PNG whistle-blowers silenced by lack of appropriate laws

Sorry, neither god, glory nor gold had anything to do with it

Fitzpatrick_PhilipPHIL FITZPATRICK

WHEN I first went to Papua New Guinea in the 1960s as a young kiap there was absolutely nothing noble about my motivations or intentions.

I was not enthused by any youthful zeal to help a developing country and its people. At that age I didn’t have an altruistic bone in my body. That only came later as a sort of retrospective and ultimately facile justification for my presence there.

Rather, my reasons were a combination of a testosterone-charged urge for ‘adventure’, whatever that meant, and the debilitating experience of having spent the first 18 months of my working life stuck in an excruciatingly boring job at the National Bank.

Apart for possessing a young man’s proclivity for risk, appalling advice from the bank that I had a sinecure for life if I wanted it was enough to do the trick.

Thinking about it, I don’t think I developed any sort of missionary zeal during the short time I worked as a kiap. When I left Papua New Guinea I still had an overwhelming desire for ‘adventure’, albeit leavened by then by a distinct taste for the exotic.

As I look back on my working life I don’t think I ever lost those guiding principles. In short, it took me a very long time to grow up, if in fact that has since happened.

After I managed to extricate myself from the highlands, where every third sentence spoken by the kiaps contained the word ‘development’, I found my forte in the remote wilds of the Western District.

It was in that muddy and mountainous border region that I slowly came to the realisation that missionary zeal and the ‘development’ mantra were mostly pointless. To be perfectly frank, they also smacked of presumption, arrogance and, worst of all, cultural superiority.

The people could live without them and didn’t need them. Apart from a little bit of law and order, a smidgeon of education and some half-reliable health services, I had little to contribute. The people were happy so why impose the impossible on them? Besides, I probably had more to learn from them than I could impart.

Once I had that sorted out things started to run smoothly. I got on well with the people, my bosses were dozens of kilometres away and there was a whole new world to explore and experience. Bliss!

Well, bliss for a few years anyway.

Like most things, even bliss gets tedious after a while. On leave in Australia people would tell me I had a fantastic job. Well, yes, I suppose, but …

And that’s why I left Papua New Guinea. It had nothing to do with impending independence, the need to get re-established in Australia or even a romantic attachment to anyone. I had no financial ambitions, that has always been a low priority.

No, it was simple boredom. I’d had my fill of Papua New Guinea and wanted to try something new. What exactly, I had no idea.

Curiously, it was the same motivation that took me back to PNG in the 1990s. I had spent 20 years in another ‘fantastic’ job wandering around the Australian outback with a bunch of Blackfellas, but that got tedious too.

Such is life.

I’ve been semi-retired for two years now and I think I’m starting to get itchy feet again. The Crocodile Prize has been an interesting diversion but that is starting to wear a bit thin I’m afraid.

There was no missionary zeal involved in helping to set that up either, merely a curiosity and interest in Papua New Guinean writing.

Lately I keep dreaming about being a full-time writer. I think I’m making my long suffering wife nervous again.


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Arthur Williams

Gee Phil, I can't take many more downers. Especially as I voted for a party that lost the May UK election, a party which seemed to have lost the gut feelings it once had a century ago.

I cannot describe how much as an ExKiap I daily enjoy PNG Attitude that Keith has unstintingly given us. The wonders of seeing writers bringing their offerings for the Crocodile Prize which you and he have battled to provide all captivate me.

Sometimes I can be transported to a coconut clad beach and even inhale that unique Pacific smell. Or, in the contribution from the Highland warriors' sons and daughters, see the winding, potholed dusty roads from Tari, Goroka, Hagen. Don't give up, I need the daily fix.

My life too has had its cycles of in and out of PNG
Though going up to New Guinea in 1970 for me began with the WA kids who had been saddled with me, a lousy Pommy teacher.

After winning a place at Mosman to train as a kiap it felt great for me to leave them behind knowing they surely would get a better education.

Alas as things turned out it was bad for my little family of four which couldn't weather the initial inevitable island culture shock even of delightful Lavongai.

Divorce came after just one term and I would lose my Department of District Administration job trying to prevent that happening.

But I had already been stricken with the tropical islands syndrome and was back as a volunteer within six months after inflicting more poor teaching this time on a few kids in Old South Wales.

Luckily the Catholic Mission had a place for a volunteer determined to mostly turn his back on western life and try and help Lavongai with what seemed to be the God-given clerical and administration skills that I had tried to shun by wanting to be a teacher.

A third career change meant as far as I was concerned, at 35 years of age, I was extremely fortunate to begin to live a young man's dream. After all, perhaps only a dedicated lover of mountains wouldn't want to wake up and see the blue Bismark washing the white sand perhaps 20 feet from his bedroom window.

Twenty seven years followed as I moved sometimes at my own wishes sometimes at those of others, to see quite a bit of PNG from rough old Hagen to the mosquito muddy Aramia, swampy Baimuru, beautiful Buka bay or tainted with even a short spell in its dirty dusty downtown capital.

So after three decades it was with sadness I decided to spend what would turn out to be seven years with my not so well ageing dad back in Wales.

Once he had gone I soon felt that call of the islands and it was only bureaucracy that kept me waiting three long frustrating years for a passport that was lost on someone's desk.

In early 2007 I made it back to 'my place'. Oh the joy of seeing the family and friends' faces peering through the iron grill at the arrivals check in.

Man oh man, I sighed with relief as the dinghy headed out from Kavieng's beach towards the distant hazy mountains of home. By my side my last born who had changed during my too long absence from a little five year old into a nascent teenager.

