As we approach our fortieth year, the people deserve good leaders
The Crocodile Prize – is this the end of five wonderful years?

The would’ve, could’ve, should’ve been story of PNG

Bell_Rashmii AmoahRASHMII BELL

AMID her freshly sautéed gnocchi being consumed on the steps on the Colosseum, a dear friend was interrupted by my panicked email message.

Despite being on the other side of the world, deservedly indulgent in her long-awaited family vacation, she tore herself away from the Neapolitan sauce to respond to my ’ploise explain’.

Whilst she was out of Australia, a disaffected posse of her countrymen had reared their ugly hatreds.

As an immigrant of this sunburnt country, I was anxious. A ‘civil’ group, with a name – Reclaim Australia - that made one think indigenous folk were seeking land ownership, was rallying the troops.

The troops being a bunch of misfits with a mismatched understanding of the valuable contributions of immigrants to Australian society.

While the whole thing was ridiculous and deserving of nil ink-time, it happened around the time Phil Fitzpatrick pointed us to the definition of oxymoron.

In case you missed it, an oxymoron is a phrase that contains conflicting or opposite concepts. Like ‘civil’ group.

I was unable to contain an idiotic smile bursting from the sides of my mouth. And some giggles until, a few mental paroxysms later, I revisited my own recent encounter with a hate brigade.

Truth be told, beyond our friendly Melanesian smiles, Papua New Guineans exercise overt racism towards immigrants, foreigners and expatriates. Our words take on a more derogatory tone as audience numbers increase.

Fortunately our targets are mostly cushioned from the brunt of our bigotry by the camouflage of Tok Pisin and tok ples.

One of those Papua New Guineans could very well have been one of the hoodlums in my own hate brigade, from whom I hot-footed it: suitcase packed; passport in bilum; ticket in hand.

In those moments I experienced the fear and uncertainty every Asian, European, African, Middle-Eastern, Pacific Islander and American must feel when confronted by disgruntled Papua New Guineans calling for sackings, beatings, torchings, carjackings and exile.

Self-scripted speculation often triumphs over the facts.

Always it is the foreigner who has stolen our job. It is the expatriate exploiting our resources. The immigrants starting businesses that should be reserved for nationals. We Papua New Guineans can’t progress because all they do is take, take, take!

But what happens when we are on the receiving end?

Phil Fitzpatrick’s open letter to PNG Attitude readers and contributors about the future of the Crocodile Prize Organisation was deserving of a much greater response from Papua New Guineans.

The silence was a reflection of our weak commitment to the development, promotion and enrichment of PNG literature and writers.

I’ve had a lifetime of my countrymen reminding me to ‘check my privilege’, so have developed the fastidious habit of evaluating issues by balancing my middle class international education against my ANGAU (Australia New Guinea Administration Unit) government residential compound roots.

Many silver spoons, when peeled back, reveal specks of rust.

So, with an emotion-fuelled concoction that is a mixture of ‘blok pikinini’ nerves and privileged-class boldness, let me lay it out.

When it comes to national identity, Papua New Guineans exude it with boisterous shouts. When it comes to national endeavour, we remain tight-lipped; unwilling to facilitate progress unless it brings us personal glory, wealth and a two-shades- too-dark, tinted glass, Toyota 10-seater LandCruiser.

Papua New Guineans aren’t ignorant. We do care. We care a lot. But we need to get involved in the growth of our country through engaging in the issues that really matter.

It seems a move for a nation-wide banning of televised State of Origin matches generates more anguish than the bleak realities of a society absent of a literature base driven by nationals.

We see a fashion show more deserving of endorsement than a literary organisation.

A critical analysis of ‘chiffon overlay’ is more pressing than a nation of people who can analyse and articulate arguments.

It is power suits in an air-conditioned Women In Business conference versus the cash crop ‘maket mamas’ squatting in squalid conditions in the scorching midday sun.

Where’s the outrage?

Hypocrisy is best when served stupid.

I can’t get my head around it. I’ve tried, I’ve tried. But I’m just not there yet.

Here’s a chance for Papua New Guineans to be handed the baton to take to the helm of cementing the permanence of literature in our society.

A small handful of Papua New Guineans have answered and dedicated themselves to the call. These are the true patriots.

It’s a mammoth task no doubt. Those of us fortunate enough to have had the no-strings-attached professional editing services of the Crocodile Prize Organisation know that it is a labour of love.

It’s a privilege bestowed upon so many who otherwise would not have an avenue to express ideas and opinions about Australia and Papua New Guinea and provide commentary about the motherland’s state of being.

Perhaps we’ve become so comfortable with someone else doing things for us it’s become part of our repertoire.

