Do nothing Australia is a backslider in the Pacific
Australia’s own history of apartheid in PNG

Treated right, PNG literature can help cement the relational bond


“Any act of love, however—no matter how small—lessens anxiety’s grip, gives us a taste of tomorrow, and eases the yoke of our fears. Love, unlike virtue, is not its own reward. The reward of love is peace of mind, and peace of mind is the end of man’s desiring” – Harper Lee

FOLLOWING the recent death of Harper Lee, her first essay contributed to Vogue magazine, Love – In Other Words, was edited and republished online.

The April 1961 meditation on the dimensions of love is a most decorous work from the author of the iconic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

I was moved by the essay’s poignant words and shared it with a dear friend. One with whom. For I felt Ms Lee, in articulating an indifference for distinctions between the various types of love, captured best our decade-long persistence at what has been, at worst, a tumultuous union.

I was moved by the essay’s poignant words and shared it with a dear friend with whom I’ve stumbled through countless broken, repaired and restored versions of friendship.

I felt Harper Lee, in articulating an indifference for distinctions between various types of love, captured exactly our decade-long persistence with a tumultuous relationship.

In my youth, my friend represented the green light that entranced the lone figure of Jay Gatsby standing on his jetty at night. My friend was the first Papua New Guinean I’d met who shared and sustained a devotion to literature and, with it, a restless harbouring of writing.

In spare moments, he and I would commit to paper our fears and hopes for our country. We wished that, through words, we would find others who shared similar sentiments and offered solutions.

Ultimately we desired to capture the attention of not only our countrymen but people beyond our borders.

As it turned out, PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize literary competition have been prominent in facilitating this wider reading of my voice.

Without a doubt, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Papua New Guineans lingering in the shadows waiting for a convincing signal that their voices are of importance.

But whether it’s lack of interest or an overwhelming lack of confidence maintaining this quandary, I unequivocally agree with a recent comment made by academic and writer John Kamasua that “young people in the country do not appreciate the enormous power of reading and writing”. And I feel immersed in that burgeoning despair - again.

Many people have succumbed to an overriding trend of confining their words to social media avenues, where grammar, comprehension and audience selection is at one’s discretion.

So much so that any assumption that Papua New Guinean beneficiaries of a higher level of education can demonstrate eloquence in written expression should be tucked away and put to rest.

Perhaps temporarily tucked away. Victim-blaming stagnates progress and I wouldn’t want to do that.

Perhaps, instead, the onus for an improved literature should be placed on the shoulders of the nation’s decision-makers who have failed to provide avenues for Papua New Guineans who, through written expression, articulate best their love for country and people.

But – let’s face it – writing with the intention of shared viewing is extremely daunting. Particularly if steering clear of the echo-chamber of domestic mainstream media consumed by the PNG audience.

And so it is enticing to utilise the forum provided by PNG Attitude as a place where the breadth of subject matter, depth of debate and articulation of creativity and literary skill frequently produce flashes of brilliance.

It’s enough to set any aspiring writer in contemplation mode. Permanently!

Tell me, what contributor to PNG Attitude doesn’t agonise over each paragraph to ensure cohesion, vocabulary and clarity of expression? And that’s after the piece has been submitted for publishing! Or perhaps it’s just me.

PNG Attitude showcases a plethora of high ability and it is my fellow Papua New Guinean writers of whom I am particularly fond and from whom I draw ideas.

I’ve found a handful so far, but am aware that, over time, many more will influence and enhance the depth of my writing.

With the launch of Sean Dorney’s The Embarrassed Colonist, an informative debate developed in The Interpreter; an online publication of the Sydney-based think tank, the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Jenny Hayward-Jones summarised Mr Dorney’s key argument as, “Australia needs to acknowledge its colonial past in order to move to a deeper level of engagement with the Papua New Guinea of today.”

Mr Dorney, a former long-serving ABC Papua New Guinea correspondent, coined the term ‘embarrassed colonist’ because, he said, “of our seeming reluctance to fully address our history in PNG and look rigorously at the consequences”.  

Australia’s blindness to its colonial past and the repercussions of this were critically examined in Phil Fitzpatrick’s ‘Why don’t Australians care about PNG? Is it the writers? and Max Uechtritz’s ‘ Plenty of great stories still to be mined in PNG’  - both of which present  strong arguments for the mechanism imperative to bridging the gap identified by Mr Dorney and subsequent commentators. 

