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Cathy Neap addresses her Orchids teammates during the filming of Power Meri, the documentary film about the team / Credit: Benard Poma, Power Meri

Orchids bloom on screen

First published March 2019.

A documentary film and radio story about Papua New Guinea's first national women's rugby league team, the PNG Orchids, are receiving international recognition for shining a light on the social impact of women's sport and fostering community discussion about gender-based violence and female leadership.

Both media projects were supported by the Australian Government through the Pacific Sports Partnerships program and are bringing the stories of Pacific women's sport to new, global audiences.

ABC journalist Aaron Kearney's radio report, Orchids Bloom, produced in the lead-up to the Orchids' inaugural match against the Australian Jillaroos in 2017, recently picked up the silver medal for audio storytelling at the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) Sports Media Awards in Switzerland. The new awards are pitched as the highest international accolade in the sports media industry.

ABC journalist Aaron Kearney at the AIPS awards ceremony in Switzerland where his radio story about the PNG Orchids won a silver medal. / Credit: Aaron Kearney, ABCID

The judges said: "Orchids Bloom is a remarkable story that had a resounding impact, not only in PNG, but across the Pacific and deserved to be highlighted on the world stage. What impressed me the most, however, was that despite less than favourable conditions both environmentally and technically, Aaron put together a considered, sensitive and concise feature that was delivered on time against all odds. For me this is journalism at its purest."

The award-winning story, which was broadcast by ABC Radio Australia and Grandstand, is part of a portfolio of material produced by Kearney as part of ABC International Development's media coverage of the Australian Government-funded Pacific Sports Partnerships program. Kearney's broader work in the Pacific includes providing sports commentary training for female journalists to promote gender equality in sports broadcasting.

Meanwhile, Power Meri (Powerful Women), an internationally released documentary feature film about the Orchids, had its international premiere in Tahiti in February after being selected for the prestigious Oceania International Film Festival (FIFO) there. More than 400 people watched the film including festival regulars, school students, Tahitian female athletes, Pacific film-makers and Australia's Consul-General in French Polynesia, Paul Wilson.

Power Meri director Joanna Lester and Australia's Consul General in French Polynesia, Paul Wilson, at the film’s international premiere in Tahiti / Credit: Joanna Lester, Power Meri
Cathy Neap captaining the PNG Orchids against the Australian Jillaroos / Credit: Dave Buller, NRL PNG
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In their own voices

Directed by journalist Joanna Lester and shot by a small crew of Australians and Papua New Guineans, the film explores the broader social impact of the Orchids and their influence on the status and treatment of women in PNG. It tells the story of the team's journey to the Rugby League World Cup in Australia through the voices of pioneering players, including inaugural captain Cathy Neap and Brisbane Broncos NRLW star Amelia Kuk.

Power Meri is currently screening in Australia and Papua New Guinea, and will be released in the UK, New Zealand and other Pacific countries in 2019. Central to its release are community-driven screenings in PNG and the Pacific, with the film being used by multiple organisations as a tool to promote discussion about female leadership and community attitudes towards women.

Neap said: "This film allows people to see how far the Orchids have come and the struggles they have come through to get this far. It's important because it helps get the message across that women are starting to rise up and do things that were not usually done by women before, and it's important for men and little girls and boys in PNG to see that women can be whoever they want to be."

The Australian Government is one of the film's funding partners, along with the US State Department, the National Rugby League (NRL), Screen Australia, ABC International Development and Oil Search.

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