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A thoroughly callous crime: The book thieves of PNG


THERE are unexpected drawbacks in running something like the Crocodile Prize national literary award in Papua New Guinea.

Like some sponsors, who make all sorts of promises and lead you up the garden path and wait until you’ve made irrevocable commitments before pulling the rug out from under you.

Or people who promise faithfully to do certain things and then blithely ignore them.

Then there are things that are a bit more inexplicable.

A case in point is the delivery of copies of the anthology and some of the other books that have spun out of the competition.

As a publisher, Pukpuk Publishing has duly despatched copies of its books to the National Library in Port Moresby.  This is a statutory requirement but is mostly ignored by publishers in Papua New Guinea and Australia.

The books have been sent by post and were addressed to the Chief Librarian by name.  None of them arrived.

I remedied this in September, when I carried copies of the books and personally presented them to the library.  We discussed the matter but couldn’t explain it.

For the 2014 anthology we’ve been getting copies of the book sent directly from the USA to various recipients for distribution.  Quite a few shipments have gone astray, enough to be a worry.

In tracking these shipments we’ve discovered that they all make it to Papua New Guinea before disappearing.

The printer Createspace uses a variety of freight companies, depending upon the size of the order.  The shipments usually go to agents in Port Moresby before being delivered.  Small shipments go by ordinary mail.

Some of the agents collect GST and customs duties, others don’t; it’s quite unpredictable and mysterious.

Some of the lost books are traceable.  A recent shipment of six copies of Diddie Kinamun Jackson’s poetry collection, Daddy Two Shoes, addressed to her seems to have been sent to Indonesia by one of Createspace’s shippers. 

Obviously someone in the USA thinks that Papua New Guinea is part of Indonesia.

That’s simple stupidity, but there are some other patterns emerging with more sinister connotations.

I have got some contacts in Mosbi who have been checking shipments for me and what they report isn’t good.

About two weeks ago, one of them reported seeing copies of the anthology on sale in one of Mosbi’s markets.  The seller also had copies of books obviously stolen from the National Library and school libraries.  

The seller wouldn’t say where he had got them.  He did know, however, that they are a very marketable commodity.  It’s not quite on a par with stealing and selling medicines from the hospitals but it’s still annoying.

The market is fairly close to where a few shipments have gone missing, the Boroko Post Office. 

Oddly enough, the copies of the books addressed to the National Library were all sent to a Boroko Post Office box number.

Another interesting aspect is that shipments to Buka rank highly in the missing and lost category.

I haven’t said anything to date but I’m starting to suspect that some of the shipments have been stolen.

This is particularly aggravating because we distribute the anthology free of charge.  The other Pukpuk books are sold at cost to keep the prices as low as possible.

I suppose, in a perverse sort of way, it’s encouraging to think that the books are still going to people who want to read them.

What irks us is the possibility that thieves are making money out of our efforts.

Unfortunately we can’t really do much about it.  If Inspector Metau was real he might be able to help.

Createspace is really good because, at no cost, it will replace shipments that have gone missing and will despatch replacements by expensive priority freight.

Sooner or later, however, Createspace will tire of Papua New Guinea.

One of the other big print-on-demand companies, Lightning Source, a USA company with a handy branch in Melbourne, won’t ship directly to PNG.  They are too polite to say why, but I think I know the reason.

We’ll keep shipping the books in the hope that most of them will get through.  There’s not much else we can do beyond quitting in frustration.


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Phil Fitzpatrick

The books were shipped to you on 5 September 2014 Dominica, so it has taken nearly 11 months for the books to get to you.

Sort of gives snail mail a new low to aim for. I wonder where they've been languishing for nearly a year.

Dominica Are

My long waited copies did finally arrive yesterday afternoon 29/7/15. The books will be distributed by the CARE PNG ICDP Literacy Team to schools in the Obura Wonenara District, EHP.

Just in time for the National Book Week 3-7 August 2015.Thank you.

Gayel Loup Ani

KJ, thanks. I was reprimanded for exposing this, hahaha can you imagine that. It actually reminded me of the poem by Jack Lahui, "The dark sde of the Nuginians teeth".

Gayel Loup Ani

I am one of those people 10 anthology copies was sent to. I still have 6 copies left to distribute because I want to ensure that the. books do not end up in personal libraries.

Talking about delivery of books, my chances of a promotion position. is on the line because I exposed the negligence of delivery of books to schools from a certain office in charge of delivering them.

I am sorry to hear that Gayel. But I feel sure your honesty will eventually be rewarded - KJ

Phil Fitzpatrick

Have you got an address that is not a post office box Arnold?