Phil Fitzpatrick argues rightfully that a thriving literary culture so vital to fostering a national narrative is absent from Papua New Guinea. This is in turn may be attributed to Australia’s waning interest in its former colony.

Max Uechtritz’s reference to an Australian media that’s ‘myopic’ in its approach to reporting about PNG reflects the undercurrents of apathy that are so evident.

A giant leap toward supporting, promoting and encouraging the growth of PNG’s literary culture is imperative and required from Australia.

And I’m not talking about vamping up the already concentrated efforts of 20-foot containers laden with second-hand books or child-focused library and resource centres.

It is established and emerging Papua New Guinean writers who must be supported.

What is required, as is encouraged in Australia, are designated spaces where Papua New Guineans are supported to cultivate and enhance their promising literary skills to (re)educate the former colonial administrator of how its presence in PNG impacted upon the country’s mood and matter to the present day.

Along with PNG Attitude,  the Papua New Guinea Association of Australian has, for the past two years and again in 2016, recognised the significance of Papua New Guinean writers through its publishing program associated with the Crocodile Prize.

The same can be said of the PNG and Australian sponsors and supporters of the Crocodile Prize since 2011.

The PNGAA’s annual pledge to print the Crocodile Prize Anthology is a sure indication to Papua New Guinean writers that their love of country and literature is supported by people who understand its importance for both PNG and Australia.

Unlike the two-person friendship mentioned at the outset of this essay, the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea embodies generations of individuals with whom rests questions and answers that might dispel the perceived ignorance and blindness often debated on PNG Attitude and recently written about by Sean Dorney.

If not developed and genuinely supported, the literary output of PNG writers will probably not contribute to the deeper level of engagement characterised by Max Uechtritz as “six decades of colonial rule and a century of deep, genuine bonds will be a mere footnote in history”.


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Daniel Kumbon

Going to Brisbane Writers Festival is not in search of another Keith or Phil. It won't interfere with their operations and our leaning towards them for invaluable help.

But wouldn't it be nice to expose PNG Writers to events like the Brisbane Writers Festival, particularly those who have written books? How can we bond with Australian writers at a professional level?

I met Bob Cleland in Kundiawa last September and exchanged signed books with him. He is the son of a former Colonial Administrator, and his family is a generous supporter of the Crocodile Prize. Above all he is an author. The moments we shared are simply priceless. A framed picture and his book ‘Big Road’ will always be in my home.

I agree with Barbara that PNG is an adult country, 40 years old and in the prime of her life.

Michael Dom

Agreed Daniel - attend the festival to share our writing and grow from that, learn from what others are doing.

But to keep moving literature and literary pursuits going in PNG is a job that is entirely up to us.

Keith has played his part. Let's not look for another Keith.

Here's an idea - independence.

Taking a long hard look in the mirror should remind us, conscientiously if not physically, that we have not gotten there alone.

And it's because of the efforts of everyone who has put so much effort into getting us this far that we should keep going.

Bring that to Brisbane, and if I can squeeze in the time, I'll meet you there.

Rashmii Bell

Thank you all.

Phil - I appreciate your understanding and interpretation of my piece - that literature has the ability to unite/ sustain (old) friendships. When I wrote this, the translation I had was that Jay Gatsby is PNG (particularly its's writers), and the distant green light (Daisy Buchanan - the way I interepreted the story) is Australia. Both countries can keep working at this relationship for an outcome that I know we all hope turns out better than what is was is far Jay and Daisy.

Harper Lee's essay is quite special and I do recommend a read of it.

Vikki John

Hey, it is Happy International Women's Day today. Any female writers out there?