Once again I was able to help with some urgent tasks of joining old friends in their fight against mining and loggers; I served the Church a little too and grabbed the chance of twice helping a mate. Firstly an end of year stint managing his export fish business in sprawling Moresby and the other was two months on a classic deserted island up near the Equator. At 69 where else could someone find such chances.

Then in 2008 after I had several times been asked to stand as a Councillor again or even LLG Chairman for Lavongai I started to get unwell. Two rapid episodes of malaria and the illness-enforced inactivity made me reconsider my own frailty and was it big headedness that made me think I could hack it still in serving its people.

So after 19 months of 'my island' I was back on a jumbo jet but, this time with my youngest by side.

Mammograms, MRI, cancer creams and three tablets a day find me still alive and kicking. So once again hardly a day passes when I wonder why I cowardly tried to avoid the grim reaper by leaving Lavongai, especially as so far I have avoided him.

Perhaps he is still waiting there for me. Could I dare go and see? At the moment don't tell him I left the island!

Phil – write, write! It's what I tell all my old friends and family. I was once in the Cardiff Writers' Circle – that was great and wow they could be harsh at times on your output, but it was fun.

So don't desert your fans and friends. And most importantly keep helping the writers of PNG who must surely be amazed at the forum you have provided for their thoughts, inspirations and yes their dream too.


Phil Fitzpatrick

It seems to be in the nature of human beings to ennoble past events as a form of justification so that they settle in our memories in a comforting niche.

Thus we have Australia celebrating the gross stupidity of sending thousands of naïve young men to an obscure peninsula in Turkey to be blown to bits for no apparent reason 100 years ago.

Presumably, if the Germans had won WW2 we would be celebrating the holocaust as a distasteful but necessary measure and an act of patriotism.

We do the same thing with Australia's role in colonial PNG. What was a fairly ordinary, albeit exotic, role for a bunch of public servants has now become the stuff of legend - and woe betide anyone upsetting that dodgy concept.

Most of these events looked at rationally in the cold light of day don't stand up to close scrutiny but we persist with our delusions.

The unfortunate thing is that by making bad mistakes legend we are prone to repeat them over and over again.

Thus Australia is still blithely sending naïve young men to the Middle East to be killed.

Peter Kranz

Phil, I can only quote Milton.

"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."

You have experienced life and the world. Do not give up this vision to despair. And remember, you and Keith have inspired a new generation of brilliant PNG writers and have encouraged some of us old buggers to contribute what we may.

And the Simbu writers have shown the way.

Wagai wei!

Have your say!

(Hey, that rhymes)

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

Keith, PNG writers can write and write and Associations can be started in the provinces but the question is how to find a man like Keith and a man like Philip.

Perhaps, our universities could consider to recruit committed expatriate authors and writers who will continue to nurture PNG writers.

Expatriates because English is a second language and I myself operate within a limited vocabulary range. To be honest, I cannot add that extra touch if I were editing somebody's work.

Pukpuk Publishing should be considered to operate as the publishing arm of the university.

We can take this one step at a time. First the writers associations. The Simbu model is a good one and no reason why it cannot be emulated elsewhere. As these groups develop, a national umbrella group (something like the Crocodile Prize Organisation, but home-grown) can be established. People like Phil, Ben Jackson, Ed Brumby, Bob Cleland, Chris Overland and me can still assist and support but administrative responsibility needs to shift across the Torres Strait - KJ

Keith Jackson

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of the Crocodile Prize - and the immediate future of a significant creative home-grown literature in Papua New Guinea - rests with the ability of Papua New Guineans to establish provincial or city-based groups of writers.

In time, perhaps very rapidly, these could coordinate their activities to form an umbrella national association.

So far, despite positive murmurs from Port Moresby, Bougainville, Sepik, Madang, Eastern Highlands, Enga and Gulf, this has happened only in Simbu.

The Simbu Writers Association is a wonderfully well conceived and managed organisation but one successful project of this kind is not enough to sustain a national literary culture.

It will be a sad day if the splendid writers the Crocodile Prize has been able to identify and begin to nurture find that, as early as next year, there is no adequate mechanism to support their development and provide a forum for their writing.

Phil and I have been, and still are, enthusiastic supporters of PNG literature. But it time, after five years, this Australian old guard began handing over the reins. This we are keen to do, but there must be something tangible to hand them to.

The alternative will be that PNG's second great foray into embracing its own literature will end the same way as the first.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I hope Keith and I are not "tilting at windmills" with the Crocodile Prize John.

Continuing the prize into the future is a real worry. It's something very worthwhile but, except for the guys in Simbu, no one seems to want to pick up the baton.

I think that's why I'm starting to lose faith and interest. I keep asking myself, "Why does it always happen like this in PNG?"

Bomai D Witne

Phil, during your days, the people had not only a strong sense of government but were connected to it many ways through education, health, roads, bridges and the list go on. Yes, with its own limitations at the time. Today, the sense of government and its connectedness to the people is fast diminishing. Health, education, roads, bridges etc are left to deteriorate. It a pity.

John Kaupa Kamasua

Hi Phil

you remind me of Don Quixote, who is a character in one of the books I read.

With Keith, you should consider the PNG Attitude and Crocodile Prize really worthy pursuits and trailblazing other writers in PNG. That is an achievement in itself.

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

The oldest human being lived to 122 years of age. But that's nothing when you compare it to the age of planet earth.

But I guess each of us was born for a purpose in life. Just imagine for a moment all those sperm swimming towards an egg! The strongest among the millions was you.

Each person's accomplished purpose in life lives on in a person's name . Phil, you are among many whose good names will live on in PNG.

`Robin Lillicrapp

Well, at least, we observers are royally entertained by your successive exploits

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