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From the Kundiawa News 50 years ago today

Australian High Commission withdraws Crocodile Prize funding

The rough draftKEITH JACKSON

THERE would have been no Crocodile Prize national literary awards in Papua New Guinea if it wasn’t for the steady hand of Australian High Commissioner Ian Kemish in 2010.

Mr Kemish settled down some nervous nellies at the High Commission who counselled against involvement in a project that was not the brainchild of a team of consultants or an Australian bureaucrat trying to get some runs on the board.

The then High Commissioner provided a stable platform from which an idea could grow.

So yesterday, when I received the briefest of emails from Andrew Gavin, First Secretary (Public Diplomacy) at the High Commission in Port Moresby, advising that the previous sponsorship of $3,000 would not be renewed in 2015, I felt disappointed that a relationship had been severed that was so instrumental in getting the Prize established.

That there was no explanation – not even an “other areas of assistance have a higher priority” – was, in my view, discourteous.

To be fair, Mr Gavin did offer the High Commission as a venue for a future function “should the committee decide to have an awards night again in Port Moresby”.

Next year’s awards event will be in Kundiawa – a triumph for the recently-established Simbu Writers Association and symbolic of how the Prize is maturing and beginning to penetrate the inner life of Papua New Guinea.

It would have been benevolent for the High Commission to offer a helping hand to the SWA to assist it to stage this important national event. But this was clearly not in Mr Gavin’s mind.

The Crocodile Prize Organisation, COG, received $3,000 from the High Commission this year which was entirely spent on Crocodile Prize anthologies distributed free of charge mainly to schools and libraries throughout PNG.

That $3,000 bought about 300 books. The PNG Association of Australia generously provided a grant of $5,000 (500 books). And COG itself found another $2,000 from its scarce funds for a further 200 books.

In all, we were able to distribute about 1,000 free anthologies so Papua New Guineans could read their own literature, described in last Saturday’s The Australian newspaper as confident, tough and fearless.

In her review, author Drusilla Modjeska reflected on the influence of the Prize as it enters its fifth year: “Much of the tentativeness has gone - a new generation of Papua New Guineans is claiming the written as part of their storytelling, debating inheritance…”

This project – which has spun off a publishing house with 17 book titles to its credit and annual writers workshops - emerged from a group of Papua New Guinean and Australian writers.

It is administered in their spare time with no reward but the satisfaction of knowing they are providing PNG with a substantive home-grown literature.

It is a minor marvel that the Prize has sustained itself for five years on this basis.

And, of course, it couldn’t have been achieved without sponsorship funding that largely goes into awards and books: providing something for writers and something for readers.

There will be more positive news on sponsors in the next few days as we move towards the launch of the 2015 Crocodile Prize on Monday.

Most of the main awards are already funded; but it seems that many readers will miss out.

That saidBut, overall, 2015 promises to be another good year for the Prize and for PNG’s writers.

The Crocodile Prize Organisation regrets that, after five challenging years, the Australian High Commission no longer wants to be part of the story.


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Harry Topham

I know it sounds trite, but penny wise and pound foolish seems to sum up the rather penny pinching attitude adopted by the Australian High Commission mob.

What's $3,000 in comparison to their overall budget, probably only the cost of a very brief fact-finding trip for some Canberra based bureaucrats from Australia with accommodation thrown in.

Where is Ian Kemish when you need him?

Peter Kranz

This is just one example of how you can publish your own works on-line.

Perhaps this is the reason bookstores are closing. But I agree with Barbara, I do miss the old bookshops. Spent many a happy afternoon browsing through Foyles, and there's a whole town called Hay-on-Wye which is a ginormous second hand bookshop.

Barbara Short

I went shopping in Carlingford Court yesterday, especially to shop at Dymocks Bookshop - but it has closed down. There were no books for sale at the Newsagency. It is all so sad. A huge shopping centre and no sign of a book shop.

We used to have two wonderful book shops in Epping but they have both gone. There is still one small interesting second-hand book shop, thank goodness.

Some people have this idea that everyone reads online nowadays. I guess the Crocodile will have to go online too!

The Crocodile Prize stories, essays and poems are all on line, both on the Crocodile Prize website and in PNG Attitude - KJ

Lindsay F Bond

By the way, a copy of the 2014 Crocodile Prize Anthology now resides at Tufi with a primary school retired headteacher who just couldn't stop reading it, no matter that his eyes were in need of urgent medical treatment.

Of the worth again of such publication, what better endorsement?

ABC News

Australia cuts funding for PNG's Croc Prize

Updated 27 November 2014, 10:50 AEDT

The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby has cut its financial support for the Crocodile Prize national literacy awards.

Every year the best entries are compiled into an anthology and copies are sent to schools and the country's few remaining libraries.

Last year $3000 in funding from the Australian High Commission was used to print and distribute the anthologies.

The Crocodile Prize's Executive Director Keith Jackson said no reason was given for the decision to axe the funding.

