Wilfred Wau protecting the sweet potato of Papua New Guinea

A vital crop and staple item in households of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Wilfred Wau is a final-year master’s student at the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ), researching the breakdown of sweet potato storage roots in Australia and PNG.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science from the PNG University of Technology in 2012, he has worked with the PNG National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) as a Crop Protection Researcher for over a decade. 

Wilfred was fortunate to collaborate with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded projects to support the intensification of commercial sweet potato production in PNG, which is grown as a major staple food crop. 

Wilfred’s research and involvement with ACIAR back in PNG have helped him secure the prestigious Australia Awards Scholarship and John Allwright Fellowship (JAF) scholarship to undertake his master’s degree.

Wilfred aims to get much-needed practical exposure at the international level to update his existing knowledge and skills to become a specialist plant protectionist, to serve the agricultural sector in both Papua New Guinea and Australia and to inspire other researchers. 

We asked Wilfred further questions about his experience with the Australia Awards Scholarship.

What made you apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship?

During my employment in PNG, I was involved in ACIAR-funded projects. Working on these projects, I had the opportunity to visit Australia for research and to collaborate with Australian scientists. Through this experience, I learnt about Australia’s various prestigious scholarships. I applied for the Australia Awards Scholarship under the John Allwright Fellowship program as it is my dream to further my education to a higher level. 

Furthering my education with an Australia Awards Scholarship aligns with my goal to improve myself, my family, my community, and my country.

What inspired you to choose to pursue your education in Agriculture Science?

Agriculture has been my passion, starting from my school-age years, as it was the subject I succeeded in academically in school. 

I was also raised in a rural village; from a young age, I was exposed to subsistence farming; my siblings and family are still involved in agriculture, which has been a big part of my life. My ambition is to advance the traditional ways of farming and to look at different perspectives to help and give back to my community. 

My research is on sweet potato, a vital crop, especially for all Papua New Guineans, as this is a staple in households and even the first solid food a baby eats after breastfeeding. 

How did you feel when you received notification that you had been awarded an Australia Awards Scholarship?

It’s an achievement of a lifetime! I dedicated my career to working with ACIAR funded projects and developed relationships with Australian scientists. This next step of being awarded an Australia Awards Scholarship and JAF allowed me to form deeper connections with Australian Scientists and further my research. 

What surprised you upon moving to Australia?

When I first moved here, I was in a culture shock. The culture, traditions, food, people’s dress, and dress codes are different too! 

What has been your highlight so far being an Australia Awards scholar?

The highlight so far is the opportunities created by JAF and Australia Awards that bring everyone together and get connected. 

I also applied to be a scholar for the TropAg International Agriculture conference in Brisbane, which ACIAR and Crawford Fund sponsored to do a poster presentation of my research. My research was accepted, and Australia Awards provided me with accommodation and the rest of the logistics. 

While I was doing my poster presentation, I was able to convince the ACIAR team to bridge my research to my PhD. 

How do you plan to use your experience as an Australia Awards Scholar to make a difference in Papua New Guinea?

It’s been a dream of mine to make a difference; I was never the person to follow the main road. Many people are studying and getting their Masters and a PhD, but I want more out of it than the certificate. I want to keep learning and be open to opportunities that exceed academics. I have good relationships and partnerships within my country and overseas. I want to be different; I want to be a role model, and I want to leave a legacy for my people. 

As much as I want to learn and gain knowledge, I also want to build capacity through my network and community to share my knowledge and what I’m learning with my people. 

I am grateful as well for the stipend that Australia Awards provided. Through budgeting, I can also contribute to three community-based organisations I established in different provinces. 

These community organisations help farmers in cocoa farming and agricultural activities to improve the lives of my people. My cocoa community organisation recently established a nursery with over 10,000 cocoa trees with plans to plant another 20,000 at the end of this year on 32 hectares. I also have coffee, potato, and bulb onion cooperatives in the highland province of Papua New Guinea. Through this, I can also pass on my knowledge and farming techniques.

Since starting the JAF and Australia Awards Scholarships, I have established many contacts, networks, and friends, especially with the events. 

There are so many opportunities to network being an Australia Awards Scholar. However, the most important is maintaining these connections. I use networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and WhatsApp groups to capitalise on and build capacity with these relationships.

 What are your best advice and tips for those applying for an Australia Awards Scholarship? 

My advice is to know your purpose and have a clear goal for making a difference in yourself, your community, and your country. Upon coming to Australia, don’t just strive to complete your qualification but do this with merit, be involved, and experience the community and network Australia and your university offers. It is a privilege, not a right, to be awarded an Australia Awards Scholarship – make sure you capitalise on every opportunity and be productive.

While on campus, you must achieve good marks and excel academically. I received all High Distinctions across all my courses. At the same time, off-campus, engage in opportunities that will enrich your growth and purpose.