Gathering on this land, we acknowledge the Yugara and Turrbal peoples, the traditional custodians. We sincerely respect their ancestors and elders who cared for it across countless generations. With unity in spirit, we draw strength from the profound connection First Nations people have with this land. As a Papua New Guinean, I bring the wisdom and traditions of my land, embracing the opportunity to share and learn from the stories and wisdom of the Yugara and Turrbal peoples. We move forward with mutual respect and understanding, celebrating the cultural diversity enriching this ancient land. Thank you for allowing us to gather and learn on this sacred land.

Greetings to Chancellor, the Hon Andrew Fraser, Vice-Chancellor Professor Carolyn Evans, faculty of the University, esteemed Graduands, and all present today.

I express deep gratitude for the recognition of the work undertaken by many in the Blue Pacific Region, particularly the Pacific Islands Forum and the Secretariat, which has led to this Honorary doctorate from Griffith University.

Griffith University has an established and growing Pacific focus. I take immense pride in knowing that this university has a student body from the Blue Pacific region, with many more drawn from the Pacific diasporas. I am aware that many Griffith researchers have undertaken work across our Blue Pacific region. Our communities’ diaspora in Queensland and throughout Australia contribute significantly to this nation that has provided opportunities for our peoples.

I want to speak to you today about Identity, the identity of the Blue Pacific Continent and what it means for all of us from this region.

Envision our home, the Earth, seen from space, with the Pacific Ocean at its centre, our islands, with both Aotearoa and  the eastern shores of Australia, surrounded by a majestic, dark blue ocean. This vast ocean, our home, the lungs of our planet, integral to our cultures and who we are.

As we reflect on our home, we find that it has been referred to by various names given by outsiders. From the “South Seas” to the “Pacific Islands Region” and the “Asia Pacific Region,” these labels have shaped how others view our vast region. Today, we commonly hear the term “Indo-Pacific region,” which seeks to connect the peoples of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Regrettably, we have, at times, internalised these marginalising perspectives, losing sight of our true strength and pride in our identity. However, it is crucial, now more than ever, to hold onto our common thread of identity. The geopolitical landscape has thrust the Blue Pacific region into the spotlight, with outside powers pursuing strategic interests and influence. In the face of these challenges, preserving and embracing a shared identity becomes a source of unity and resilience.

In 2017, Pacific Leaders embraced the Blue Pacific Continent vision, recognising our “ocean identity” and the enduring spirit of our ancestors, who with indomitable determination, settled this vast realm. Fostering unity through collective action, this vision transcends geopolitics, resonating with our shared regional identity intertwined with the nurturing ocean. Guided by ancestral wisdom, we journey towards collective progress, fortifying our united and empowered Blue Pacific Continent for harmony and prosperity throughout the Pacific.

The Blue Pacific, or Wansolwara Oceania, prompts us to reconsider our ties. It urges us to deconstruct imposed stories, empowering a fresh Pacific perspective. By reclaiming our narrative, we can celebrate our cultures’ strength and reaffirm our collective global position. We proudly embrace this identity, charting a course of empowerment and unity against external pressures.

Perhaps this can best be understood in the words of Epeli Hau’ofa, a true regionalist, a Tongan man raised in Papua New Guinea who then lived and taught in Fiji, when he said:

“Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding, Oceania is humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still, Oceania is us. We are the sea, we are the ocean, we must wake up to this ancient truth and together use it to overturn all hegemonic views the aim ultimately to confine us again, physically, and psychologically, in the tiny spaces which we have resisted accepting as our sole appointed place, and from which we have recently liberated ourselves. We must not allow anyone to belittle us again and take away our freedom.”

Epeli Hau’ofa

It is from this perspective that we, diverse Pacific states, and societies, have now defined our own vision. A vision that preferences our interest in protecting our sovereignty and one that draws on our common identity and deep ancestral linkages.

My dear friends, the essence of belonging to the Blue Pacific, of being truly part of it, lies in the concept of relationality. It is the profound connection that binds people to the ocean, the land, and each other, forming the very fabric of our lives.

