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    NRI History

    NRI in Time


    Opening of the Thomas Webster Research Building

    On 10 February 2017, the Institute opened the Thomas Webster Research Building, named in honour of PNG NRI's longest serving director.

    PNG Knowledge Hub

    PNG NRI launches plans for the PNG Knowledge Hub, a precinct which brings together a community of organisations, leaders, researchers, consultants, academics, government and the private sector to confront the development challenges faced by PNG.

    Charles Yala

    Dr Charles Yala, an economist who had spear-headed PNG NRI's land reform research, takes over from the retiring Dr Webster as PNG NRI Director.

    New Infrastructure

    PNG NRI celebrates the official opening of its new infrastructure, funded by the Australian government through the Incentive Fund

    Thomas Webster

    Dr Thomas Webster becomes the Director of NRI, and begins the process of shifting the focus of NRI towards becoming a public policy Think Tank.  With a background in education, Webster had served as provincial administrator of Western Highlands, and the Executive Director of the UPNG Open College.  In 2016, Webster returned from a brief retirement to leader PNG NRI's Bougainville Referendum research project.

    National Research Institute

    In 1989, the National Executive Council approved a change of name to the National Research Institute. This was formalised by the Papua New Guinea IASER (Amendment) Act in May, which granted NRI the status of an independent statutory authority.  

    Wari Iamo

    Wari Iamo succeeds Waiko as Director.  He resigned in 1994 to contest a by-election, but returned in 1995 after failing to gain the seat.  During his absence, Ila Temu served as acting IASER Director.

    IASER merges with Institute of PNG Studies

    The IASER (Amendment) Bill was introduced in 1988 and saw the merging of the activities of the Institute of PNG Studies with those of the IASER.

    John Waiko

    The historian John Waiko replaced Makis as IASER Director.  He resigned in 1992, and was elected to the National Parliament, where he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2001-2002.

    Ephraim Makis

    IASER appointed its first local Director, the Bougainvillean Ephraim Makis.  He was later killed in a raskol attack

    Richard Jackson

    The geographer Richard Jackson succeeds John Conroy as IASER Director.

    John Conroy

    Ron May was succeeded as Director by UPNG Economist John Conroy, who later became a prolific writer on informal economy issues.


    Following independence, the NGRU became Papua New Guinea Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research (IASER).  Launched on 1 January 1976, the Institute was governed by a Council led by Bank of PNG Governor Sir Henry To Robert, and reported to the Minister for National Planning and Development.

    Boio Bess Daro

    Boio Bess Daro was appointed the first Papua New Guinean academic of the NGRU, writing a discussion paper on Josephine Abaijah and the Papua Besna movement.

    Ron May

    Recruited from the Reserve Bank of Australia, Dr Ron May became the last field director of the NGRU, following the departure of Marion Ward

    Marion Ward

    When Ron Crocombe departed NGRU for the newly established University of the South Pacific, the New Zealand Geographer Marion Ward become became the Director of the Unit.

    Waigani Campus

    The NGRU moved to its new site in Waigani, opposite the University of Papua New Guinea.

    Waigani Seminars

    At the initiative of Ron Crocombe, NGRU, the University of Papua New Guinea and Administrative College collaborated in organising the first Waigani Seminars, held at the Burns Philp Staff Clubhouse.

    Ron Crocombe

    Having joined NGRU in 1962, after completing a PhD at ANU on land tenure in the Cook Islands, Ron Crocombe took over from David Bettison as the field director of the Unit.  The Unit shifted its office from Badili to a house at Three Mile Hill, where Crocombe and visiting researchers lived upstairs, and staff worked in the underfloor area, which had been walled and partitioned.  The early research of the Unit was focused on land use and productivity, internal migration and urbanisation.

    1964 Election Study

    NGRU coordinated a major study on the elections for the first House of Assembly in PNG, which was eventually published in 1965.  The NGRU, the Institute for Applied Social and Economic Research, and eventually PNG NRI have been continuously involved in every election since this first House of Assembly election.  See the study here.

    First New Guinea Research Bulletin

    The Unit published the first New Guinea Research Bulletin, on The Erap Mechanical Farming Project, by Crocombe and G. R. Hogbin. Between 1963 and 1975, the Unit published 63 Bulletins, focusing particularly on land tenure, migration, and the tensions between tradition and modernity.


    The Australian National University's Research School of Pacific Studies, under the Directorship of Sir John Crawford, opened its New Guinea Research Unit (NGRU) in Badili, a surburb of the National Capital District.  The Unit was led by David Bettison (initially based in Canberra) with Research Fellow Nigel Oram in PNG.

    Knowledge lacking

    Oscar Spate, Cyril Belshaw and Trevor Swan write a report on the economic structure of the Territory (of Papua and New Guinea), noting that "knowledge and informed discussion [were] probably lacking in relation to the formulation of social policy in PNG

    This history draws heavily on R. May (2013), ‘From the New Guinea Research Unit to the National Research Institute,’ in L. Crowl et al (ads), Ron Crocombe: E To a!  Pacific Writings to celebrate his life and work. Suva, USP Press, pp. 303-311.