The glow of hope
Forgive and forget

The Crocodile Prize: It’s time to be brutally frank

_Crocodile Prize 2015PHIL FITZPATRICK

I left Papua New Guinea in the mid-1970s and didn’t return for over 20 years.

When I went back, I flew into Port Moresby and then on to Mount Hagen and Mendi to the border region between the Southern Highlands, Gulf and Western provinces.

Putting it mildly, I was amazed and disheartened by the state of the country.  Buildings, roads and other infrastructure had fallen apart. Law and order had gone to the dogs and everywhere there were razor wire and security guards.

Hospitals and aid posts didn’t have medicines, schools were falling apart and their teachers collected salaries but didn’t teach. The police were scruffy and finding a public servant at the office before 10:00am was almost impossible.

It was only the friendliness of the poor people out in the bush who softened the impact. The educated elite didn’t seem to care. They were too busy making money and robbing the country.

I had heard about these problems but didn’t really believe them until I saw it for myself.

How could this happen, I asked the people I met?

“It’s the government’s fault,” they said.  “They won’t provide the funding to maintain infrastructure and services. They are corrupt and keep the money for themselves.”

I thought about that, but it didn’t make sense.

Here were roads now overgrown and eroded to the point of being impassable. Back in the 1970s, villagers would never let that happen.  They would have been out with their sticks and spades fixing them.  It would have been a matter of pride.

Now they were sitting on spreading bottoms whinging about the government not doing the work.

It was like some sort of terrible malaise had gripped the country. It was very sad.

Catapult forward to 2010 and Keith and I are pondering the sorry state of literature in Papua New Guinea.

We decide to test the waters by establishing a writing contest, the Crocodile Prize.

Slowly but surely the writers start coming out of the woodwork.  We publish an anthology of the best writing in 2011 and then another one each year.

At workshops in Port Moresby we discuss options for the future with writers who fly in from around the country.  The participants are excited and enthused.  Keith and I decide this is worth continuing, perhaps it can become permanent.  The participants agree.  Passion abounds.

We discuss a future where Papua New Guineans will take over and manage the Crocodile Prize.  They will grasp the nettle and make it happen.

By early 2013, a national writers association has been incorporated, funded, populated with over 100 members and a board elected. We hand over the Crocodile Prize. The enthusiasm continues to run high.

Six months later the whole thing crashes.

Recriminations fly left, right and centre.

Keith and I salvage the mess and, within two months, get a truncated version back on track in time for September’s PNG Independence Day.

The 2014 competition goes well: more writers, more sponsors, new administrative arrangements, bigger budget and a gloriously enhanced anthology distributed free of charge to many schools and libraries throughout PNG. It is a lot of hard work but the enthusiasm returns.

“We mustn’t let that happen again, it is too important,” the writers tell us.

The Simbu Writer’s Association is born. It makes great strides. Nothing much happens in the other provinces though, except promises.

Keith and I reinforce to our colleagues that we won’t be able to – and should not be expected to – bear the weight of the competition for much longer.  People agree.

I wonder if we’ve created a monster that will eventually devour us.  I guess it will be our fault if it does.

Will that malaise, or whatever it was, that saw Papua New Guinea go backwards in the years after independence see the demise of the Crocodile Prize?

In my mind, there is an eerie feeling of deja vu.

And yet there are so many good writers with an equally appreciative audience of readers.

Will they make a difference?

Can they engage the institutional support within PNG that will sustain the project?


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Michael Dom

Is anyone supporting the parliamentary petition by getting hard copies for signing?

One complete set to every secondary school, college and vocational institution in the country.

I thought that was a no brainer that everyone interested in literature, writing, publication and distribution of the Crocodile Prize Anthology would support.

I'm interested in how COG intends to run the Prize without Keith and Phil if there is only minimal support for the petition which was considered by many to be a very worthy cause.

Chips Mackellar

Remember, Phil and Keith, that big oaks from little acorns grow. You have planted the acorn in Simbu, and from there it will grow. It takes 100 years for an oak to fully mature, so you will not be around to see the Simbu oak reach full maturity. But take heart that many will reap where you have sown.

