TUMBY BAY - In an article a few days ago about Francis Nii and the effort to memorialise his contribution to Papua New Guinean literature, Keith Jackson reiterated an earlier comment that “this is likely to be PNG Attitude’s last big project. It was always going to happen that Phil Fitzpatrick and I would age and gradually run out of steam. Well, that point is arriving”.
I can wholly endorse that observation, no matter how hard I try to build up a head of steam about lots of things these days it seems to inevitably dissipate in ineffectual little puffs from all the leaks in the rusty old boiler.
I’m also noticing more often than before various comments from Australians who worked in Papua New Guinea prior to independence along the lines of “the ranks are quickly thinning”.
The Covid-19 pandemic with its thirst for elderly lives is not helping this feeling of pessimism and what seems to be a sense of resignation and tiredness among those thinning ranks.
We’re not quite there yet but the gradual fade-out of what was once a very strong connection between those Australian and Papua New Guinean generations who shared so much in common seems to be on the horizon.
There are many seemingly inconsequential but telling indications that this may be the case.
Comments and posts on the Ex-kiap website are now few and far between for instance. Whereas a few years ago you could count on something new on there most days nowadays it can be a week or more before anything new pops up.
The journal of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia, PNG Kundu, in all its coloured splendour and excellent production standards seems to have lost its attraction, for me at least, for reasons I can’t quite fathom.
Originally intended as a newsletter for the Retired Officer’s Association of Papua New Guinea it now “comprises a global network of more than 1,000 members representing the diverse interests [of] people with affection for or an interest in Papua New Guinea”.
For some reason, when I see the glossy cover I tend to become nostalgic for its old precursor, Una Voce, with its rough black and white printing.
Another indication which I’ve noticed is the increase in published memoirs by people from those pre-independence days.
Graham Hardy’s A Kiap’s Journey: Over the Hills and Far Away arrived in my letter box this morning and while I’m looking forward to reading it I also recall his wife Pat’s comment when she phoned me about obtaining a copy that it was written mainly for the family rather than for wider consumption.
I’ve heard the same comment from several people who have recently published their memoirs.
It is a kind of tidying of the decks before it is too late approach. Graham is a survivor of the early 1950s kiap days, the halcyon years, and it’s great that he’s written the memoir but in doing so I think he has also portended what looks like the coming end of an era.
Looked at in that way makes me wonder what such an end might mean. Will the interest in such a unique period in history fade away with the passing of those who participated in it or will the narrative somehow survive?
If it does fade away I think Australia, but more particularly Papua New Guinea, will be the poorer for it.
We on the Australian side will be leaving a body of literature that historians and researchers in the future might find interesting but in Papua New Guinea an examination of the period from its perspective has hardly just begun.
Those creaky old lapuns sitting around their warm village fires may not even get the chance to tell their stories before it’s too late. It may well be that it is only the Australian version that survives to be scoured and pored over by those future researchers.
I can remember the glaze that used to pass over the eyes of friends and family when I mentioned Papua New Guinea years ago but these days that glaze has been replaced by looks of incomprehension. It is as if I’m talking about another planet.
Perhaps that’s where it will all end up. Apart from a passing interest from some obscure researcher maybe that’s the future of all those jam-packed years we enjoyed and revelled in when we were so young.