On behalf of cancer patients
My first return to Papua New Guinea 2

‘Victory Song’ dedicated to a kiap wantok

John Gordon Kirby  Melbourne 2019
John Gordon-Kirkby was a kiap in Enga when he encountered Daniel Kumbon as a boy. After connecting on the internet in recent years, they have formed a great friendship


PORT MORESBY - Early this morning, I received a ‘thank you’ note from one of the kiaps (patrol officers) John Gordon-Kirkby, now aged 84, who had served in Enga Province up to the time of Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975.

A few days ago, John asked me to send him a dedication note with my signature on it so he could stick it somewhere in my new book, ‘Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter’, which he had just ordered.

The book has just been released on Amazon and, if you do not live in PNG, you can purchase it here. More about PNG later.

Back to the dedication of my new book, the words read:

I dedicate this book to my special ‘wantok kiap’ John Gordon-Kirkby
who in 1975 came unexpectedly to my grass thatched home at
Kondo village in Kandep, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.

It is kiaps or patrol officers like John my wantok and missionaries
who brought
change and development and opened up Enga Province
and other corners of my country.

Thank you.

I also thank and extend my appreciation to every kiap and missionary who opened up Enga Province and PNG and exposed the fertile and rich island to the outside world.

And a special thankyou to former kiaps like Graham Hardy and former magistrate Chips Mackellar whose full-length chapters have been used in the book.

And all the other people who’ve contributed articles and rare photographs which fit in nicely.

And not forgetting Ed Brumby, Sr Ursula Julich, Keith Jackson and Fr Garry Roche who guided me along to complete this mammoth task.

Kumbon - Victory SongEnga and PNG owes you heaps, the last friends who still have some emotional attachment to PNG.

Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter’ is a book which I am sure will make you want to watch ‘First Contact’, the documentary video and read the book of the same name by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson.

It is a story about rebuilding Enga, a book that will bring back memories of the good old days in comparison to the present.

It is very sad that Amazon no longer ships book orders direct to Papua New Guinea, apparently because too many consignments have been lost in the postal system in this country.

To get them to me, they’ve had to ship my new books to Australia.

The package landed in Brisbane two day ago. Family members living in Brisbane are redirecting the shipment to me in Port Moresby.

Yesterday, I flew to Port Moresby to collect the books when they arrive. I trust DHL will deliver them to me in the next couple of days. I will then make the arduous trip back to Wabag.

On my way to the capital, I noted that DHL has an agent at Kagamuga in Mt Hagen with plans for direct international flights from Australia.

I am hopeful my expensive trips to Port Moresby just to pick up a few copies of books will stop.

Amazon does not know the hardship PNG writers face to receive their books.

I believe Amazon must reconsider its decision and deal with individuals, not bundle everybody into one group.

For instance, I received all my orders over the years except for one box.

Lloyd Warr as a young kiap in Kandep
Lloyd Warr was a young kiap in Kandep when Daniel was a boy

Amazon promptly replaced it and I received it safely as I had so often before with my other orders.

I am planning to order 100 copies of my new book.

I hope Amazon will reconsider its stance and send them direct to us here to Port Moresby.

I am sure to pick them up safely from DHL’s Six-Mile depot here in the national capital.


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Daniel Kumbon

A friend wrote to me today after reading my article here and an email I sent him earlier.

Dear Daniel

I apologise to you once again for taking so long to reply properly to your email received on Sunday 7th February. The truth is that I had a short stay in hospital. I did copy Richard Harms at Oxford on my reply to you. Has he been in contact with you? What did he say?

In the meantime, I have read your article ‘Victory Song’ on PNG Attitude. I was sorry to read that Amazon is no longer shipping direct to PNG - and that you must get your books delivered to Brisbane for your wantoks to forward them to POM; and then you make the expensive trip to POM to collect the books. Aiyo! Hugely expensive and most inconvenient for you.

I have also ordered two copies of your new book ‘Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter’ from Amazon. Delivery is due by Friday 5 March. I will let you know when the two books arrive. I look forward to reading it.

I find it very difficult to offer realistic advice to improve your situation as a writer in PNG. Yes, it would be great if the PNG government could offer support, Yes, it would be great if the PNG Dept of Education would buy copies of your books and books by other Papua New Guinean authors and supply them to secondary and high schools around the country. But how to make that happen? Who might have the political influence for this to become a reality? I just don't know.

