 day trip up to the north province with various visits along the way: the New Zealand war cemetery, a mosque, churches and missions, a disused nickel mine, and an old fort. The highlight – and main reason for this trip - is our stay with the Kanak community of Tiendanite, the community of Jean-Marie Tjibaou. This time we had the immense honour and pleasure of meeting Marie-Claude Tjibaou, widow of Jean-Marie, and their youngest son Pascal, who welcomed us into the community and gave us a guided visit. Our 2 days at Tiendanite are powerful and transformative: the graves of Jean-Marie Tjibaou and 10 other members of the community killed in an ambush in 1984 are a constant reminder of the traumatic past and the historical and political significance of this place. The remains of the two vehicles involved in the attack are now a memorial at the original site of the ambush near the entrance to the community. The dignity and magnanimity of the people of Tiendanite are humbling, and we leave a very different group, with much to think about during our final two days in Nouméa.
“The study tour will run again in 2019, and we will be watching the political developments closely between now and then.”
Kerry Mullan is Convenor of Languages and Deputy Director of the Centre for Global Research at RMIT University.
Story: Kerry Mullan