My new book asks if PNG’s founders screwed up its future
17 April 2019
TUMBY BAY - What if Papua New Guinea’s forefathers had seen what was coming; could they have avoided what has happened to their nation?
I’m currently working on two novels. One is about a massacre of Aboriginal people in Australia in the 1860s; the other a kind of prequel to the Inspector Metau trilogy.
I’m using Inspector Hari Metau’s good mate and mentor, Sergeant Kasari, as the narrator of the prequel. In the book, he describes the story of how he became a policeman and met up with Hari.
The prequel begins in the mid-1960s and moves through to the present. It is addressed to a couple of young journalists who have come to Sergeant Kasari’s house in Kwikila to interview him for a newspaper article.
I’m having a lot of fun writing the novel and creating a whole new history for a bunch of characters who never actually existed; although to me they are just as real as anyone else.
The other interesting aspect of my writing is being able to reflect on those earlier times in Papua New Guinea when everyone was full of optimism for the future.
The experience of optimism is something the politicians and elites of Papua New Guinea have stolen from their fellow citizens. In its place they have created foreboding and a pervasive mood of depression.
I’m trying to maintain the humour of my earlier Metau novels but now and again I get serious because I think the material deserves it.
What follows is a short extract from Chapter 9 that follows a section where Kasari and Hari are first exposed to a new phenomenon called ‘corruption’.
It’s a word Sergeant Kasari has to look up in a dictionary because he can’t quite understand the concept.
Those years in the highlands when Hari and I worked together were the beginning of momentous times. I think they were also times of high optimism and not a little fear for many people. We were in a kind of vortex being pulled irresistibly towards self-government and independence and an uncertain but promising future. Many people believed that we had the world at our feet and a rosy future.
We now know, of course, that in the years following independence the optimism and euphoria slowly dissipated. Today, as you both know, the future looks anything but rosy. We still seem to have enormous potential but we can see it all being constantly nibbled away and subverted by corruption and mismanagement.
Old blokes like Hari and I were lucky in a way because that optimism made life worth living. Today you poor buggers don’t seem to have much to look forward to except more of the same. Corruption and everything related to it now seems to be so far entrenched that nothing anyone does will help.
I’m sorry for being so negative and I hope I’m not depressing you too much but that’s the way I see it. If we had known how things would turn out we might have tried to do something about it. We might have thought a bit more about the kind of people we were electing to government and we might have been less greedy and more willing to share the bounty of our new nation but we didn’t and I’m sorry about that.
In retrospect there were signs of what was to come but we didn’t pick them up. The business with the station commander and the accusations of corruption, a concept new to most people, should have alerted us and put us on our guard but it didn’t.
I know that you tend to blame all our country’s woes on the current crop of politicians but really the blame goes back much further than that. I think this might be a bit more apparent if I tell you what happened next to Hari.
You’ll have to wait for the book to appear to see what happens next to Hari but you might like to consider Sergeant Kasari’s proposition that the blame for Papua New Guinea’s present situation can, in part at least, be sheeted home to its forefathers.
That’s a life cycle thing of course. In years to come people will be blaming the present generation for the problems they will experience.
Or, perhaps, they might be praising the current generation for taking the bull by the horns and fixing everything so the future became bright.
When we look at the Melanesian world view we are so mixed up with spiritualism, personalism and myth. We are confused with scientific and praxis knowledge and keep projecting problems to somebody else's doing.
We keep blaming others like our founding fathers and say they led us in the wrong direction. If they led us in the wrong direction, we should correct it and make it good for future generations.
PNG is good in blaming others but we have look at ourselves first. We have to change from within to change a society and the nation.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 18 April 2019 at 10:20 PM
A little bit of misunderstanding by a couple of commentators.
The bit about having the world at their feet and a rosy future refers to the post colonial future when PNG would be its own independent nation.
Somehow this has been misconstrued to mean that colonialism was rosy.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 18 April 2019 at 04:17 PM
Look forward to reading your book, Phil.
Posted by: Joe Herman | 18 April 2019 at 01:26 PM
At the time the story is based on, the world (although maybe not many in Australia saw it this way) saw a 'rosy future'for the territory based on it natural resource potential.
But surely Germany, England and Australia did it terribly. It took more than 100 years to get any indigenous person educated - until almost the eve of independence.
On that, maybe we did not look rosy but certainly the outside saw much good in us to conclude a rosy future.
I surely await the final outcome. As I am into history, this would be very interesting to read.
Posted by: Mathias Kin | 18 April 2019 at 11:16 AM
Sorry to upset you Will but I reserve my right to comment on PNG and anything else I feel like.
In one way your obvious nationalism is commendable but in another way it is, like nationalism in general, very dangerous.
Am I to understand that you are asserting PNG's right to deliver endemic corruption, poor educational and health services, lawlessness and all the other ills without being criticised by outsiders like me?
If that's the case there isn't much hope is there?
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 17 April 2019 at 03:45 PM
Colonialism is not rosy and should not be seen as such. There are many horror stories and Papua New Guineans were made to feel inferior.
Whilst the country may not be running perfectly, it is the right of our people and not outsiders.
A ridiculous story....
Posted by: Will Vele | 17 April 2019 at 02:59 PM
Sorry to appear to 'rain on your parade' Simon but there are currently so many similarities with the early 1900's that the world can seem at times, imminently depressing.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 17 April 2019 at 10:55 AM
I like this line from your book chapter: "We had the world at our feet and a rosy future."
Optimism is the engine that stirs the soul and dream of a better tomorrow even if the present seems unpromising.
Now is such a time in the nation, to maximise the opportunities available around us in the 21st century. We have the world at our feet and a rosy future.
Posted by: Simon Davidson | 17 April 2019 at 07:00 AM