Lone Fighter
Boroma and Manada, the first pigs

The problem with PNG – it's lacking some vital ingredients


I’M busily following along behind Inspector Metau as he brings his latest case to a conclusion in my third book on the inimitable detective’s pursuit of justice and a good life.

(You can download the first two Inspector Metau sagas here.)

The beauty of long-form writing is that it allows time for contemplation and reflection. The process also sparks satellite spot fires all over the place which I can then use to annoy the readers of PNG Attitude.

One of those little fires that has been smouldering for a while is the ongoing failure of Papua New Guinea to register significantly on the Australian consciousness.

This is something we have been discussing and deploring on PNG Attitude for what seems like forever.

In all those discussions the assumption has been made that it is somehow the fault of the Australian public.

I’m not sure that is wholly true.

I was reminded of this when I recently caught up with a friend with whom I had worked in post-independent Papua New Guinea.

One of his favourite lines whenever anything went wrong was, “It wouldn’t happen in a real country.”

He may have had something there.

I also recently came across a reference by Kiwi poet Allen Curnow written in 1945. He said New Zealand “remains to be created – should I say invented – by writers, musicians, architects, publishers; even a politician might help – and how many generations does that take?”

I think we can say the same thing about Papua New Guinea. It surely exists as a physical place of great beauty but that is not enough.

Curnow also said, “Triumphs in the fields of art, music and literature form nothing less than an emotional history, a kind of story-truth that cloaks itself around the skeleton of fact.”

Is Papua New Guinea still such a skeleton? I think so.

Why do America and the United Kingdom figure so prominently in our minds if not through their literature, art and music, much of it translated into the modern forms of film and television?

Curnow is right. It is those things that have contributed to America and Britain’s greatness, the greatness that Brexit voters and, just recently, Donald Trump think is slipping away.

But Trump is a businessman. He hasn’t got the sense to see beyond the deal. He doesn’t realise that America’s greatness first required a consciousness of itself. That is what spurred it to become the industrial, military and cultural powerhouse it is today.

Curnow died in 2001 but he would be pleased to know that his small country, through its literature, art and music, has now found the reality he thought was missing in 1945.

Papua New Guinea and its politicians could learn a valuable lesson by observing America, Britain, New Zealand and Australia and display a bit more interest in its writers, artists and musicians.

But I guess, like Trump, most of them see themselves as businessmen.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Bernard Corden

Who can forget the Oprah debacle. Her popularity always amazed me. However, just sit in the basement food hall in a suburban shopping mall or the JetSet departure lounge at a domestic airport terminal and you can easily understand why.

Bernard Corden

Our current treasurer is quite well-read.

Scott Morrison has two books on economics and has just finished colouring the first one in.

It was also quoted by Gough about Clyde Cameron.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Building a literary tradition is an essential part of building a nation.

This seems to have been a point missed by successive governments in Papua New Guinea. And perhaps the Australian administration before that.

Repressive governments seek to weaken nations by repressing its literature.

When any government reverts to austerity measures the first thing they attack is literature and the arts.

We saw this in Queensland when the previous premier, Campbell Newman, quickly axed the Premier's Literary Award (he gave the money to a television company so they could produce the reality show 'Big Brother' in Queensland - that's called Philistinism).

The Abbott/Turnbull government did the same thing with the Australia Council. August literary enterprises like Meanjin had the government support ripped out from under them.

Peter O'Neill's refusal to support PNG literature makes him a Philistine par excellence.

Chris Overland

I think that Phil is onto something here.

The Roman Empire had it origins in one particular city state within Italy. Early Rome had a social structure based upon familial or clan affiliations, together with a quite specific language and culture.

Thus, to be a Roman had a very specific meaning that was restricted to the citizens of Rome itself.

Later, as Rome's power grew, what is was to be Roman kept being redefined until eventually, people born and raised in places as disparate as Britain and Istanbul would proudly proclaim themselves to be Roman.

A somewhat similar situation arose with the British Empire where, for a long time, those who lived in the colonies still thought of themselves as British, as distinct from Canadian or Australian or Rhodesian.

So, in Australia for example, the first distinctively Australian passports were not issued until 1949 and, even then, the holders were described as "British subjects".

My point is that many of today's apparently well established nations were and remain incomplete or works in progress.

Scratch the surface of modern France or Germany or Britain and you soon find sometimes quite striking regional differences in culture, language and general attitudes.

It is arguable that the recent US presidential elections have exposed socio-economic and attitudinal fault lines that have lain dormant or forgotten for quite a long time.

It seems that, in our collective enthusiasm for our high technology, joined up world, we have overlooked or forgotten about the complex web of cultures, traditions and relationships that actually underpin virtually all nation states.

In this context then, PNG may be less of an outlier than may initially appear to be the case.

However, that said, I think Phil is right to say that shared literature, music, art and language are the glue that helps bind nations together. In the absence of this glue, any nation is necessarily a shaky edifice, all too prone to disintegration if placed under any significant pressure.

Military force alone has never, ever been enough to hold nation states together.

The typical founding fathers (and mothers) have always appealed to something bigger than just force or expediency. There has always had to be a big idea that underpins a successful nation state.

For example, I would say that Australia was born of a sense of the six colonies sharing a single, huge and isolated continent, having an often very harsh environment unlike any other and a largely common history.

The USA was conceived, firstly, through the cataclysmic upheaval of a revolution justified by the liberal philosophy of the enlightenment and then subsequently consolidated as a nation (as distinct from a collection of former colonies) through the agonies of a particularly hideous civil war.

The task of nation building begun first by the Australian colonial government and then, after independence, by Sir Michael Somare et al, is clearly far from complete.

However, viewed from an historic perspective, there are both promising signs of progress as well as clear evidence that there is a long way to go.

Fostering specific PNG forms of literature, arts and music is a necessary step in what will be a long journey to true nationhood and PNG Attitude is making a conspicuous contribution to this task.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)