I'm afraid I've lost faith in the PNG postal service.

Phil Fitzpatrick

300 copies of "The 'Ku High School Anthology 2014" arrived at DHL in Lae, bound for Kundiawa, on 4 November.

They were intended for the high school graduation ceremony.

They are still sitting in the DHL warehouse in Lae.

The graduation ceremony was held last week.

The kids were very disappointed.

Jimmy Drekore has organised a search party.

Talk about pissed off!

Arnold Mundua

Phil - I can pick up my copies at the PNG Forest Authority's Highlands Regional office in Goroka at the address below.

PNG Forest Authority
Highlands Regional Office
P O Box 344
Papua New Guinea

Michael Dom

Outraged yes. Despicable acts. Can we write a letter collectively condemning them to management and copy in the dailies?

Phil Fitzpatrick

I haven't got a record of your order Arnold.

We were sending out anthologies left, right and centre in September and your request might have got lost in the rush.

Maybe contact Keith and give him a physical address rather than a PO Box number and we can despatch copies via DHL or UPS.

Arnold Mundua

Lets hope my 20 copies don't meet the same fate.

Paul Munro

For what it may be worth, I scored a free copy of the anthology through my membership of the PNGAA committee as a sponsor.

I liked what I read so much I quickly gave that copy to a former PNG hand celebrating his 70th.

I then ordered three copies from Amazon, all of which arrived within a week or so in Sydney.

The anthology is a rich dip into what people in PNG are thinking and talking about. Really fresh and worthwhile stuff.

The PNGAA Publishing Program ensures that hundreds of copies of the anthology escape the clutches of the book thieves and are duly disseminated around PNG. We're grateful to Andrea Williams, Paul and their colleagues for this far sighted support - KJ

Paul Oates

Phil, obviously the Police Prosecutor believed he 'wouldn't mind being in your shoes'.

Harry Topham

Phil - Hope he also wasn't wearing a loud red Hawaiian shirt embossed with large frangipanis?

Phil Fitzpatrick

I'll follow it up Corney.

It's way overdue.

Phil Fitzpatrick

When my house in Newtown was broken into I lost a lot of stuff, including a nice pair of shoes.

The police caught the guy and got some of it back.

When I fronted the court in Boroko the Police Prosecutor was wearing my shoes.

Corney Korokan Alone

I just hope that my 25 copies are yet to be shipped as I haven't received them through my Post Office number at Waigani/Vision City.

I have been checking it for a while.

Paul Oates

Well gentlemen, it appears every stolen shirt has a 'tail' and every stolen book a potential 'story'.

At the risk of being accused of using alliteration, the potential 'provenance' of previously purloined items is beginning to sound positively poetic.

Maybe the story of how the books came to be 'misappropriated' might be a good place for the venerated Inspector to start a back tracked investigation. Who knows where it might lead? Some might initially suspect it 'wood ultimately lead to a tree' but in that case the real crime could end up just being 'papered over'.

Michael, I still don't have your new e mail.

Harry Topham

Phil - As they say every cloud has a silver lining and in this case every book has a tale to tell.

Would be interesting to find out the eventual fate of these purloined works of art and hopefully some will find a new home.

Some may be lucky and find a kind new owner to spend out their life surrounded by friends on a dusty bookshelf and those less fortunate will no doubt end up going up in smoke.
The scenario sort of reminds me of a story told to me by an old mate who literally speaking, lost his favourite memento shirt, when living in Mt Hagen.

On leave in the Philippics he had bought several Hawaiian shirts, which at the time were in vogue only to have his hand made, silk, favourite prize possession pinched off the clothesline.

Some years later when in Mosbi whilst walking down the street he spied what he recognised to be in his belief his missing shirt.

Approaching the gentleman concerned he engaged him in conversation about the shirt.

Not overly concerned about its recovery to its rightful owner he was more intrigued as to the story line about this shirt and how it had ended up in Mosbi.

It turned out that this particular shirt had led a very interesting life after it has been hijacked having been bought and sold, borrowed and lent as it wended its way don to the coast.

The conversation ended with the shirt’s new owner offering to give the shirt back.

Happy that the shirt had survived its ordeals my friend with some mirth declined the kind offer.

So Phil, it would seem that as every shirt has a tail every book also has a tale to tell with, in many cases, also having an uncertain future.

Barbara Short

Dear Phil, or should I just call you Inspector Metau, thank you for all that you are doing to try to promote PNG Writing again.

I know Kerenga Kua is on your side. I hope more and more PNG people in authority will get behind you to promote books.

It is all about getting people to do some serious thinking and putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, and putting down their thoughts so other can read it.

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