Home is Where the Heart Is: by Christine Leonard

photo 1 Marilyn and Moses 1968

Marilyn Miller grew up in a typical Aussie family in Sydney she was an artistic girl, a committed Christian with deep sense of social justice and always up for a challenge. This is how she likely came to excel in the Guiding movement becoming a Queen’s Guide.

It was through being a Queen’s Guide that in 1968 as a 20 year old Marilyn first visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) to participate in a youth program in Kaugere, a small community south of Port Moresby.

Earlier same year Marilyn attended a Christian conference in Melbourne when she briefly met the man who was to become the love of her life. He was definitely not a typical Aussie. Moses Havini, a Bougainvillean university law student, and Marilyn started corresponding as pen pals.

As a newly graduated art teacher in 1969 Marilyn visited PNG and in 1970 was appointed as Lecturer in Visual Arts in Port Moresby’s Teacher’s College. Despite the hurdles of which there were many, Moses and Marilyn were determined to marry and after seeking permission from the couple’s respective parents and clan they married 9th July 1971.

photo 2 Marilyn & Moses marry 1971

Inter-racial marriages in ‘The Territory’ were not unknown pre-Indepence but the newly weds soon learned that if their union was to survive they would live with significant discrimination.

Some restaurants refused to serve them, expatriates in Port Moresby spat at them. The Department of Education wrote to Moses advising that his university scholarship was being rescinded as his wife was working and should be able to support him. On the same day, Marilyn received a letter of dismissal from the same department (and signee), citing the reason for her dismissal being she was now a married woman. Not to be defeated Moses re-enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts studies as a private student and graduated from the University of PNG in record time, making him Bougainville’s third university graduate and the first graduate to return home to Bougainville. He went on to become CEO of District Government, later clerk and then Speaker of the Provincial Parliament.

From the 1970s through to the early 1980s the Havinis established their family and professional lives in Bougainville, raising four children and starting a Centre for the Baptist Church on its current site in Arawa. Marilyn headed up visual arts departments at the Hutjena and Arawa High Schools and the then International Pre Schools.

photo 3 Marilyn early 1980s

Amidst a rising profile as a prominent artist in oil painting, Marilyn embraced numerous cultural divides to meet her obligations as a chief’s wife within her husband’s Hako (pronounced Harkoo) based Nakas clan. Moses was also the firstborn son of the paramount chief of the Naboin clan. Marilyn always addressed her ‘in-laws’ as Mama and Papa. The love and respect of Moses’ parents Miriam and Jonathon was mutually reciprocated and demonstrated in the clan formally adopting Marilyn, giving her the clan name of Taleo.

Among Marilyn’s commissions in Bougainville’s pre-Crisis days were the murals at Aropa’s airport terminal and the iconic emblems for the government and Bougair’s fleet of aircraft. She also won a competition in 1974 to design a flag for the newly formed North Solomons Provincial Government (the flag raised throughout Bougainville on the Unilateral Day of Independence 1st September 1975). This flag was universally supported by all sides of the Conflict. It was incorporated into all government logos and seals up to and including today’s Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).

The Bougainville Crisis which erupted into terrifying violence towards the end of 1989 saw the Havinis with their young children reluctantly leave family and friends in January 1990 to base themselves in Sydney, never imagining the absence would roll on for 17 years. Throughout that period Moses was inextricably drawn into being the Bougainville Interim Government’s (BIG) international representative. Marilyn returned to full-time work teaching art at Riverstone High School and then Cheltenham Girls’ High School in Sydney.

Never shying away from a cause especially one so close to home which ultimately saw about 100 relatives in Buka killed, Marilyn supported her husband throughout the civil war in his representations in Australia and abroad. As an active member of the Bougainville Freedom Movement, an Australia-wide solidarity network with international support, Marilyn assisted Moses at international meetings such as the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in June 1993 and compiled two volumes of recorded Human Rights abuses to bring international intervention to the Peace Process. She fostered women’s representation into peace negotiations, and as the BIG appointed minutes secretary, attended peace talks in Cairns, Canberra, Burnham and Lincoln New Zealand, as well as several of the Peace Process Consultative Committees in Bougainville following the multiple Cease Fires between 1997 and 2004.

Following the final Peace Accord signed 30 August 2001, and Marilyn having retired from 40 years of teaching, the Havinis returned to Bougainville in 2005. They built a home in Tanreki, Buka Island, atop a north west facing cliff with wrap around verandahs and views to the sea. The tranquil property is off the grid powered by solar and a back-up generator, with composting toilets to prevent water contamination into the limestone layered water table below.

photo 4 View from the Havini home

Moses became mentor for and Director of the ABG’s parliamentary committees and Marilyn threw herself into supporting and strengthening women’s groups and networks throughout Bougainville. There were also deeply painful unresolved conflict resolution issues in Hako and extending to broader networks which became an added focus that the Havinis worked tirelessly on to improve.

Marilyn was instrumental in assisting women leaders establish the Bougainville Women’s Federation and closer to home, the Hako Women’s Collective (HWC) in northern Buka. The Collective was established in response to the local community’s critical post-conflict needs, to address the welfare of the community, and in partnership with other women’s groups, participate in broader programs and activities throughout the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

photo 5 Community library, HWC

Marilyn has been a registered volunteer since 2012 through the Australian Government-funded Australian Volunteers Program. It is under the auspices of this program that Marilyn continues to support the HWC as Organisation Management Mentor through its programs such as positive parenting, the community library and ending violence against children to name a few.

After suffering from a long illness, Moses passed away 2nd May 2015 and is buried at home. Marilyn continues her work with the HWC as a volunteer mentor developing and implementing programs that address Family and Sexual Violence, Positive Parenting, and support people with Disability. With her artist daughter, Taloi, Marilyn is integrally involved in the Women’s Wealth project, an initiative developed by the Queensland Art Gallery and Galley of Modern Arts. Women’s Wealth highlights the important role that women’s creative work plays in Indigenous communities in Australia, PNG and the Solomon Islands. The art works can be publicly viewed at the Brisbane-based 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in November 2018.

Marilyn previously stated that throughout Moses’ life, his aim was “to see Papua New Guinea as a friendly neighbour, rather than their ruler”. Marilyn’s ongoing commitment through her volunteering and creative endeavours continues to honour this philosophy.


Sites that can provide more detail on the organisations mentioned include:


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.