Reporter: Liam Fox

Speaker: Keith Jackson, Executive Director, Crocodile Prize

Lindsay Bond

Following news that Australia cuts funding for PNG's Croc Prize, now is a time to acknowledge wisdom shown by Australia's Governments over a number of years, in valuable support for printing and distribution of anthologies of product from each year’s event.

Those aid grants leverage (give) benefit for both nations, because the anthologies are harvests, marking and enhancing a national PNG identity that it might also stand well alongside aspirations that Australians have of their own nation.

So gratitude is given to Australian Governments that have past.

Tanya Zeriga-Alone

Now is the time and opportunity for Papua new Guineans to stand up and take charge of this great writing initiative, time to chart our own literary destiny.

We can raise that money through contributions from members and I am sure there are Papua New Guineans who will put their money where their mouth is or we could charge a small fee for membership or through fundraiser activities. Just my thoughts.

AJ Lambo

A reason stating why this funding was withdrawn was not given?

Surely, as a matter of goodwill ( protocol) an explanation from the Australian High Commissioner would do everyone good.

It is sad to hear that a practical idea has dealt a blow just because the high commission withdrew $3,000 funding.

Donna Harvey-Hall

A library and books is such a valuable resource in any community yet there are only 3 functioning public libraries left in PNG.

Proudly I can say that one of them is in Wau and this library was refurbished and stocked almost single-handedly by my daughter Dannielle Vincent and helped by MMJV Community Affairs.

The librarian is a public servant and she has an assistant who is paid by Dannielle.We have 1000 members who pay K2 per year but we only have 4000 books.

These books are all reasonably new and were given mainly by friends of our family as the library was named the Chris Harvey-Hall Memorial Library in honour of our father who did a lot for the small community in Wau.

Sadly not a book or even a small donation was given by any politician either Provincial or National but after more than one year we are functioning strongly.

Donna, if you provide me with the address of the memorial library, we will send it some copies of the Crocodile Prize Anthology 2015 - KJ

Mathias Kin

Just last week I presented the Dux award for the Sua Community School in remote Salt Nomane Karimui District with a 2014 Crocodile Prize Anthology!

The young man was so happy that I actually presented him with such a big book. The school management requested me for some copies for their school library.

This project (Crocodile Prize) is having great impact across schools already in Simbu.

Please everybody, let's not hear any unpopular stories like this again. Especially now that we Simbus are organising the 2015 Crocodile Prize in Kundiawa. Waiwo!

Harry Werake Yu

This is a signal of something big in the mindset of the High Commission. The motive will surface sometime later on .. former high commissioner Ian Kemish and his wife were very, very instrumental in the combating of the low literacy rate of PNG. Now with a new kid on the block obviously the priorities are also different ......

Giorgio Licini

This proves that freedom is not a free gift and human progress is nothing but a struggle against odds.

Barbara Short

Dan, I hear that St Xavier's High School on Kairiru no longer has a library. Brandi High Library has few books, but at least it does have some Crocodile anthologies.

People go online to read. There is no public library in Wewak. The Forums on Facebook are very popular. The Loop is a popular news source.

I think it is very disappointing to hear the Australian High Commission are no longer willing to help sponsor the Crocodile prize. They are probably staffed by the "younger" generation who have no memories of the wonderful books that we used to have, written by those early PNG writers. They are probably people who don't read books anymore. Sad.

John Kaupa Kamasua

This should not dampen the creative spirit among PNG writers, nor the zeal of generosity and sense of duty within the COG.

Daniel Doyle

Where is the PNG Department of Education in all this? Given the highly positive review by Drusilla Modjeska, mentioned above, DOE should be ordering 10,000 copies for schools throughout the country. (However, make sure of payment up front!)

Bernard Yegiora

The Crocodile Prize literary competition is part of integral human development.

Funding this prize means that more Papua New Guineans can read. The more they read, the more they are enlightened.

Wardley Desmond Barry-Igivisa

The government has done well to promote education. Yet it has failed to provide avenues through which what students learn in classrooms could be expressed. Writing is a way in which we express ourselves.

Our leaders must seriously start thinking about promoting writing because with more knowledge comes the desire for expression and exposure.

It's unfortunate and disgraceful that we are told to write in books but when we want to write books, we are shut off.

There sure is a lot of work to be done.

Thanks to you, Keith Jackson and others who have been at the forefront in helping PNGeans express themselves. I, for one, am very grateful for the opportunity you've provided.

Kevin O'Regan

Ed, hear hear. Disgraceful

Ed Brumby

This is nothing short of outrageous, Keith.

I am ashamed of our government which, on the one hand can spend more than $100k to secure a table for the G20 meet; can spend $1 million plus to hire armoured limousines to transport G20 dignitary attendees, and will spend around $5k+ per night to accommodate Tony or Julie every time they travel overseas, but are simply too miserable to commit a pittance of $3k to support a hugely important cultural development initiative.

I'd reckon that our High Commission in POM would spend more than that on a lunch for visiting dignitaries.

The decision to withdraw financial support for the Crocodile Prize is truly mean spirited - and disgraceful.

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