ORGANISING Papua New Guinea’s national Crocodile Prize literary awards wasn’t particularly difficult.
In 2011 Keith Jackson and I were still actively working: Keith running a public relations company in Sydney and I fully occupied as a social mapper in Papua New Guinea and Australia.
The vast bulk of the planning and organisation was done by email. All our sponsors were contacted by email, including the Australian High Commission, which hosted the early awards ceremonies.
Even making the winner’s trophies was easy. I made up the wooden bases, stuck china crocodiles to them and attached a plaque engraved with the winner’s name by a local shop.
The most time consuming aspect was editing the entries. Producing the anthologies took up a bit of time, but it was a learning experience and once I’d mastered the system it was easy.
Even the costs were minimal. I just attached attendance at the awards ceremonies to my travel to PNG. The companies I worked for were understanding and supportive.
We did, of course, put extra money into it, especially Keith, but that was voluntary and wasn’t related to the actual organisation of the competition.
Given that experience, and the great success of the Prize, I remain mystified about why it seems so difficult to move the competition into Papua New Guinean hands.
When the organisation was handed over in 2013 it crashed badly and Keith and I had to rescue it late in that year.
The reason for the problems? Shall we say that certain vested interests were milking the Prize, which had quite a bit of money attached to it, before abandoning it when the hard work had to be done.
The 2014 and 2015 competitions went off well. Keith dealt with sponsors and edited and published selected entries on PNG Attitude as usual, I edited and prepared the anthology and produced the trophies and, in 2015, the Simbu Writer’s Association organised a splendid awards ceremony and writer’s workshop.
The Crocodile Prize had been once again placed in PNG hands and, in the craggy mountains around Kundiawa, had performed wonderfully this time around.
What happened in 2016 is still largely unknown. I’ve given up trying to find excuses for the delay in announcing the winners and producing the anthology.
Turning simple propositions into complex debacles seems to be a PNG specialty.
At the highest level you can see this happening in government. PNG receives massive royalties from its resources and generous aid from Australia (a billion bucks annually) and elsewhere.
There are plenty of competent professionals in the country capable of handling the more sophisticated aspects of government.
On that basis, the country should be humming as the envy of developing countries everywhere. Instead it is well on the road to becoming a basket case.
You might blame corruption, but even after the pigs have had their fill at the trough there should still be plenty left over for everyone else.
Australian politicians have also got snouts firmly planted in public trough but we still manage to run a reasonably successful democracy. So why can’t PNG?
PNG has been independent for more than 40 years now. That’s at least two generations and heaps of time to wrinkle out any problems Australia left behind. Plenty of time to produce honourable people capable of running the show efficiently.
Everyone knows what the problems are; they are paraded daily on social media and in the mainstream press.
And they are all fixable with a bit of effort, organisation and commitment. There are a lot of talented people in PNG capable of the task.
But, like the Crocodile Prize, except for one or two dedicated individuals working against the odds, that effort, organisation and commitment never seems to surface.
It is an enduring mystery to me and a great disappointment. And I know a lot of Australians who were in PNG prior to independence feel the same way.