Women need to recalibrate feminist action so that it's not just about them advancing in society on men's terms. Image: Shutterstock
By Eva Cox
There was a 1970s badge that declared:
Women who want equality with men lack ambition.
This statement neatly sums up the broad intentions of second-wave feminists to create radical shifts of gender power. On International Women's Day 2016, looking back, I suggest we failed to pursue that agenda and settled for much less. We achieved formal legal equality over the subsequent decade, but moving past that into wider social equity changes seems definitely to have stalled.
What went wrong?
We knew then that legal equality was only the starting point. We understood that real gender equity would require radical changes to macho cultural power structures. So we planned and discussed the ways we could revalue what matters and eliminate gender-biased, macho-designed cultural dominance.
Despite fixing most of the legal barriers, the cultural changes failed to follow. There were other changes happening. By the 1980s the arrival of neoliberalism<> as the dominant political paradigm slowed most social progress, as market models took over. These changed the political focus from progressive social change to market choices and individualised material success.
[Eva Cox ... neoliberalism changed the political focus from progressive social change to market choices and individualised material success. Image: Women Who Kick Ass]
Eva Cox ... neoliberalism changed the political focus from progressive social change to market
choices and individualised material success. Image: Women Who Kick Ass
This approach also emphasised machismo and reinforced gender inequities, because market competition rewards materialist views of what matters. The more collectivist social roles that are part of our social infrastructure - and often heavily feminised - are devalued and considered private concerns.
Our early support for increasing the proportion of women in positions of power was not driven by wanting more women sharing male privilege, but a belief that feminists could infiltrate and make the social and cultural changes we wanted. Now, the increasing numbers of women allowed to join men in positions of power and influence are mostly prepared to support the status quo, not to seriously increase gender equity.
So 41 years after International Women's Year, Australian (and New Zealand) women are still the very much the second sex, insofar as we are permitted limited share of power and resources in the public sphere, but on macho market terms.
What is the second sex? It was neatly defined in Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex<> analysis of how gender roles were socially designed:
One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.
She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute - she is the Other.
Still the second sex
In Australia, women are still clearly the "other". Our once radical social movement has been diverted into good works such as women's refuges, counting female victims of violence<> and calling out sexism. While all these are necessary, there is little focus on offering serious alternatives.
Too many women's groups are plaintively asking for better access to the options open to men, on men's terms. The current groups seem to have lost the necessary optimism to identify and lead serious changes to the nasty, inequitable and fading market model which not only excludes the social but is showing serious flaws.
The damage to social well-being that results from the reliance on unfettered markets is much wider than just the continued poor status of women. There are clear indications of social distress in many developed countries whose austerity cuts have created serious inequality.
A review of current public policy priorities at the local level shows few social goals and policies that indicate any serious efforts to make Australia fairer and create better social well-being. The long-term over-emphasis on GDP and financial growth is exacerbating inequalities, with changes focused mainly on punishing the unemployed.
The market model stresses paid work only, completely ignoring feminised unpaid, underpaid, often uncounted roles and tasks, most notably the raising of children. These are not included in GDP, but are essential to good social functioning.
This shift is clearly illustrated by proposed changes to the funding of children's services, whose role will move from complementing community/family to servicing GDP growth. In the process, "progress for women" has been reduced to increasing their participation in paid work.
This pattern appears in parenting payments and other areas where unpaid contributions are ignored. Similar issues arise in Closing the Gap failures, which emphasise white male models and ignore the value of good social relationships that were once also more important in Western societies.
Time for a radical rethink
In the lead-up to the 2016 election, voters increasingly distrust the major parties, whose economic emphasis turns them off. Rather than leave solutions to the current holders of power, or some populist alternatives, we need feminist-led setting of social equity goals.
Can some good feminist ideas reignite the light on the hill to find ways out of current political dilemmas? Let's commemorate International Women's Day this year by offering some bold initiatives that show our concerns are universal, albeit from feminist standpoint. Here are some starting points:

* devise and discuss good social policy goals, which prioritise gender and other equity outcomes, and make them central to the coming election;
* revalue the rewarding the skills and time put into care, relationships, feelings and other social needs that require attention and commitment;
* broaden the agenda and revise our assumptions about what matters to make sure that gender biases are removed from roles such as caring;
* ensure that men recognise their need to be liberated from the limited assumptions about masculinity that also limit their choices and lives;
* abolish the term "women's issues": these are social issues that affect everyone, and the label stereotypes women as the second sex who have special interests; and
* acknowledge that women cannot "have it all" because men can't either, but ensure that both can take on fairly shared responsibilities for essential paid and unpaid roles.
These are starting points for addressing deficits in mainstream politics and putting social well-being high on political agendas. We require feminist perspectives to set social goals that are sustainable, and create social resilience.
These necessary strengths are undermined by the macho tendencies in current political directions. We need to recognise the importance of social connections, cultural needs and care of others that economics doesn't cover; to balance material and social stability.
And, as de Beauvoir said, women need to decline to be the "other", to refuse to be a party to the deal. This would mean for women to renounce all the advantages conferred upon them by their alliance with the superior caste. That's feminism.
Feminist and author Eva Cox is a professorial fellow at Jumbunna IHL, University of Technology Sydney. This article was first published in The Conversation<

Daniel Kumbon

How can we promote books like Man of Calibre, Sibona, Raitman Fitman etc. Copies could be put on display there for Australians to sample at a major event like that. The internet is there but wouldn't it be better to have physical interaction?

