‘Oli kam, oli bagarap, oli go’– they came, they stuffed up, they left
12 January 2017
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.
Having worked in various volunteer capacities over the years, it is my observation that all such bodies rely mostly upon the commitment, energy and drive of a comparative handful of enthusiasts.
Basically, many people are willing to devote a relatively small amount of their time and resources to a particular cause, while very few are willing to give it their maximum effort.
It takes a very determined and single minded person to create and drive a whole organisation to mobilise public support and achieve a defined goal. Such champions are as rare as hen's teeth.
In the case of PNG Attitude, it is largely Keith's creation and he is pivotal to its existence and success. It appears to be largely the same for the Crocodile Prize, with a few notable supporters like Phil and some folk in PNG too.
I can sympathise with the folk in PNG in so far as they are trying to create some sort of literary capacity in a country with no tradition of using the written word. They will need to undertake a very long and arduous process if they are to breath self sustaining life into the embryonic PNG literary scene.
The bottom line is that people like Keith and Phil will not be around forever. Someone in PNG has to step up and take on the role of champion in their place. It will probably be a largely thankless task, but it has to be done if even the idea of PNG literature is to survive, let alone thrive.
I think that it is no accident that no country lacking a thriving indigenous literature has ever made a truly successful transition to modernity. The written word is inextricably linked with a successful, modern civilisation.
So, the challenge is before PNG. The question is, can anyone rise to it?
Posted by: Chris Overland | 13 January 2017 at 07:33 PM
It looks like Emmanuel and his team have got everything on track even though it's a bit late.
Watch out for announcements soon.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 13 January 2017 at 03:52 PM
I can see clearly now why Jimmy Drekore did not want to take on the leadership role for the 2016 Crocodile Prize organisation. He refused it point blank when I recommended him at the Kundiawa presentations in 2015.
Mathias Kin talked about having a permanent home for the Crocodile Prize. But nothing we said in Kundiawa was permanent.
Baka Bina volunteered and selected a couple of us to assist him organise the 2016 Crocodile Prize. But a lack of communication, a lack of interest, the need to raise the necessary funds and a drive to get the prize going involves a lot of hard work. That has put us all down.
It is my experience that organising the Enga Writers Association is a lot of work. I have yet to find sponsors, patrons and writers who are interested to contribute something towards literary development in PNG.
But at least I have started somewhere, even if its working with only a few interested individuals.
If what Baka Bina says here holds water, credit will have to go to Emmanuel Peni when he announces winners, reveals who the sponsors are and produces an anthology for 2016.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 13 January 2017 at 02:09 PM
I think Keith will be catching up with Baka Bina and Emmanuel Peni in March and will get a better idea of what's going on then.
We've given it our best shot and have now run out of steam.
You can help people for so long but eventually it all becomes too much.
I am looking forward a great deal to talking with Baka, Emmanuel and other friends in Port Moresby. We have a lot to discuss. I'll provide more information on my visit to Moresby, Goroka and Kundiawa in the near future - KJ
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 13 January 2017 at 01:08 PM
Phil, if the Crocodile Prize is floundering, it would be a pity to see it die on the vine after all the work you and Keith have done with it.
Why don't we continue with it, as an on-line production only, until local writers are ready to resume management of it. You could continue to edit the stories, I could edit the poetry, Keith could continue with on-line publication, and Bob could scrounge prize money from wherever, until local counterparts are ready to take over from us.
This would mean that without hard-copy printing and distribution, the prize would be confined to the computer elite and would not reach village level.
But an on-line production of the Crocodile Prize would be better than no production at all, and we could keep it going until local writers are ready to take it over from us.
Posted by: Chips Mackellar | 13 January 2017 at 10:55 AM
I already quit hanging in there, Phil!
Posted by: Francis Nii | 12 January 2017 at 10:59 PM
I think I'm angry on Manu's behalf Baka. He has put a huge effort into keeping the prize going but he has been doing it largely by himself. Everyone seems to have let him down. People whinging from the sidelines about the delay haven't offered to help.
I'm fairly confident that he will pull it all together in the next month or so with Jordan and your help but it doesn't look good for the future.
As I say above, it's not rocket science. The idea is fairly simple. All it requires is a bit of effort and a modicum of commitment.
If anyone has read Manu's book, 'Sibona' they will realise that he is a very talented writer. If there had been a book category in the 2016 competition he would have won it easily.
He is a writer and he is committed to PNG literature.
