For PNG women a beautiful thought becomes an iconic work
17 March 2017
Here's my talk from last night's Brisbane launch of My Walk to Equality, organised superbly by Murray Bladwell and attended by a standing room only crowd who purchased every available book. So it was two great launches in Port Moresby and Australia for this wonderful first collection of writing by Papua New Guinean women
THE PNG Attitude blog began in 2006 as a small-scale effort to connect people who had attended the Australian School of Pacific Administration, ASOPA.
The full story of the blog can be found in Phil Fitzpatrick’s entertaining book, ‘Fighting for a Voice’ (Pukpuk Publications, 2016), which you can download for free.
ASOPA was a training place for kiaps, teachers and other professionals sent to work in the then Territory of Papua and New Guinea and the people who graduated there had a fine esprit de corps that kept them in touch with each other down the years.
The blog, at first called ASOPA People, served that limited purpose of connection rather well but it was never going to survive on nostalgia alone and, after a couple of years, it expanded its horizons to incorporate more news and comment about modern Papua New Guinea, in the process spinning off a monthly magazine, The Mail (later The Review), which eventually accumulated more than 1,000 subscribers.
By 2008, the blog was beginning to assume its present form and more Papua New Guineans were beginning to interact with it. It changed its name to PNG Attitude in that year to emphasise the new focus.
It was from about here that social media began to get a good grip on PNG, aided by the accelerating growth of mobile phones, and the blog benefited from this, attracting many more Papua New Guinean readers and, importantly, writers.
2010 saw the blog's readership explode when, after Phil Fitzpatrick half jocularly suggested we run a writing competition for Papua New Guineans, he and I rapidly bid up the concept until it emerged as a fully-fledged national literary contest, the Crocodile Prize.
The first awards in the Crocodile Prize in 2011 triggered the beginning of a resurgence in Papua New Guinean creative writing, which had been pretty much comatose since the years surrounding independence in 1975.
After 2011 a related entity emerged, Pukpuk Publications, which began with the Crocodile Prize anthologies of 2011-14 before becoming a busy publishing house in its own right, one which now has 40 titles to its name.
In addition PNG Attitude spun off writers workshops, the mentoring of emerging authors, visits by PNG writers to Australia and, on the blog itself, many more Papua New Guinean writers and one of the most lively and informative comment columns going around.
Then in September last year, the Brisbane Writers Festival hosted the first Australian forum led by a group of PNG writers - Daniel Kumbon, Francis Nii, Martyn Namorong and Rashmii Amoah Bell.
Rashmii’s writing had first appeared in PNG Attitude in 2015, adopting a provocative and intellectually robust approach to exposing tough issues facing Papua New Guinean women and posing pathways for change.
In taking such a public stance on often incendiary issues, Rashmii had to her come to grips with her own personal struggles – but her articles and ideas kept flowing.
And it was amidst the stress and exhilaration of that first public appearance by PNG writers at the festival that Rashmii came up with an illuminating idea.
Would it not be marvellous if she could organise and edit the first collection of writing by the women of Papua New Guinea?
Rashmii dragooned Phil Fitzpatrick and me as co-conspirators and within three months she had a print-ready manuscript prepared containing the works of 45 PNG women writers.
It was a stupefying achievement.
It took another three months to secure financing and get the book prepared and printed until the 280-page My Walk to Equality launched in Port Moresby last week, on International Women’s Day, 8 March, and then in Brisbane yesterday.
It was a breath-taking moment - one that Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner in PNG, Bronte Moules, told me was astonishing – and, furthermore, the book itself proved to be an exceptional work with insightful and readable content, an intelligent structure and a beautifully evocative cover thanks to Tania Basiou.
Launching My Walk to Equality at Port Moresby's Stanley Hotel, Dame Carol Kidu revealed to the audience what she saw as one of the most compelling aspects of this book – despite the manifold challenges facing women in PNG, some of them life-threatening, this was not a book of complaint or regret or bitterness.
It was a book of hope whose effect was to inspire and render positive value to the often challenging role of women in Papua New Guinean society.
In a society where we may conjecture that many men are on a search for lost meaning as they move from a traditional through a transitional role to somewhere else, it is the women who seem to know what they must do.
My Walk to Equality has brought this, and many other issues, to the surface where we may all see what transpires.
The book would not exist without Rashmii translating a beautiful thought into a very important work.
Last night’s book launch in Brisbane paid full and deserved tribute to her for a superb accomplishment.
First two photos: Keith and Rashmii speaking at the book launch; lower photo - Rashmii with Tess Newton Cain and Elvina Ogil
Terrific effort - the stuff of legends!
Posted by: Michael Dom | 05 April 2017 at 12:55 PM
Thank you Rashmii, Keith, Phil, and others who pulled this off.
Posted by: Joe Herman | 21 March 2017 at 02:16 PM
Many thanks Rashmii and Keith,
Yet another book to add to my library which you share with Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Sillitoe, Gelhorn,
Goldman, Hardy and many more.
It was a splendid evening.
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 17 March 2017 at 05:00 PM
Nothing is impossible when we put our hearts and minds to achieve what we want despite challenges and obstacles. Rashmii is an inspiration!
Posted by: Dominica Are | 17 March 2017 at 12:05 PM
Thank you McKinnon-Paga Hill Fellowship Scheme, Australian High Commission, organisations, generous individuals and of course Keith and Phil for the success of this book My Walk to Equality which places a firm forward footprint for PNG women to follow.
If it wasn't for the McKinnon-Paga Hill Fellowship Scheme, this book would not be possible, the Simbu-Noosa Shire Wantok Project would not be possible, the places Francis Nii, Martyn Namorong, my wife Julie and myself saw, the friendships we forged would not have been possible.
When like-minded people interact, things happen.
What a profound and wise statement from one of the elders and true gentlemen of PNG literature - KJ
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 17 March 2017 at 08:02 AM
Sensational achievement. Game-changing, we hope. I can and do endorse Rob Parer's acclamation.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 17 March 2017 at 07:38 AM
A masterful speech Keith, giving the story of the long years hard yakka with many ups & lots of downs culminating in Rashmii Amoah Bell's wonderful anthology "My Walk to Equality" which was launched last night.
And congratulations to the MC, Murray Bladwell, on putting it all together right down to name tags!
And the lady at the centre of the book launch - the delightful Rashmii Amoah Bell - did herself proud in her speech.
I could not believe that six of the writers in the Anthology were present & each one wrote a few words in the front page of my book. This book is a milestone for really big things to follow. That front page will be worth big bucks one day. Thank you one and all.
Posted by: Rob Parer | 17 March 2017 at 07:00 AM