The ANU College of Asia and the Pacific is very proud to celebrate the achievements of our graduating University Medallist, Harry Needham. Harry graduated during Graduation Week with a Bachelor of Asian Studies with Honours, a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Pacific Studies. To receive a University Medal on top of this outstanding triple degree is an outstanding achievement.
Harry’s research focused on the history of Nauru, an area he became interested in when doing his Pacific Studies in a Globalising World. He realised there was a lack of information and depth about Nauru, particularly in the earlier period of the 20th century, from the 1920s and 1930s. This lack of information fascinated him and led him to want to learn more.
“Pacific Studies has a really big focus on being interdisciplinary, so I’ve been able to sample lots of different disciplines, lots of different places, and then based off that, find and focus on what interests me.
I am very satisfied and proud, of where I have been able to get to in my studies, and of course winning the University Medal is very humbling, but also an affirmation of the choices I’ve made about my path of study over the past five years.”
To find out more about what makes Harry tick, we asked him a few questions, with some interesting results.
First we asked him what advice he would have, both for his younger self, and for prospective and current students:
My advice to my younger self would be to pursue your interests regardless of whether they're popular - just because an issue or topic isn't the centre of attention, doesn't mean it isn't important. I've always been interested in topics that seem to be marginal at first glance but are actually of great importance.
It was this interest that led me to research a topic - Nauru under Australian colonial rule - that hasn't received much academic attention. In doing so, my understanding of the histories of Nauru, the Pacific and Australia was transformed, and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to publish my research in a format that will allow both Nauruans and Australians to learn more about this important chapter in both countries' histories.
This thirst for the difference, the new and unexpected angle on research, to reveal truths and information that can help elucidate and drive current debates and understanding, is characteristic of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
As Harry says:
CAP is an incredible place to study. It houses some of the leading experts in the field, who work in a wide range of disciplines, studying many different parts of the Pacific and Asia. As a student in CAP, you get exposed to a little bit of everything! Beyond the student experience, however, I believe CAP plays an important role in Australia as a whole. Although Australia is a Pacific nation on the edge of Asia, our national conversation is still dominated by events in America and Europe.
CAP plays a key role in addressing this by increasing our knowledge of the cultures, societies, and histories of our region. This is especially so for the academics who study the "sea of islands" that make up the Pacific. The people of the Pacific are our nearest neighbours, but there's still a limited understanding in Australia of their pasts, their societies and their aspirations. The scholars of CAP play an important role in addressing this.
We also asked Harry about his inspirations and how his early life might have shaped the path he has taken so far:
Growing up in Jindabyne, I had no idea that I'd wind up in Pacific Studies - the Pacific seems quite far away when you're in the Snowy Mountains - but my parents and teachers always nurtured an interest in the world around me. I knew I wanted to study topics that would expand my understanding of the world and equip me with the tools to make some change in the world, but it took me a little while to find my niche.
When I got to ANU, I took a Pacific Studies class - Pacific Studies in a Globalising World, taught by Katerina Teaiwa - as an elective, and found myself enthralled by the deep history and diverse cultures of the Pacific, and by the transdisciplinary focus of the field of Pacific Studies. It all just clicked, and I realised I'd found the academic field for me.
My main inspirations are my parents, who've worked hard throughout their lives in order to support me and my siblings. At ANU I've been inspired by academics such as Katerina Teaiwa who produce transdisciplinary, cutting edge work, and by many fellow students who work to make ANU a better place.
Finally, I'm constantly inspired by the many Pacific Islanders, whether in Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia or Fiji and the Marshall Islands, who confront the challenges facing them and their societies - from climate change to decolonisation - with incredible courage and moral conviction.
With his time at ANU now at an end, and after a period contributing not only to academic outcomes, but also student experience as an active member of the ANUSA, next year Harry will be starting work as a graduate with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, an opportunity he is incredibly excited about.
This is the kind of outcome our College is genuinely aiming for, for graduates of Harry’s calibre to be putting what he’s learnt in his studies to use in an applied context, and to learn more about sustainable management and food security.
In the long term, Harry says he’d like to come back to ANU at some point to pursue further research in Pacific Studies - there's still so much to learn.
We wish him the very best and very much hope to see him back at the College in the future.