I'm not sure about PNG's other writers.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 12 January 2017 at 08:23 PM
Kundiawa 2015 is still vivid - me standing in front of very exciting people while I tried to control the evident enthusiasm. And we SWA planned to drive over the Bismarck to Bundi and down to beautiful Madang to see the solwara. Tasol, em ok, maybe 2017
Posted by: mathias kin | 12 January 2017 at 07:29 PM
When I took on that lead role in Kundiawa, it was well and with much enthusiasm from all. Unfortunately it died down immediately thereafter as the committee were long distance and could not communicate effectively at times or were incommunicado for a duration or our ideas did not gel.
It was then down to a few doing what could be done well by a group of enthusiasts.
It was bad timing for me to get some acting postings going into the end of 2015 and into the whole of 2016. I was left in a position to impress at these acting postings to warrant holding down these positions so could not rally the time needed for the Crocodile cause.
Mid year Emmanuel Peni came voluntarily to the rescue to assist the COG. We swapped roles, he taking over the leadership, me part time committee member. It was one person - Peni and with some assistance to progress the Crocodile Prize.
You can already see the Simbu SWA experience where you 'walk and do things' is not the same in Port Moresby where you 'bus to keep appointments and wait' for the mundane of things.
Time is a luxury unless your employer is generous. Thanks Phil you did the edits for the Anthology then.
I do not have the grace to easily converse to get people to the cause - Peni can but he came late. Wish we had the likes of Phil here. It could have be marvellous to have a bit more of Phil and Peni but it is not good in retrospect, is it.
Some things are not clicking into place yet. Mr Peni has some organisational glitches that will be ironed out.
He sent an email for a 19 January date for the presentation of prizes but that has since been changed by the venue donors. I'm sure Peni is trying to tidy things up before he can make the announcements, that's his call.
In case there is a misconceived thinking, there were funds to operate with, Peni is running the Crocodile Prize on air and will still be doing so going forward in 2017.
A few of us coins-coins-ed together to pay for the registration fees with IPA. All prize monies donated by the sponsors, I hear is the fixed amount of the prize monies and that would surely mean no trophies unless Peni has a bag of miracles to even pay for the tickets of the winners to the awards night.
We are in dire need for like people in Port Moresby to come around and forward to assist, we'd like that going forward in 2017.
Port Moresby contributors to the PNG Attitude have not put their hands up nor are they voicing concern here on this blog.
It is a pity that conversation cannot happen on this crucial thing. This conversation will die a natural death like the previously time Phil raised the crocodile tears herein.
Having said all that I'm sure that the two things that Peni will want to see happen are the awards night and the publication of the anthology.
Posted by: Baka Bina | 12 January 2017 at 02:55 PM
Very sorry to hear that there is a problem with the Crocodile Prize for 2016. I hope the organizers will speak out about the problems that they are facing, maybe we can help, and notify us when they think the results may be made known.
Posted by: Barbara Short | 12 January 2017 at 07:58 AM
I suspect there are too many people in PNG capable of organising and facilitating said events that are, nonetheless, overwhelmed by a state of near penury that dominates thinking, and dispels abilities.
Even if they were paid something for their efforts; unless it was more than a nominal amount, the vice-like grip of circumstance remains to bedevil good intentions.
The fact remains that the task, about which the Croc' Prize is a crowning feature, is of a degree of importance to PNG social equity that demands measures and manpower to help maintain the initiative and momentum already achieved but threatened to be lost.
Perhaps some degree of subsidy is required to enable a facilitator in PNG to attend needed tasks of mobilising and executing without the burden of circumstances hindering the effort. Ting ting, tasol.
Posted by: `Robin Lillicrapp | 12 January 2017 at 06:21 AM
Phil, you hit the nail on head. Something is definitely going wrong somewhere. Infact some of us just forgot all about the Crocodile Prize.
Maybe, organizers don't communicate with each other to move forward.
From the SWA experience I can confidently say that because in SWA we had a team of like mimded people in the team to make things happen. We had a Jimmy Drekore, a most honored and gifted president who can create something out of nothing. We have Mathias Kin who is a brilliant orator and organizer with great leadership qualities. Then we have Francis Nii who is a great planner and programmer of activities. Then comes Jimmy Awagl a no-nonsense vice president who confronts local sponsors headon. When the team meets tasks are given with deadlines to meet with the president breathing down our necks on the phone. And all updates ares are made public by the president through PNG Attitude. And the end result is often a success story.
It different in 2016. Everything is quiet. There is a dead silence. The question now that keeps the contributors in suspense is 'Will the winners be announced?
Yeah Phil, you have a point there.
Posted by: Arnold Mundua | 12 January 2017 at 06:19 AM