News 28 Sep 2018
As Honorary Consul-General for Papua New Guinea based in New Zealand since 2010, Dr Peter Goldsmith feels he can best describe the nation he represents as one of contrasts - where you can expect the unexpected, which is why Papua New Guinea is often described as “the land of the unexpected.”
“If anyone expresses a dogmatic view about anything in Papua New Guinea, you can be sure they’re likely to be wrong,” he says.
“There’s so many things that happen, you don’t know they’re there until you stumble over them.”
Papua New Guinea became self-governing from its southern neighbour Australia in 1973, and fully independent on September 16, 1975. It is among the richest resource nations on earth.
“The Porgera Gold Mine is one of the world’s top 10 producing gold mines, there’s the OK Tedi Copper and Gold mine, which at the time of development was believed to be the largest copper deposit in the world.The Panguna Copper Mine in Bougainville is one of the largest copper resources in Papua New Guinea and in the world, there are huge gold deposits in Lihir (also one of the largest known gold deposits in the world) and the Hides Gas Field, one of the larger gas fields in the world. Gas is piped from the Hela Province in the Highlands all the way to Port Moresby to be compressed and shipped in gas tankers for sale around the globe,” he says.
“Commodity prices worldwide have taken a dive, which has hit the sectors involved, including a number of New Zealand companies doing business there … but it’ll bounce back.”
1975 was the year Peter started work at civil engineering firm Fraser Thomas in Auckland as a holiday job, while studying the profession at the University of Auckland.
Originally from Nelson in the South Island, Peter studied at Nelson College and grew up during the construction of the Cobb Dam nearby. Built between 1936 and 1956, it was the first dam to incorporate instruments for the measurement of internal water pressures. It was also the first hydro-electricity dam to be built using modern soil control methods.
After graduating with his PhD in 1980, Peter was offered a partnership at Fraser Thomas.
“In those times, there weren’t that many people in my specialist area of Geotechnical engineering,” he recalls.
“We built that part of the business from scratch.”
1980 was also the year Peter took the company into the international market and headed to Arawa, a town on the southeast coast of Bougainville Island, which was the capital of the former North Solomon Provincial Government of Papua New Guinea.
The company remained there until 1987 as the threat of civil war between Papua New Guinea and secessionist forces of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army became imminent.
“We had a professional services contract with the North Solomons Provincial Government to build 500km of roading and set up 23 bridges, but it got to the stage where it was too dangerous, so we returned home.”
The war began the following year, claiming more than 15,000 lives until peace talks brokered by New Zealand began in 1997, eventually leading to the founding of the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the signing of a peace agreement.
Peter eventually became the chairman of partners at Fraser Thomas, before corporatising the organisation as Managing Director until retirement in 2010 after 25 years at the helm, in which his profession evolved dramatically.
“At the outset of my career, we were still doing survey operations on hand-operated calculators, but once technology advanced for word processors and computers to become general tools, we had the capability of doing calculations within minutes instead of weeks,” he recalls.
One of the local projects that brings him pride is the Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in North Waikato.
“It’s the most modern motorsport complex in the country that includes 80 apartments and industrial units, beginning as an ambitious privately funded enterprise which has succeeded,” he says.
What Peter would also like to succeed is this year’s APEC summit hosted by Papua New Guinea for the first time in November.
“I’ve seen Port Moresby develop from a medium-sized town to a modern 21st century city, well capable of hosting such an event,” he says.
“But head out of the city and within an hour or so you’ll be in the Highlands in an environment that feels untouched.”
After almost four decades of working in Papua New Guinea, Peter’s advice for doing business is simple.
“If you think you can just fly in and out to do business, you’re wrong,” he says.
“Like anywhere in the Pacific Islands, it takes time and a genuine commitment to build and maintain relationships.”
Books wanted for PNG kids
When Lorraine Goldsmith, the wife of Peter, attended the 46th Pacific Islands Forum hosted by Papua New Guinea in 2015, she became aware of the lack of books available to help children learn how to read.
“A young boy heard about a library that had been built in Bougainville, so he walked a whole day to get there,” she recalls.
“But when he arrived, he found they didn’t have any books.”
So she embarked on a course of collecting children’s books to send to Papua New Guinea through various means, including charitable organisations across greater Auckland and council libraries that were renewing stock and getting rid of older titles.
Thanks to aid from the New Zealand Defence Force, Lorraine was able to arrange for more than 1500kgs of books to Port Moresby and Bougainville, which were gratefully accepted with a request for more.
They’ve since collected more than twice that amount, but are looking for assistance to send them across. If you’re able to assist, please contact Peter or Lorraine Goldsmith at firstname.lastname@example.org.