AT THE Brisbane Writers Festival yesterday, before an audience of over 50 people including Papua New Guinea’s consul-general Maggie Moi-he, four of PNG’s top writers showed they were not only giants of the keyboard but splendid performers on the international stage.
As representatives of their country and interpreters of Melanesian literary expression, Francis Nii, Martyn Namorong, Rashmii Amoah Bell and Daniel Kumbon - with style, intellect and charisma - put in a superb performance at the first ever PNG presentation at an Australian literary festival.
The event culminated an especially big week for wheelchair-bound Nii, who departs Brisbane this morning on his home journey, while Namorong and Kumbon move to Sydney to fulfill official engagements with two leading Australian writers' organisations and a special PNG lunch to mark the anniversary of independence.
As well as impressing Australians with a sharp mind and quiet humour – “my legs might not function but [tapping his head] this is where it happens” – Nii’s consistent determination to master his disability found many allies.
These included Murray Bladwell and members of the Toowong Rotary Club who invited him to Rotary’s Donations-in-Kind warehouse in Brisbane.
There Nii was surprised and delighted to receive a new collapsible wheelchair (to add to the lightweight conveyance bought for him by PNG Attitude readers a few years back) and a notebook PC to replace one stolen some months ago. In this photo you see him in the workshop with Rotarians Eddie Berkowitz, Ted Horsburgh and Murray Bladwell.
The PNG session at the festival took the form of a panel discussion, but - after a recognition of traditional Australian indigenous landowners by Namorong - began with a first class exposition by Nii of the establishment, growth and challenges facing the Simbu Writers Association.
While focusing on a single province, Nii’s presentation effectively revealed the broader problems confronting PNG writing – particularly the failure of institutional backing to emerge, Nii holding both government and aid sectors responsible.
In one of his comments, Kumbon brilliantly highlighted another major issue – with authors now recognised and rewarded and books being published there are still major difficulties in getting them to readers.
“It’s like cooking a meal without eating it,” Kumbon exclaimed.
The panel discussion, smoothly anchored by a skilled Martyn Namorong, covered many topics ranging from gender issues, domestic violence, social justice and equality, land alienation, the cultural values that drive Melanesian writers and book marketing.
The second half of the program was devoted to audience questions which included Nii being asked to read one of his poems – which he did with flair and emotional power.
The absorbing hour was capped off with a short statement by consul-general Moi-he who expressed her own great enthusiasm for boosting PNG literature and indicated that this would be translated into greater government interest in future.
Moi-he, a long term senior PNG foreign affairs official, will be ending her term in Queensland at the end of this year and is expected to return to Waigani to be responsible for PNG-Australia relations.
She presented Namorong with an elegant PNG tie, about which he commented: "That moment you receive an official PNG government tie you know you are no longer an individual but a representative of your country."
As the audience left the auditorium, very satisfied with what they had seen and heard, they crowded around a table where Nii and Kumbon were signing and selling their books.
It was an accurate, pithy comment from this delightful and perceptive writer. The photo at left shows us at our first meeting after a long email correspondence.
It should be recorded that this historic trip could not have taken place without the support of Gummi Fridriksson of the Paga Hll Development Company and Prof Ken McKinnon.
Jointly they provided the critical funds and personal support required to get this exciting project off the ground. Now to start planning for 2017.