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Literature, the Queensland factor & Papua New Guinea

Literature back on Queensland agendaPHIL FITZPATRICK

QUEENSLAND is sometimes referred to as the ‘Deep North’, an allusion to the Deep South in the USA, where conservative and reactionary values run deep.

Another epithet is ‘the red-neck state’. Having lived and travelled in Queensland for the last six years or so I can confirm that our fair state seems to have an abundance of this regressive species.

The man in large part responsible for this image was former premier Joh Bjelke Petersen. His mixture of home-spun philosophy, aversion to anything remotely cultural unless it was garish or a money spinner and his government’s overt nepotism and corruption tarnished Queensland’s reputation for many years.

His cabinet was reportedly low on well-educated members, which might explain a lot.

We had a very uncomfortable aftertaste of the Joh era during the recent and thankfully brief reign of ‘Can-do’ Campbell Newman as premier. One of the first acts of the Newman LNP government was to abolish the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards.

While not denying that we have our fair share of rednecks I think this reputation is decidedly undeserved.

Prior to the Joh era Queensland was a socially advanced, progressive and innovative state. Many of Australia’s famous literary and artistic sons and daughters were, and still are, Queenslanders.

As a late blossoming University of Queensland student at the height of the Joh era in the 1970s I was gratified to notice the fierce resistance he generated. By his actions, and ironically, he ensured the growth of a strong anti-conservative movement in Queensland. And it was the people of conscience who finally toppled him.

Apart from physical proximity Papua New Guinea has strong connections with Queensland. Many Papua New Guineans live in Queensland. They also invest their money in the state, whether honestly or dishonestly obtained.

After independence in 1975 many returning Australian expatriates unable to hack the southern winters settled in Queensland. Even the bi-annual kiap re-union is held in Queensland.

In the ongoing relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea Queensland looms large and it is a position that I think is worth cultivating further.

The Bligh government was making encouraging noises about this connection before it was ousted by Campbell Newman but even he, perhaps in a more mercenary sense, kept making similar noises.

So far there doesn’t seem to be any advance on the positive noise making front however. This is a shame but I’m hoping that the new Queensland government might see fit to take it up again.

My interest in such a development is relatively broad but I am especially interested in the opportunities such a relationship might have for cultural and literary causes.

We shouldn’t forget that the Ulli Beier-led literary flowering of the 1970s was made possible in large part by Brian Clouston and his Brisbane based Jacaranda Press.

Brian published the first novel by a Papua New Guinean writer, Vincent Eri’s The Crocodile in 1970, after which the current national literary competition is named.

As co-founders of the Crocodile Prize, Keith Jackson and I have now seen the light and are Queensland-based too, although no doubt we are still regarded as Mexican ring-ins by old banana benders.

The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, is also the Minister for Arts. One of the first things she did upon gaining government was to reinstate the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards.

If we think about the future of literature in Papua New Guinea maybe we should be looking towards Queensland for advice and assistance rather than the rest of Australia.

Queensland has, after all, a rightful claim to being there when literature first bloomed in Papua New Guinea.

Crocodile Organisation president and PNG Man of Honour, Jimmy Drekore, will be attending the Brisbane Writers Festival in September. Perhaps something positive and constructive for PNG literature may emerge from that encounter.


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Bob Cleland

Phil, you and I have been thinking on parallel courses on this Queensland/Papua New Guinea relationship.

I've recently spoken to the organisers of the Brisbane Festival and they are still keen to discuss a relationship with Jimmy Drecore when he's here. I will be tying down details closer to Festival time.

The Queensland Government is a major sponsor of the Festival and if the Premier is open to recognition of a formal literary relationship with PNG, then that can only be of benefit to PNG writing.

Barbara Short

I think these Writer's Festivals are good places to showcase the PNG writers that are emerging. Maybe the organisers could be contacted.

Also the Book Clubs throughout Australia should be contacted and the people who set the reading lists for the various HSC syllabi in the various states should be encouraged to include a book by a PNG writer.

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

Philip, good news. Do hope something good comes out of the Brisbane Writers Festival in September.

Queensland and PNG were once geographically connected. The indigenous people and PNG people have always been wantoks for centuries. Why shouldn't we maintain that relationship also in literature?

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