Right now, everything has become immensely more complicated because of Covid-19. Sara and I have not been able to travel overseas since March last year. Almost 12 months ago. We applied again, recently, to travel to PNG but the Aus govt refused our request to leave the country. Maybe things will change when the vaccine is rolled out in the coming months.

I will certainly let you know when next we are in PNG. In the meantime, I will keep in touch by email. I will email you again when your book arrives.

My best regards

Ray [O'Farrell]
Bilum Books

AG Satori

Oh you did. This catalogue is still a work in progress. It is not complete in each of the details to each publication.

The authors to these books should assist and fill in the details and forward it to Baka Bina.

For new publications, the authors should get details on this list. It will be very useful for us readers.

We should hope for an updated version of this catalogue.

The list of PNG-authored books and books about PNG is being compiled by Baka Bina. The PNG Booklist is a good start in letting readers throughout the world know what books are available. Authors should contact Baka here bbinadth@gmail.com - KJ

AG Satori

PNG Attitude has on its twitter page imbedded Pukpuk Publications list of books that it helped publish.

I note that Baka Bina has added to this to create another catalogue which was the one that PNG Attitude meant to post which looks to be a work in progress. Specific details about each of these publications are missing and he had not updated recently too.

He may be waiting for authors to relay these information to him.

The last seven or eigth publications have not been included, Daniel's this new book, Dominica Are's, several of late Francis Nii's corroborative publication/works - also his splendid memorial book and including Mr Bina's recent two publications.

Authors should help to get this catalogue up and make it current.

In times like this it can be used to showcase their work.

Hi AG - The list linked to on Twitter was Baka Bina's work in progress. I couldn't find the Pukpuk list. I must try harder - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

While the promise of digital publishing technologies has ultimately let down the writers of Papua New Guinea through the withdrawal of marketing opportunities by companies like Amazon, the greater disappointment has been the failure of the government to offer any form of alternative support.

It is difficult to ascertain why the government has taken this approach. It seems to have gone beyond a case of sheer incompetence and now looks a lot more deliberate. There are two possible reasons. The first is wilful ignorance.

This possibility was brought home quite vividly at the 2014 Crocodile Prize awards presentation.

During the proceedings the government minister who had come along to the event was reading a speech prepared for him by one of his staff.

About halfway through the speech the minister suddenly paused and peered into the audience. What he had come across was a reference to a famous Papua New Guinean writer who he realised was sitting a few metres away listening to him.

He actually pointed in amazement at Russell Soaba and said something like, “It’s you, isn’t it?”, at which Russell smiled and resisted shaking his head in disbelief.

The minister, by the way, was a school teacher by profession before being elected to parliament. Obviously Papua New Guinean literature was not on his school's curriculum.

This sort of stupidity would be funny if it were not for the great cost to the nation and its history. Without writers with avenues for publishing the story of Papua New Guinea will not be told.

Whether these politicians realise that they are depriving future generations of Papua New Guineans of their history is unknown.

You would expect, after all, that someone with an ego as large as it takes to become a politician would want their legacy recorded for posterity.

That is if that legacy is worth recording. That none of them seem to be interested suggests that maybe what they are up to in government is less than laudatory.

The recording of history through both fiction and non-fiction goes well beyond simple politics however. A significant element of history in Papua New Guinea that desperately needs recording involves tradition.

There are many examples of how this might be done but one good one is Ignatius Kilage’s fascinating little novel called ‘My Mother Calls Me Yaltep’.

I met Ignatius when he was a commissioner on the 1972 Commission of Enquiry into Land Matters.

Papua New Guinea’s current literary sensation, Baka Bina, reminds me a lot of the perennially happy Ignatius Kilage.

Like with Baka Bina’s books you can dig into Ignatius Kilage’s little book indefinitely and still discover new gems.

One memory from it that still amuses me is the description of conscripted highland labourers first encountering rice and tin fish. Ever suspicious of the white man they wondered whether they were being fed the eggs of ants and tins of lizards.

That sort of account is precious but it also involves an admission of naivety that some might interpret as shameful.

Perhaps that is part of wilful ignorance, especially if you are trying to sell Papua New Guinea as a sophisticated commercial prospect.