Relationality permeates every aspect of our existence. It resides in our beliefs and knowledge systems, shaped by our shared experiences with the ocean and the land. Our concept of time, deeply influenced by this interconnectedness, governs the rhythm of our lives. It is woven into the tapestry of our rituals, ceremonies, songs, and poems, reflecting our intimate relationship with the natural world.

The smaller the island, the more profound the interactions with the ocean, and the more pronounced its influence on our cultures. For many of us, our homes are inseparably tied to the highlands, coastal regions, or remote islands of the Pacific. As Papua New Guineans, we treasure the shells from the sea, cherished tokens that have a special place in our ceremonies, symbolizing the enduring bond between land and ocean.

In this Pan Pacific tapestry, we find shared concepts that transcend language and borders, bridging our diverse cultures. Concepts like “Mana,” representing spiritual efficacy and agency, “Tapu” or “Tabu,” signifying sacred or taboo things and places, and “Va,” encapsulating the essence of relationship space, serve as common threads, uniting us as one Blue Pacific family. We find meaning in “Moana,” where the ocean is not just pragmatic but also connective and sacred, and “Wansolwara,” defining the Pacific as a region forged by shared kinship.

Our Blue Pacific identity is a symphony of diversity, where the distinct melodies of Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia blend harmoniously, each adding unique notes to the grand composition. This identity resides within us, affirming that no regional identity can erase the richness of our cultures. Embracing this diversity is our collective pride and strength, a testament to the resilience and spirit of our people.

As our region captures the attention of powers beyond our shores, embarking on a path of militarisation, our unity and strength will be put to the test in the coming months and years. In this time of challenge, we draw upon the power of our shared identity.

In history, our unity has shone brightest when we address vital issues concerning the sustainability of our land and ocean. From the movement for a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific to collective protests against drift net fishing, nuclear waste disposal, and deep-sea mining, we’ve shown unwavering commitment to safeguarding our home. Now, climate change stands as our greatest security threat, disproportionately affecting the Blue Pacific despite our minimal 0.03% contribution to global emissions.

With resilience and determination, we confront this existential risk, driven by a profound responsibility to protect our ocean, land, and the future of our region. United as one Blue Pacific, we lead the charge in championing sustainability, fostering international cooperation, and influencing global action against climate change.

Let me share a short story that speaks to the value of the people of our Blue Pacific region having just come from several days of intense dialogue with lawyers and scientists from the Pacific on climate change and State responsibilities.

Thanks to the relentless efforts of USP law students in Port Vila, the leadership of the Vanuatu Government and the support of Pacific nations and others, the UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution by consensus to seek an Advisory opinion from the ICJ on State obligations concerning climate change. This historic event, no mean feat, exemplifies the strength of our regional identity and underscores our collective determination to address the pressing global challenge of climate change. Together, we stand united, seeking justice, accountability, and a sustainable future for all as we strive to protect our planet for generations to come.

I am inspired and humbled by the power of common commitment and the power of relational values in shaping our collective actions. United by shared values and unwavering commitment to our region, we rise above challenges and stand firm against adversity. Embodying the spirit of Wansolwara, we champion causes close to our hearts, safeguarding our precious land, ocean, and the future of the Blue Pacific for generations to come.

I stand before you with a crucial call to action. As you leave Griffith University and begin your professional endeavours and go on with your daily lives with your family and communities, I urge you to take up the challenges that surround all of us in the Blue Pacific. Your identity is our identity and our identity is your identity.

Respect and learn from the indigenous knowledge here and in the Pacific. Embracing traditions and practices enriches our understanding and fosters mutual respect. Tell your stories; tell our stories.

Humility and respect for Pacific sovereignty must be at the forefront. Listen to and understand our aspirations, so we can build meaningful partnerships.

Prioritising sustainability in all you do and balancing progress with ecological preservation will secure the well-being of current and future generations to come.

Educate yourself and others about Australia’s own history with the Blue Pacific. By learning more about our shared past, we can forge deeper connections and build a strong future together.

Your actions hold immense significance if we walk hand in hand toward a brighter future for the generations to come. Thank you for allowing us to gather and learn on this sacred land. Thank you for this honour.

This is the text of the speech given by Dame Meg Taylor at the Griffith Business School graduation on 29th July 2023 – at which she was made a Doctor of the University.