13 December 2005

Papua New Guinea`s first female cabinet minister has received an honorary doctorate from The University of Queensland today (Wednesday, December 14).

Dame Carol Kidu, BDE, MP, received the award in recognition of her contribution to social development and women`s rights. She also delivered the guest speech at the ceremony, which can be downloaded here.

She said the award had completed an unfinished part of her life.

"In 1966 and 1967 I was an Arts Faculty student majoring in Anthropology at this University, commuting daily from the suburb of Shorncliffe and very much in love with a student from Papua New Guinea whom I had met at Tallbudgera in 1964," she said.

"I let my heart rule my life and never finished the degree, deciding instead to work while he completed his studies.

"In 1969 Buri and I married on campus at the Cromwell College Chapel and Sir Moi Avei, now Deputy Prime Minster of Papua New Guinea, stole flowers from the gardens of St Lucia to decorate the chapel for us as his contribution as the best man at the wedding.

"Forty years have passed since then and I never did finish the degree although I often intended to do so. For that reason today is of special significance for me."

More than 300 students graduated at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and Faculty of Arts ceremony.

Since 2002, Dame Carol has served as the Minister for Community Development in Papua New Guinea, implementing programs to reduce poverty and secure the rights of the country`s Indigenous people.

Born in Shorncliffe and educated at Sandgate High School, Dame Carol worked as a secondary school teacher for two decades before beginning her parliamentary career in 1997 as the Shadow Minister for Social Development.

She holds an Honorary Doctorate from Vudal University and was awarded the Imperial Award of DBE, the female equivalent of a knighthood, in January this year.

Former Queensland Treasurer The Honourable David Hamill graduated with a PhD in Political Science.

Treasurer of Queensland from 1998 to 2001, Minister for Education from 1995 to 1996, and Minister for Transport and Minister Assisting the Premier on Economic and Trade Development from 1989 to 1995, Mr Hamill was elected to the Queensland Parliament in 1983 and served six terms as MP for Ipswich until his retirement from the Parliament in February 2001.

Attitudes towards ageing are shifting

A UQ PhD graduate who is trying to understand why the words “old age” conjure up so many negative cultural stereotypes also graduated at the ceremony.

Robyn Haynes (0414 981 935) from the School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences has used the personal stories of 30 Gold Coast retirees to illuminate an identity of Australian seniors.

These stories showed that attitudes towards ageing were shifting as many older people embraced modern technologies and redefined what old age was.

“In the virtual space of the Internet they construct virtual identities,” Ms Haynes said.

“Conducting research, communicating with common interest groups and with their sometimes distant families, they are unconstrained by their ageing appearance, compromised mobility and often marginalised status as `aged`.

“Using personal narratives they construct new and significant selves as their prior identities recede.”

While conducting her PhD research Ms Haynes immersed herself in the life of the Gold Coast`s retirement community, observing their daily lives, homes and possessions.

She collected their personal narratives by recording stories of their lives on tape, collecting almost 300 hours over a two year period.

“The stories we tell about ourselves construct who we are or who we aspire to be,” she said.

“The same can be said on a macro scale for local communities and more expansively for whole societies.

“I found that in the case of this sample, stories helped construct and maintain meaningful identities for these older people, thus reconstructing their social status and sense of worth.”

Ms Haynes said it was important for society to understand the links between narrative, identity and ageing so older people were not subjected to negative cultural stereotypes.

“Their stories speak to the growing cohort of baby boomers who are embarking on their own journeys into the foreign land of `old`, lighting the path for those that follow and suggesting a potential for who they might become as ageing individuals and communities in an ageing society,” she said.

“The paradox is we all hope to have long lives but nobody wants to get old.”

Address to include an ancient Sanskrit chant

The valedictorian at the ceremony was Bachelor of Arts graduate Victoria Yareham from West End who was inspired to study Sanskrit after traveling around India for a year.

Ms Yareham`s valedictory address to the graduates included an ancient Sanskrit chant relating to the boundlessness of knowledge.

For more than three millennia Sanskrit has been a classical language of India and a liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It has a position in India and South East Asia similar to that of Latin and Greek in Medieval Europe, and is a central part of Hindu tradition.

In 2004 Ms Yareham became President of the UQ Sanskrit Society, which promotes scholarly research, calligraphy, art, music and the publication of Sanskrit literatures.

“Sanskrit is unique among the various languages of the world due to a vast corpus of texts relating to religion, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, astrology, and literature, many of which remain untranslated,” she said.

Ms Yareham, who has a Grade Point Average of seven (equivalent to a high distinction), will now study for her honours examining the oldest Sanskrit text of Hinduism known as the Rgveda.

Media: for more information including excerpts from the Australian senior stories or to speak with any of the graduands, contact Robyn Haynes (telephone 0414 981 935, email gccl@bigpond.com.au) or Chris Saxby at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 2479, email c.saxby@uq.edu.au).