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The bond between PhD candidate and supervisor is often fascinatingly multilayered and complex, with the relationship taking on varied shades of mentorship mutual respect and camaraderie. Sometimes, this bond also develops and evolves to one of enduring friendship and lifelong, where the PhD scholar faithfully carries forward a legacy of academic excellence.
And one PhD student-supervisor relationship that truly epitomises this sort of connection is that of Emeritus Professor Peter Rimmer and the late Dr Lisa Drummond. Lisa, who unfortunately passed away in early 2021, has left behind a bequest to honour Peter’s legacy –in the form of a prize in his name. The Peter J Rimmer Prize, which will be initiated in 2023, also coincides with Peter celebrating his 55 years at the College of Asia & the Pacific.
Peter’s journey at ANU
Beginning in the small and tightly packed rooms of Burton Hall, Peter’s journey at ANU would take him around the world. This included time in the Philippines during the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, in Laos during the Vietnam War, and in Los Angeles during the riots of 1992. When not away elsewhere in the Asia Pacific, Peter spent much of his time at the HC Coombs Building—then home to the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (RSPAS), rubbing shoulders with the likes of Professors Hank Nelson and Ben Kerkvliet.
When he arrived at the Australian National University in 1966, Peter’s area of work was research on Papua New Guinea. However, he evolved to centre his research work in Asia and the transport and movement of people and goods in this region. Up until the mid-1970s, he concentrated on Southeast Asia, but following a visit from an academic from the Asian Research Institute in Japan, Professor Rimmer started to take an increasingly keen interest in Japan as well. After he retired, he included Korea in the mix, where he went to convene a course in global and local logistics at Inha University in Incheon. This course was the first of its kind in Korea.
Today, he is renowned economic and human geographer, specialising in urban and regional development within the Asian-Pacific Rim, with a particular emphasis on the role of communications and transport (road, rail, sea and air). He has undertaken extensive research work in China, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
Many of the colleagues—with whom he’s shared more than 55 years with at the School of Culture, History & Language—have pointed out Peter’s remarkable ability to build large networks of friends and collaborators, as well as professional connections.
Peter’s amazing people skills have also been perfectly suited to his role as a supervisor for a number of PhD students at ANU. Working with his students offers a more cooperative approach, where student and supervisors are equals. According to Peter, this makes it far easier to collaborate, have a better working relationship and gives PhD candidates the opportunity to challenge some of the ideas of their supervisors.
This unique approach has helped Peter build strong friendships with many of his previous PhD students, one of these being Lisa Drummond.
The late Dr Lisa Drummond
Lisa applied arrived at ANU in 1994 to pursue a PhD in Southeast Asian Studies, specifically on Vietnamese households in Hanoi. Professor Peter Rimmer was assigned as her primary supervisor.
Lisa would prove herself to be a highly proficient fieldworker, her skills even rubbing off on Peter when they worked together in the field in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Her skill also lay in her ability to examine and explain everyday life in Vietnam, with her work being widely recognised in geography and cognate research circles.
Lisa was an expert in modern and postcolonial cities and suburbs, with particular interests in Southeast Asian cities (especially Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), urban social life, public/private space, gender and sexuality. She conducted research in Vietnam for almost 30 years, and from 1992 to 1997, she worked as a consultant to CIDA, UNDP, the World Bank and other agencies, institutions and NGOs on various development projects and programmes. She also published in both English and Vietnamese. She had a keen interest in art, using it often in her research as a means of insight into how people envisioned the future of cities.
Her PhD degree was awarded in April 2000. Her time at the Australian University ended with her playing a pivotal role in the University’s annual update on Vietnam. Reflecting on Lisa’s strength as a researcher, Peter commented, “Lisa will be ranked among the pantheon of excellent scholars on gender practices, place and popular culture in Vietnam.”
Speaking of her admiration and respect for Peter, Lisa summed it up aptly during a speech delivered at Peter’s retirement: “Peter took the time to be more than just a supervisor, to be a real friend to us.”
During her time at ANU and subsequently her tenure at York University as a lecturer, Lisa remained closely connected with her supervisor, sharing his keen interest in soccer and catching up whenever Peter would visit Canada.
Sadly, Lisa passed away in January 2021, leaving behind a son, her trove of Vietnamese scholarship, and a new generation of inspired scholars. Her connection with Peter, however, inspired her to leave a bequest in her will, to create a gift to honour Peter’s legacy as a PhD supervisor and recognise his substantial service to the University over his 55-year tenure.
Photo by Douglas Young, courtesy University of York
Lisa herself is remembered as an inspiring supervisor, noted by colleagues at York University as “an adept student advisor who could comfort anxious students by plotting for them their route to graduation.”
The Peter J Rimmer Prize
Continuing his work to this day, Peter is currently researching the logistics, production and distribution of COVID vaccines across the world. Moreover, Peter continues to have an active role in the College of Asia & the Pacific, continuing to mentor and supervise PhD students.
Starting in 2023, The Peter J Rimmer Prize will recognise students with the highest marks in Maps and Mapping in Asia & the Pacific., a new course offered by CHL, looks to teach students to interpret, use, and even create their own maps The course will focus on Asia and the Pacific, exploring the history of maps, cultural use of maps and how maps reflected views of the region.
Donations were provided by Peter and Lisa to create the prize, cementing their legacies for excellence at the ANU and recognising the enduring bond between supervisor and student. The Peter J Rimmer prize will help encourage and reward student excellence in the Maps and Mapping in Asia & the Pacific course, as well as sharing Peter’s passion of maps and geography with the next generation of ANU students.