A Short History of the Pacific Islands Monthly Magazine by Bob Lawrence, Chatswood Press, 2019, 69 pages, ISNI: 0000000067657158, AU$25 plus postage from the author
TUMBY BAY - I published my first article in the Pacific Islands Monthly in June 1970. That’s a clip from it right alongside.
It was a report about the mineral exploration then being carried out by the Kennecott Corporation in the Star Mountains that led to the establishment of Ok Tedi.
Apart from a few literary journals it was the first thing I ever published for the mainstream media. You can read the full article here.
The editors were well aware that a lot of the articles they received for publication came from public servants and were careful to keep their attributions anonymous. In my case my article became a “report to ‘PIM’, datelined Olsobip patrol post, Papua”.
I was understandably chuffed that they published it and even forgave them for their transformation of a French Super Frelon helicopter into a “Freeline helicopter”.
As I later discovered, editing and fact-checking wasn’t a strong point at the Pacific Islands Monthly.
I cited Joe Nombri in the article but carefully referred to him as a “local officer”.
Joe said, “Five months ago we used to water ski and have a barbecue every Sunday. Now everyone is too busy with the company. Everyone talks about the company. We have a little Bougainville on our hands!”
I’m not sure Joe realised how prescient his comments were at the time.
Further articles in PIM and other mainstream publications didn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t hard to work out that I was the author of them.
My efforts eventually landed me a job as the Department of Lands, Surveys and Mines’ Publications Officer in 1972 and later on a stint on the Commission of Enquiry into Land Matters.
I continued to subscribe to PIM and buy its Pacific Publications books until its unfortunate closure in 2000. The same sort of commercial philistinism that saw the demise of The Bulletin in Australia also saw the poor old PIM go down the gurgler.
One time editor of the magazine, Stuart Inder, summed it up concisely when he wrote, “The islands have changed. Readers have changed. But the basic truth, I think, is that there never was room for PIM in any large corporation. Journals like PIM need more personal dedication and more tender loving care than those structures can offer.”
Its demise left a huge void for those of us interested in the South Pacific. There was no real alternative except for the very occasional mention in the odd newspaper. Thankfully the internet eventually came along to keep us informed.
Nevertheless, I was interested in the history of the magazine and promptly ordered a copy of Bob Lawrence’s short book.
I was also interested in how he would tackle it, having tried something similar with a history of PNG Attitude a few years ago.
The major problem with these sorts of histories is that you are dealing with a huge canvas and it is really hard to derive a cohesive narrative out of them. Bob Lawrence sensibly decided to let the magazine speak for itself.
What he ended up with is a potted history strung together from excerpts from the magazine glued together by occasional comment and notes regarding context. I think he sourced most of his material from the digital copy kept by the National Library of Australia and available on Trove.
It’s only a very short book of 69 pages, printed and stapled together like a pamphlet. My copy arrived on a rainy day and came out of the letterbox looking pretty limp. I was surprised at the cost of it.
The layout, in two columns, is a bit awkward and overruns, joined words and numerous typographical errors proliferate. That didn’t particularly bother me because I was more interested in the content.
While understanding that the book was put together for a small readership, I think it is a good start for something a lot more comprehensive to be written. There is plenty of material there, which you can see hinted at in the excerpts and summaries Bob has used.
Founding editor, New Zealander, Robbie Robson’s ongoing war with the Australian Labor Party would make for good reading and so too would PIM’s reporting and interactions with all the tin pot and terribly corrupt dictator-politicians who have and still do call the South Pacific home.
So too would the reminiscences of one-time editor Stuart Inder, which is written but unpublished.
Then again, some of that stuff is really hard to believe and convincing readers that it is all true would be quite a job.