You stand in front of a mirror, and you see yourself only.

And sorry Keith if I offended you.

I was teasing you, Daniel. You certainly did not offend me - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

That's an interesting idea Daniel.

I'll come down and say hello.

When is it on?

Michael Dom

You miss the point of a petition Daniel, we didn't need to convince them - we needed to find out exactly where they stood and how they might help us out.

The petition was not supported. Therefore we found out exactly what we needed to know.

Sorry, mate, I think it's up to us.

If we want to find a replacement for Keith Jackson and the Attitude blog our first stop should be the mirror.

Take your time, get the right people, plan it well. I don't intend to shuffle off to the ples matmat any time soon - KJ

Daniel Kumbon

We didn't convince our politicians with that petition.

Michael Dom

Searching for...what exactly?

Daniel Kumbon

Great story Rashmi. You argue well.

I suggest some of us PNGean writers go to this year's Brisbane Writers Festival and strike up friendships with established authors, editors, writers, publishers, journalists, book reviewers, agents etc. That’s where we could find like-minded Australians who have some concern for us and might want to help us. And it will be good for the experience.
Keith, Phil, Bob, Chris, Paul, Peter, Barbara, Robin, Gary and so many other writers and commentators of PNG Attitude have concern for PNG literature and I see them guide us along to strengthen it. But PNG Attitude nearly shut down its doors. And Keith cannot live for ever.
I suggest we PNGean writers must make a move ourselves and start searching. I mean to go down under. Who is with me on the idea?

Michael Dom

Government support for literature, books, libraries and information services, what-have-you - it's this way with PNG: I had to come to Adelaide to find a book (with a CD pack) describing pig production In Papua New Guinea.

In that book were pictures of villagers keeping pigs at Koge, Sinesine - ancestral home of my tribe.

It's that chainsaw-the-carving symbolism again - we just trash everything that's unique and precious about ourselves, including our stories.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've got a relative by marriage who I have just helped publish a book that's been lurking in a bottom drawer for the last 20 years*.

He's now heavily into promoting it, doing newspaper interviews, book launches etc. He's not well and getting on a bit but it seems to have given him a new lease on life.

As part of that process he asked me to track down his old best friend, who he hasn't seen in thirty odd years. I managed to do this on Facebook (old geezers apparently use it too). Now they've arranged to meet in Noosa next week.

After reading Rashmii's excellent article it occurred to me that Australia and PNG are a bit like old friends who have drifted apart and not spoken to each other for years.

If literature can bring a couple of old mates together I don't see why it shouldn't work with a couple of old, friendly countries.

*The Master Marksman by James Smith, Pukpuk Publications, 2016, available on Amazon - a rattling good read for military/political enthusiasts.

Barbara Short

The PNG-AUS Relationship - how can it be improved? By a song? Maybe! By good articles by a PNG writer in Australian papers - maybe!

Maybe, if Rashmii Bell got a job on an Australian newspaper we might get some improvement of this relationship. It would no longer be "colonial" in attitude.

Also I have just recommended to my Sepiks that they elect Allan Bird to the next Parliament and make him the Foreign Minister.He could stand up to Julie Bishop in a nice way.

PNG has now "grown up" and wants to be treated on an equal footing. It wants a better deal on trade.... with Australia buying more of its exports.. from taro up to tinned fish.

Also it wants Australia to speak out against the SABL's and the logs going off to Malaysia or China or where-ever, and turning up in Sydney as lovely cheap chairs and tables!

PNG is now an adult country and is heading towards 20 million and it needs help. Its politicians think "development" is foreign investment in big mines or commercial farms. Meanwhile the regional hospitals are falling down, the village aid posts are left to the churches to stock, and the schools in the outback PNG places are very primitive!

Port Moresby zooms ahead while the regional towns like Wewak are full of partly educated, unemployed youth, with nothing to do, which naturally leads them to get involved with drugs, get very upset with life and end up fighting each other.

I'm getting off the topic.. yes, PNG writers need to be heard.. both in PNG .. in the PNG newspapers, for heaven's sake, and in Australia.

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