Jimmy Drekore

If regions are slow to get themselves organised how about institution like, DWU, Unitech, UPNG, UOG etc organise themselves in their line departments where English and language is of concern.

I'm sure the institution will fully back it up but it needs human beings to put their hands up to take the lead.

PNG come on, don't tell me we can't get ourselves organised. We just hosted the Pacific Games. The ball is there, someone come forward.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Simbu is leading by example and I think that is worth capitalising on and turning it to their advantage.

If the other provinces want to come along very good but if they don't stuff them.

I think EHP and Enga would be supportive of Kundiawa.

Port Moresby can be PNG's venal capital and Kundiawa can be PNG's cultural capital.

Still just thinking aloud but thanks for the comment Daniel.

Ed Brumby

Keith's right: it's time more regional groups stepped up. What's happening with the Port Moresby writers group? Isn't there anyone at UPNG (or wherever) to take the lead? I can well understand Phil's (and Keith's) frustrations and fears regarding the future of the Crocodile Prize, and of PNG writing generally. It's time more people followed the excellent example of the Simbu writers.

`Robin Lillicrapp

I think Keith's call for all regions to participate is the correct one.

If the Croc / PNG Attitude framework is to be perpetuated, it must be under PNG leadership.
For that to "effectively" happen, the shaping of leadership culture must continue to structure what will be the most beneficial means of progressing the ideal.

Presently, the wider vision is hamstrung by the inevitable clash of cultures as perhaps seen in: The struggles & the storms of a Yuri way of life: Part 2.

There you have a well educated modern man dragged by tradition into an awful mess of traditionalism; well meant but ill founded, that undermines the ability of that modern man to prosper.

That such a mess should overtake and consume the ambitions of the Croc / PNG attitude is indeed a travesty of purpose. .

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

I have copies of books by Paulias Matane,Vincent Eri and Ignatius Kilage. The late Sir Sir Ignatius Kilage, Governor General of PNG happens to be a son of Simbu.

And Simbu Writers Association is way ahead of some of us. The political backing is there.

Let Simbu lead the way in PNG literary development. It can host the Crocodile Prize competition for sometime until other centres are ready.

I am with you Phil. Em liklik sapot toktok blo mi.

This is not a recipe for success, Daniel. It is a recipe for letting someone else do the work. The Crocodile Prize will be stone dead within three years unless writers in other provinces and cities in PNG come to the party and replicate Simbu's efforts - KJ

Phil Fitzpatrick

Maybe we should forget about the other provinces and concentrate on Simbu Jim.

It would be an interesting project for 2016.

It shouldn't be too hard to base the Crocodile Prize website in Kundiawa. You could run it along the same lines as PNG Attitude, with maybe a staged transition period.

Simbu is short of economic initiatives and it might suit it to become the hub of literature in PNG.

An annual or bi-annual writers week in Kundiawa could develop into a lucrative tourist destination, especially if other cultural events, like music, were attached to it.

It would work best if the provincial government was involved - I wonder if the governor would consider it.

Maybe it's worth talking to the organisers of the Brisbane Writers Festival when you get down here in early September. They might be able to offer expertise and other help too.

I can just see the writers of PNG (and other countries of the Pacific region and beyond) trekking up there every year. As far as I know there is no other such event in the Pacific.

You might even get a publishing venture up and running.

And think what it could do for Simbu kids.

Tingting tasol?

Phil Fitzpatrick

I understand perfectly what you are saying Paul (must be my English mother). And I'm not likely to become depressed about it all. After all, we both know how PNG works and there are plenty of other interesting things to do.

I know the platitudes are well-meant but they don't really get to the point.

Jimmy is asking the right question but no one seems to want to answer.

Jimmy Drekore

It's been a whole day and no one wishes to answer the daring questions: Crocodile Prize after Phil and Keith and PNG ownership?

I am more inclined with Keith, however at this stage no other regions are coming forward hence leaving SWA standing alone.