The second, and probably more serious reason is fear. Politicians are simply afraid of writers because of what they might reveal about them and their government and the way they are running, or have run, the country.

This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Papua New Guinea. Governments of all persuasions the world over have long sought to suppress writers and the media.

In Australia, for instance, this is manifest in the efforts of the current conservative government to reduce the budget of the national broadcaster to the point where the numbers of its writers and journalists are severely limited. Writers and journalists in the conservative press however face no such limitations.

You might be inclined to suggest that what writers caught in this sort of situation should do is write flattering accounts of their politicians and government in the hope of attracting support. This, however, discounts one of the cardinal beliefs of good writers that their integrity is not for sale.

There’s not a lot that can be done about ignorance and fear in the short term. About the only thing in Papua New Guinea that seems to override such sentiments is greed.

Perhaps the nation’s writers should set up a fund to bribe their politicians into action. But that would put their precious integrity at real risk and where would they get the money anyway, most of them barely scrape by as it is?

AG Satori

Congratulations to Daniel Kumbon for this magnificent historical book. It is historical from an Engan and PNG perspective.

Having read snippets of his book on PNG Attitude and the newspapers, it was similar to all Papua New Guineans' family heritage and history.

Our experience may not have been as big and impactful as Paul Kurai's but the impact of colonisation has affected each one of us.

Daniel's book is something that all PNGians should try to emulate - to record their history.

Another example worth knowing about is the case of two Wanigelas - one at Tufi and one at Amazon Bay. Did a group of people scale a mountain range to establish themselves? Or did they sail around?

History can be big or small but we need to have its stories recorded.

Daniel mentions that writers will continue to write.

We know that the dawn of PNG's written literature came about with the advent of Ulli Beier at UPNG. After he was gone there was a hiatus until the Crocodile Prize.

Unfortunately most of our published work is self-published. Daniel and all writers need to think about how they can convince established publishing houses to look at their work to see if they can carry it. It is a hard ask but not impossible.

I applaud the tenacity of PNG's writers to continue to publish their work despite these difficult conditions. There have been three recent books (and probably 60-70 over the last few years) and I hope that more will join them even if Amazon's Bezos goes to Mars.

Once again, congratulations not only to Daniel but all of PNG's writers for their resolute in keeping the flame alive with little money and without government help.

One important outcome is that writers are improving their writing. And they have changed their perspective. Previously they were writing for themselves, now they are writing for an audience.

This takes a whole new set of skills, and that is being understood as an aim to achieve.

Daniel Kumbon

There is a particular line in a Boroko Motors advertisement gig that says 'when the going gets tough the tough get going..' This applies to the PNG situation.

Despite famine, landslides, poor governance, economic woes and COVID-19, the country has been able to withstand every test.

The people have proven to be resilient. They know it in their hearts that they must struggle on.

PNG writers too will struggle on and keep processing words to form a sentence in a poem, essay, short story or a book to ensure future generations know of our struggles.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Daniel - Amazon books and its CreateSpace program has gone from an innovative and altruistic publishing endeavour to one based entirely on the profit motive.

As such, writers in places like Papua New Guinea are simply collateral damage along the way.

The creator of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has now stepped away from his managerial role to concentrate on developing a space program.

He is quoted as saying that this is a logical use of the obscene amount of money he has made from Amazon.

Spending that money on alleviating things like poverty in the world doesn't seem to have occurred to him, although his ex-wife is using some of the money she took away from their divorce for that purpose.

To say I'm profoundly disappointed in the way Amazon has evolved is an understatement.

John Gordon-Kirkby

Thank you PNG Attitude and of course ‘wantok’ Daniel Kumbon, with whom I am in regular email contact, for his kind words directed to me personally, and for recognition of the services by a wide range of expatriates.

Not only kiaps but in many fields of PNG’s rapid colonial and post independence historic development, now going for well over a century.

All who have worked in PNG, both in war and in peace, have been enormously rewarded by the service that has enriched their lives with unique experiences and enduring friendships.

Once a 'Boi-Masta' relationship that has evolved to independent nationhood, respect and friendships as equals in an imperfect modern world.

Daniel Kumbon is a fine example of the potential in so many of his fellow citizens, the product of a western education.

I am proud of my minuscule contribution.

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