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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2301


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (13:46): Emeritus Professor Hyland Neil Nelson, AM, died in Canberra on 17 February last, aged 74. For 45 years Hank was the leading historian of Papua New Guinea, the most respected commentator on its affairs, and a ready help to members of parliament across the Pacific, including this parliament. He taught students, authors, politicians and public servants in PNG and Australia, and his expert guidance played no small part in promoting good relations between our two countries. He was not one for public parade, but his influence was immense among those who heard him speak, read his books or saw his films.

Professor Nelson established PNG history as a discipline and entrenched into it an emphasis on the experience of Papua New Guineans. He was as well a leading historian of Australians in World War II. He wrote seven books and hundreds of articles and expert commentaries, and co-produced two prize-winning documentary films and two very popular ABC series: Taim Bilong Masta on PNG in colonial times, and Australians under Nippon on Australian prisoners of the Japanese. His work revived public interest in these subjects and on Australians on the Kokoda Track and in Bomber Command over Europe. He wrote all his history about ordinary people.

Hank Nelson was a pivotal and inspiring innovator, the pioneer of PNG history, an early exponent of bringing university work into the public arena via film and radio, a model in applying the highest research standards to illuminate experiences of Australians and Papua New Guineans in peace and war. Few academics parallel his range, diversity and service, let alone to the people of two countries, Papua New Guinea and Australia. He leaves a wife, Jan, three children, Lauren, Tanya and Michael, and three grandchildren. We are all poorer for his passing.