I detest this as much as I detest the Papua New Guineans who are in positions of advantage but refuse to come to the aid of the Crocodile Prize Organisation, an act that would assure Papua New Guineans that, through administrative and financial assistance, the development of a PNG literature and its writers would be guaranteed.

So by default, I call out the billionaires, millionaires, movers, shakers and persons of influence in PNG who’ve read Phil Fitzpatrick’s commentaries and have taken nil action in response. Shame, shame, shame!

I call out the friends, family, acquaintances of billionaires, millionaires, movers, shakers and persons of influence in PNG who they haven’t approached and rallied support to put some literary backbone into PNG.

I take my ticket to stand in the queue that has the  familiar snake-like resemblance of Wara Sepik. Shame on me!

If the Crocodile Prize Organisation disbands after 2015, Papua New Guineans will do what we’ve developed a knack for.

We’ll just blame each other. And when we take a breather from that, will blame the government.

And when we’ve run out of steam, we will blame the expatriates, foreigners, immigrants. It will all be their fault. How dare they impose their belief upon us that Papua New Guineans are capable of managing their own literature.

So there’s no confusion down the track, let’s be clear. In Papua New Guinea everyone is in it for themselves.

Papua New Guinea is a dog-eat-dog society. Only the fittest survive by staying attached to the delusion that altruism is the responsibility of someone else.

Philanthropy is the obligation of everyone who is not me.

So please, for the love of self-sufficiency, stop asking us to do something that has no immediate reward for us.

If my wrath doesn’t invoke a change of heart, I can assume it’s safe to say it’ll be another all too sad and familiar chapter added to the ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve been’ story of Papua New Guinea. 

Comments

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Chris Overland

Those who read my forays onto PNG Attitude know that I am a keen amateur historian.

One of the lessons of history is that human advancement depends very critically upon the existence of a cultured, educated and motivated leadership group who, whether for selfish or altruistic reasons, change their society for the better.

This is frequently a pretty fraught process, with many failures and false starts and, sometimes, it ends in total catastrophy. Change is neither easy nor painless.

However, it seems to me that the more educated, literate and articulate the population of a given society is, the more likely it is to create paths to a better future without resort to either warfare with others or a great deal of civil disorder.

Basically, ignorance is the friend of political demagogues and charlatans, while knowledge exposes them and their lies for all too see.

For this reason alone, but for many others besides, PNG needs to develop and nurture a literate, inquisitive and questioning intellectual culture, which never hesitates to challenge the "great and the good" who, all too frequently, are neither of these things.

Historically, the written word has always served as the prime medium for doing this, whether through open critiques or slyly subversive fiction.

The Crocodile Prize is one means by which this important process can be cultivated and, indeed, some interesting material has already appeared that both highlights areas where dramatic social change is both wanted and needed, as well as proposing what that change might be.

As Keith Jackson has rightly pointed out, Papua New Guineans need to claim and "own" this process, not rely upon him and others to make it happen.

Rashmii Bell has thrown down the challenge to those who might be a part of an emergent intelligentsia in PNG.

The question is; who will take it up?

Rashmii Amoah

For me, the ideal scenario would be for COG to have a stronger presence throughout the country by having the Prizes' Anthologies incorporated into the education curriculum subjects - English, Social Sciences etc.

An opportunity for secondary school students to address topics, develop arguments and debate issues relevant to historical and contemporary PNG.

If not the education curriculum, how about extra-curricular activities like the Schools Debate or Think Tank Quiz etc?

Either way, the variety of written prose in the Anthologies would be a great reference point for students to look over and develop their own style - verbal and written.

But for this to happen, it needs the action (s) of one or a few Papua New Guineans who, either directly or indirectly are involved in COG activities, to get this pushed through and get things rolling.

Yes I know this is classic 'wantok system' but hey - the means justify the ends, right? Don't judge me. Haha.

But I do agree with you, Robin - I'm kicking myself that I left it until only this year to participate in the COG Awards. The editorial oversight on the pieces I have written, and others' too, has truly enriched my knowledge and appreciation of my land and people.

Robin Lillicrapp

It is a good thing that Keith and Phil have done to mount the Croc campaign upon the shoulders of PNG Attitude.

That factor ensures a degree of editorial sanctity and sanity effectively bypassing the otherwise desultory wantokism often intruding the indigenous blogosphere.
It will be interesting to view the responses to the call to step up and maintain or perpetuate what is clearly a winning formula for literary progression.

Will it automatically assume an indigenous mantle or will it be best served by a younger generation of legatees in Australia playing an assistance role.

To me, the task of developing the writers and seeing them develop an independent voice is more important than the notion of political clout achieved by official recognition.

That arena has been beset by self interest and sectarianism anyway. It is unlikely to change very much in the near future.

Whatever the outcome, it has been a pearl among thorns to have experienced the journey thus far under the editorial oversight of Keith and kindred workers.

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