Improving the Metadata of Papua New Guinea Collections

Written by Steven Gagau and Jodie Kell

As part of a project to improve the metadata of PARADISEC’s Papua New Guinea collections made possible with funding from the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), PARADISEC has welcomed Steven Gagau into the Sydney office. Steven was engaged as a Research Assistant to provide language support for the project. Steven’s key role is listening to PNG collections held in the PARADISEC catalogue to find out more about the recordings and record this information into the catalogue.


Steven can be seen here with Nick Ward from PARADISEC


A focus for Steven is the extensive collection recorded by Dr. Thomas (Tom) Dutton in the Kuanua language of the “Tolai” people of the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain Province. Dr. Dutton was a linguist with the Australian National University between 1969 and 1997. Prior to taking up linguistics Dutton was an Education Officer in the Administration of Papua and New Guinea. His many books include studies on Papuan languages and the collection digitised by PARDISEC includes his fieldwork tape recordings and other recordings developed to accompany his language learning publications.

Steven listens to people speaking or singing in Kuanua language of the Tolai and recordings of traditional dance and music of the region. He documents details about the content such as the names of people, what they are singing about and locational information. He also verifies if they are actually using the Kuanua language. He determines the discourse type such as language play, oratory, procedural, report, narrative or singing. As the final part of the process, Steven enters the data into the PNG Metadata Enrichment Form. Using his language skills, Steve is able to access important information that can be added to the metadata of the materials, thus contributing to enhancing the knowledge of these materials held in the PARADISEC catalogue.


Steven originates from Viviran Village in the Toma area of the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain Province, PNG. He now lives in the Gosford area, Central Coast, NSW. He is an engineer by profession and was educated in PNG with further qualifications in Australia.  He has worked in various managements roles across industries in telecommunications, construction, education, the development sector and quality systems management. More recently he has moved his focus to management consulting with community and research based organisations in Australia for projects in PNG and other Pacific countries. Currently he is looking into collaborative projects with organisations in Australia in socio-cultural and economic sectors as well as capacity building and institutional strengthening programs.


Steven is very actively involved in PNG community organisations in Australia. He is the President of the Sydney Wantok Association a community organisation serving the PNG community in Sydney and NSW but also including Melanesian countries such as Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The term “Wantok” is the common language or identifier of the people across these countries that can even include the Torres Strait Islands.

As a Rotarian, Steven initiated and completed a community project in the Trobriand Islands, Milne Bay Province in 2016. This involved installing solar power and water tanks to primary school and nearby elementary schools in the area.

Steven is also a member of the Management Committee of the PNG Association of Australia (PNGAA) and (Facebook) and he is involved with many of the activities and events of the association, that recognises the long standing relationship and bond between the two countries historically as well as from contemporary perspectives. The PNGAA’s aims include supporting friendly and positive relationships between the people of PNG and Australia and the preservation of historical material related to Papua New Guinea.

It was through the PNGAA that the opportunity to be involved with PARADISEC arose when the project coordinator Nick Ward approached the Association enquiring about people interested in working with the archival material. Steven was interested as the work was culture based and he wanted to make a contribution to his country, his language group and to the people of his culture. He has also contributed by advertising within the community so that PARADISEC now has a list of members of the local PNG community who can be called on in the future when positions like this arise.

Steven says of the work, “I fully support the objectives of PARADISEC in the preservation of culture and language through good documentation and as a repository of materials of ongoing information resources for all users including researchers, and for people of that culture and language group to have access to. There may be changes in modern times in the particular traditional cultural and language groups but with such collections and correct metadata captured it saves the cultures and languages for future generations.”




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