‘Papua New Guinea Wantok’, in Bill Gammage, Brij V. Lal, Gavin Daws, Eds, The Boy from Boort, ANU Press 2014
This chapter is part of a book about ANU academic, Hank Nelson.
In Papua New Guinea, a wantok is one who shares your language and your tribal connections – a ‘one talk’. In a country of over 700 distinct languages and many dialects, it is a powerful sign of relationship to be able to communicate with another person in a language you both understand. It suggests that you will discover mutual friends and allies and find that some landscapes and places are familiar to you both. In that sense, Hank Nelson and I were wantoks. We both understood the language and the landscapes of that tribe of outsiders who, over many decades, travelled to Papua New Guinea from somewhere else and came to value the people and stories of that beloved, frightening, beautiful, confusing, frustrating and unforgettable land.
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Review by Professor Stewart Firth, ANU.
Hank Nelson was an academic, film-maker, teacher, graduate supervisor and university administrator. His career at The Australian National University (ANU) spanned almost 40 years of notable accomplishment in expanding and deepening our understanding of the history and politics of Papua New Guinea, the experience of Australian soldiers at war, bush schools and much else. This book is a highly readable tribute to him, written by those who knew him well, including his students, and also contains wide-ranging works by Hank himself.