I'd rather we (PNGians) stopped talking and started organising ourselves if we are as serious as the way we sound.

Paul Oates

Phil, don’t lose heart mate. The true test of a person’s life is what they leave behind when they depart. In other words, did you add value to other people’s existence or were you self-centred?

I suggest your contribution and Keith’s are immense and add to the lives of many persons alive today and to future generations.

Maybe we will never see the full effects of what we do for others but it’s like throwing a pebble into a pond. You’re bound to get ripples.

Likewise, as some have said; it’s like planting a tree but never seeing it grow to its full height. Sometimes the worthwhile effects of what we do may be different from what we expected?

If we must always had to wait to see the benefits of our work before we started we wouldn’t get anywhere would we? (Err.. That sounds a bit Celtic but with a name like yours you get the idea I’m sure.)

Not to be morbid but many artists only become famous once they have died. (Ummm… perhaps I’d better quit while I’m ahead. You might become depressed and that would never do.)

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

It is indeed frustrating to deal with this pathetic PNG attitude that the country must have to overcome someday.

Yesterday I went to see a headmaster of a school who ordered some copies of our book 'Remember Me' to tell him the shipment will arrive next week.

He was with a senior school inspector and a senior teacher. I asked them to Google the PNG Attitude blog and see what's happening there.

I also mentioned how important it was for schools in Enga to have PNG aurthored books in their school libraries.

I mean to send titles and costs of all the Crocodile book entries this year to all the schools in Enga. I am also going to order some books to sample them myself like 'The Resonance of my Thoughts' by Francis Nii, 'The Musing of an Assistant Pig Keeper' by Michael Dom, 'Man of Calibre' by Baka Bina and 'Brokenville' by Leonard Roka.

We as writers need to support each other, sample each other's work and move forward.

Keith Jackson

There's no doubt the Crocodile Prize is a slog - a hard slog but a good slog. You'd think after five years such a worthwhile initiative might have drilled down some strong roots. But our old Croc has yet to do that as it lumbers forward.

There will be a Prize in 2016. But it will be modified in its administration to displace more of the burden to PNG. This will include an expectation that four or five other regions will emulate the bold and successful establishment of the Simbu Writers Association by forming their own groups.

The formation of strong regional writers groups will ensure the sustainability of the Prize and the many benefits it brings - recognition, reward, mentoring, training, publication, comradeship....

The SWA is not only about writers and writing but about education, project management, development, literacy and national and provincial pride.

If by 2017, there has been no significant progress to shape an effective PNG-run Crocodile Prize, I would be pessimistic that it will continue in its present form or at all.

This would be a great shame and a poor reflection on the institution-building capacity of PNG.

Phil Fitzpatrick

So you guys reckon it's been a worthwhile effort but if it fades away life will go on.

That is such a typical PNG attitude!

I'll be interested in what other readers think.

Jimmy Drekore

Phil, yes we've travelled down that path and the odds are savagely true.

There are enthusiastic writers and equally talkers, however the amount of interest the Crocodile Prize has generated is astounding.

But the brutal question is who will lead after Phil and Keith?

May I also ask this question, who is willing to host the 2016 Crocodile Prize awards event?

Daniel Ipan Kumbon

I like reading Readers Digest, it carries some enduring stories.

Somebody will one day be motivated with the Crocodile Prize anthologies.

Yes I agree with Robin; 'The Crocodile Prize is "seed sown in soil". It is not wasted effort, Phil.

Life is not smooth, we stumble and fall, pick ourselves up again and move forward again. And it goes on. It has always been going on.

Robin Lillicrapp

It is probably better to view the efforts contributed to the Croc Prize initiative as "seed sown in soil."

Some will perish for want of the soil being infertile, and some will flourish for having fallen in fertile ground.

Either way, if or when the project reaches a terminal point, the work will have been done to instill in a generation of writers and readers a conscious awareness of literary potential otherwise denied them.

Out of that particular seed bed will arise the next generation of communicators.

Fear not, but in everything done till date, give thanks.

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