Emeritus Professor R. Gerard Ward (Australia-International Medal) Citation
Conferred Adelaide, July 2016
Gerard Ward was born in Taupo, New Zealand in 1933, educated at the then Auckland University College where he undertook a BA and an MA, and completed a PhD thesis in 1963 at University College London, on Land Use and Population in Fiji. Before that his long, diverse and distinguished academic and administrative career had begun in 1956 with a period as Junior Lecturer in Geography at the now University of Auckland. That was followed by a six year period lecturing in Geography at University College London. John Connell first encountered him then and it is probably no coincidence that his lectures and his enthusiasm played a part in Connell’s moving in the other direction, to the shores of the Pacific.
From UCL, Ward returned to the southern hemisphere to take up the Foundation Chair of Geography at the new University of Papua New Guinea. These were exciting times, still several years before PNG independence, and Ward played a very significant part in developing one of the strongest Departments in the new University, and in later years ensuring that it remained strong. As his expertise shifted from early work in the Cook Islands, Samoa and Fiji, and he focused on the consequences of smallness, he was quickly became one of the acknowledged experts on development issues in the Pacific region.
After four years in Port Moresby Ward finally arrived formally in Australia in 1971 as the Foundation Chair of Human Geography in the Research School of Pacific Studies, where he remained for twenty-seven years and where he was Head of Department for much of that time. He retained his links with PNG, and his ongoing interests in housing, markets and urbanisation, and further extended them in the Pacific region
Between 1980 and 1993 Ward was Director of the Research School of Pacific Studies, an enormously demanding task, with heavy responsibilities, which he handled with aplomb and dignity. He became the longest serving Director in recent times; those times in university life were never easy and required effectively negotiating multiple difficult issues.
Not content with merely leading the Research School of Pacific Studies, Ward was also heavily involved in the Pacific. He kept up his interest in and support for PNG, spending more than a decade on the Council of UPNG. He was a wise and guiding hand for many years at the University of the South Pacific (USP) as it rose from an old wartime aircraft base to become the first university for the wider island region. Naturally it had a solid Geography Department. He spent seventeen years on the Council of the National University of Samoa (NUS), as it too became a successful independent institution. He was actively involved in the Pacific Science Association and President of it between 1999 and 2003. Ward was President of the Institute of Australian Geographers between 1978 and 1980. Throughout that time his expertise was constantly ‘borrowed’, either by organisations such as the Asian Development
Bank, for whom he led a landmark study of South Pacific agriculture, or by other universities and departments. Between 1974 and 1998 he was involved in reviews of no less than 24 Departments or Programmes. Throughout the Australia-Pacific region he kept geography visible, afloat and relevant. For years, thanks to his initiatives, it was one of the most prestigious disciplines at the ANU. He ensured that Geography not merely survived but thrived, as never before or afterwards, as it also did at UPNG, USP and less directly at NUS.
His research has been primarily dedicated to the study of rural societies, and especially population, migration and land tenure, dating back sixty years to his earliest work on Maori settlement and development around Lake Taupo. He was a central player in the ‘golden age’ of work in Melanesia in the 1960s and 1970s that put the Pacific on a global geographical map. Amidst many celebrated geographers, including Harold Brookfield, Bill Clarke and David Lea, he was particularly concerned with the emergence of new worlds – markets, migration and urbanisation – all centred on the mutual interactions of peoples, their cultures and their natural environments. He had a longstanding fascination with the relationships between modernity and communication (whether the decline of seafaring and sea transport, the relationships between floating coconuts and Pacific settlement or the costs of telecommunications) and their impacts on space and place in the Pacific. Aviation was another key topic (no doubt assisted by his acquiring a flying licence late in life). Like others in the Pacific region his work was interdisciplinary, but always primarily geographical and, more than most, embedded in a deep sense of history. At the same time he constantly reflected on social justice, spatial disadvantage and practical policy formation.
As a dedicated conscientious and effective administrator, Ward never had as much time as he would have liked to undertake field work, but he constantly returned to the field, to ponder on change in the various places where he had worked – from the surrounds of Lake Taupo, that first excited his imagination, to the upland Fijian villages of Viti Levu and Samoa. Remarkably he managed a substantial chain of publications throughout his career, even with heavy administrative burdens. Land Use and Population in Fiji (1965) and The Settlement of Polynesia: A Computer Simulation (1973) became minor classics that are still well cited. He was the authority on land tenure in Fiji, but beyond that a critically important source of ideas and understanding about the people of the land and the sea throughout Oceania. And he was always a generous collaborator. When officially retired, but relieved of administrative burdens, his productivity continued.
Ward’s influence on the discipline of geography within Australia, and in the Pacific region, from Samoa to Papua New Guinea, has been enormous. He attracted good colleagues to ANU and numerous high-flying PhD students including the late Elspeth Young and Steve Britton, John Baker (later to be Australian High Commissioner to Tanzania 1982-84), Stephanie Fahey (later Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Monash University) and Larry Grossman (now an Emeritus Professor at Virginia Tech University). Ward was a genial and supportive supervisor. He made geography both enjoyable and relevant. Generations of geographers have been influenced by him.
Ward’s influence on, and contribution to, the discipline of geography has been formally acknowledged in numerous previous awards, including election as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (1971) and, in the same year, the award of the Papua New Guinea Silver Jubilee Medal in recognition of his services to education there.
Ward’s academic contribution was long ago acknowledged in a special edition of Asia Pacific Viewpoint (August 1999) that marked his formal retirement. His contributions to ensuring the place of geography in Australia, and in universities in the broad Pacific region, is even more considerable. After half a life time in this country, his outstanding contributions to the advancement of geography in Australia and globally, both intellectually and practically, should now be recognised with the award of the Australia-International Medal of the Institute of Australian Geographers.
John Connell, Michael Webber, Jim Walmsley, and George Curry.