A red-haired, blue-eyed, Akubra-wearing Aussie, he exchanged vows with Evelyn in front of over 5,000 guests. “We actually spilled out onto the national highlands highway. The traffic was blocked for hours,” he said.
The couple met in the midst of a tribal fight.
“These three girls came running towards me one day. I didn’t know them, but they were in trouble – faced with guns, machetes, spears. I helped them and met my future wife.”
Nineteen years later, Ingersoll is in a suit and tie ready for yet another official ceremony, this one at Government House. Like his wedding, it will be lavishly attended.
“He certainly deserves it,” says Oil Search Foundation’s Stephanie Copus-Campbell of the National Logohu Medal which was placed around Ingersoll’s neck.
“Rod’s an absolute force of nature. Someone who works enthusiastically on behalf of his local community. We were all thrilled when he joined the Foundation a few years ago.”
Officially bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen, via her Governor General, Grand Chief Sir Bob Dadae, the gold medallion is one of the highest awards that the country can offer – and certainly amongst the most coveted.
Ingersoll’s comes in recognition of his “exemplary service to PNG’s traditional culture and the preservation of its environment”. It’s a neat summary of two decades’ work in a wide variety of roles in over 250 different communities. The award recognises his passion for PNG’s unique environment, and for building the capacity of the local village communities that live within it.
“It’s quite humbling,” says Ingersoll of the award, which will complement an Order of the British Empire he received in 2017. “I have never deliberately sought accolades and thought my work was largely unnoticed which makes this award so very special. People and the environment are my two passions and all I do is use my knowledge to help them.”
It seems safe to say he has helped quite a lot.
Fresh out of university where he studied environmental science, his long career kicked off in 1999 when he came to PNG. He had signed up as a volunteer to manage a wildlife sanctuary in Western Highlands, and certainly did not expect to stick around for long.
But what started out as a short-term vacation soon became a life-long vocation.
“PNG changed my worldview dramatically and my life forever. I discovered that I’m much happier more at home working in isolated villages than I will ever be in a corporate boardroom wearing a suit and tie.”
On top of helping to defend the sanctuary from a logging company, Ingersoll oversaw a successful breeding program for several threatened species, including cassowaries, eagles, tree kangaroos and birds of paradise.
Since then, he has been helping to marshal support for conservation projects in Hela’s Strickland River and Enga’s Kaijende Highlands – over 320,000 hectares of pristine forest with ferns, trees and animals of global significance that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.
“A biological assessment conducted by an international team of scientists found 50 new species in the Strickland alone. It was such a privilege to be involved in this work that in time may lead to expanding PNG’s National Park system and protecting both traditional cultural practice and biodiversity.”
On the development front, Ingersoll’s career highlights include several years at the Salvation Army. They involved hundreds of successful rural projects around water, sanitation, agriculture, food security, and resulted several new schools, bridges and aid posts.
Health and education have also been the major focus of his volunteer work. As a long-time member of Rotary, he has helped to raise money for malaria prevention, polio eradication and people living with disabilities, he has organised multiple shipments of textbooks, hospital beds and used council playgrounds.
“It’s a great feeling to take a product that’s destined for landfill in Australia as technology changes and ship it to a place where such products are scarce, needed and appreciated. We throw out so much useful equipment that can be repurposed or cleaned.”
Ingersoll’s current roles with Oil Search Foundation and Hela’s Provincial Health Authority are seeing him work with this team to support Hela’s recovery from the 2018 earthquake.
On top of ongoing repairs to remote health centres, schools and water tanks, he takes pride in supporting the hard work of the CEO, Dr James Kintwa, and his team to undertake recent improvements to Tari Hospital.
“Helping the team undertake simple changes like making consultations free, painting the building and feeding patients changed the entire province healthcare systems,” he said.
At present, Ingersoll is helping the PHA with two renovations, which will include a new Accident and Emergency facility a two-storey nurses’ quarters and a massive industrial kitchen.
“It’s very satisfying to plan a project around a real community need, implement the project and watch a province and nation grow. Here in PNG you can literally see how projects change the lives of an entire community before your eyes.
“I truly believe that we can all make a difference. And I hope that, in a small way, I have.”
(Rod Ingersoll with Grand Chief Sir Bob Dadae after receiving the National Logohu Medal)