Small Steps Along the Way by Paul Oates, independently published, 2019, 241 pages, ISBN: 9781707077939, available from Amazon.com, $AU22.03, including postage or AU$2.91 as an eBook, from Amazon in the USA or download without cost from the strapline at the top of this page. Many thanks to Paul Oates for making it freely available to our readers
TUMBY BAY - We’ve been talking about the potency of literature on PNG Attitude for many years now and how it contributes to the creation story of communities and nations alike.
Further to that has been the notion that literature actually forms a society’s view of itself and reflects upon how it develops in the future.
You have to know where you came from to know where you are going. Those who know their past will walk more confidently into the future.
Papua New Guinea’s past is effectively divided into distinct epochs: pre-colonial; colonial; and post-independence.
These epochs are intrinsically linked and flow back and forth, bringing meaning to each other in telling ways.
At the moment the lack of a cohesive post-independence literature is troubling to many thinking Papua New Guineans, especially its writers.
It is in this context that I recently had the pleasure of editing a new book by Paul Oates about his experiences as a kiap in the formative and crucial years just before independence.
What struck me about Paul’s account are the similarities with my own experiences as a kiap. I don’t doubt that other old kiaps will make the same observation.
This commonality of experience is important to record, both in its mundanity and in its exceptionalism.
The simple day-to-day activities of a kiap in Morobe can speak volumes, not only about how and why things were done but also about the overriding motives of the Australian administration and the ordinary Papua New Guineans who were effected.
The detailed descriptions Paul offers are unique to that period and will never be repeated. They range from building his own house and garden to the construction of bridges, roads and airfields.
In every account there is a palpable sense of innovation and making do under an austere and ignorant hierarchy in Canberra.
There is also a profound sense of two disparate groups, expatriates and locals, working together hand-in-hand for a common cause.
Paul’s easy-going relationships with the people he’s working among shines through his writing in a way that every old kiap and PNG lapun will recognise.
There is also drama and tragedy in the book. The loss of a good friend in an aeroplane crash is particularly heart rending.
So too are the last days of his wife and family in Port Moresby when their house was broken into and all their possessions stolen, followed by the stoning of their car by a bunch of drunken raskols.
Then there is the inevitable problem of fitting back into Australian society. Not many old kiaps managed that transition well, myself included.
Despite all this, Paul’s account, in all its manifestations, is related with a sense of humour and a firm appreciation of the ridiculous.
It is a good story and for those who have read his numerous contributions and comments on PNG Attitude and want to understand him a little better it is essential reading.