A journey into reflection, insight & ennui
19 January 2022
The Value of Journey: Virtue and reality in Papua New Guinea and Asia by Nicholas C Brown, Mereo Books, Cirencester UK, 2021, 332 pages with illustrations. ISBN 9781861513212. Available here from Amazon Australia, AU$22
TUMBY BAY – Nick Brown's The Value of Journey follows directly from his first book, Better than Rich and Famous, the transition so flawless you could move from one to the other and not notice the physical change.
When I reviewed the first book, I wrote:
“What Nick’s book essentially details are the experiences of one of the many people who briefly flittered onto the Papua New Guinean scene in the early 1970s and then just as quickly flittered away.
“Or at least I think he flittered away because the book seems to end in mid-stream. He has secured an interesting job in the administration and then goes on leave back to Britain with the intention of returning to Papua New Guinea.
“Whether he actually returns and what happens to him is left hanging in the air.”
Now I know what happened because it’s all in his second book which covers the period when he returned and then left for good.
That makes the two books complementary and you need to read them in sequence to appreciate the full story.
In ‘The Value of Journey’ there is more detail about Papua New Guinea society and governance since independence in 1975.
The section of the department for which he worked promoting local handcrafts undergoes a series of pointless changes until it is unclear where it’s heading or whether the national government is even interested in what it is doing.
At the same time the people in charge are regularly and inexplicably leaving and being replaced by others, in this case people of Indian descent from Fiji.
This phenomenon where senior positions once held by Australians were filled by recruits from Asia and Africa is notable.
It would be worth exploring as part of a wider work of how governance evolved in PNG after independence.
Brown’s goal, stated in his first book, to simply have fun, takes a beating, partly because many of his friends are leaving the country but also because deteriorating law and order makes it an unsafe place to live.
This curtailment of an easygoing and undemanding life coincides with Brown beginning to evaluate his experiences and ponder his future.
At the same time, as their PNG experience did to so many expatriates exposed to its challenges and peculiarities, causes him to undergo a profound change in his attitude to the world and how it operates.
Not least he comes to realise “the virtue in doing good and ultimately better understanding what is important in life”.
Brown grasps that it is time to leave PNG, and embarks on a pilgrimage through Asia as he makes his way back to Britain with the intention of going to university.
Along the way the reader is treated to observations not recorded by the self-styled hippies experiencing ‘the great Asian enlightenment’ so popular in those days.
Papua New Guinea has changed his values and Brown is now immersed in an acute sense of reality about what he is experiencing.
The book reveals how he develops a profound desire to explode the concocted myths, too readily accepted back then in a perfumed haze, about the places he visits.
At a superficial level, as most first-timers in Asia are, he is disgusted by the crowded, dirty, noisy and unpleasant cities, particularly in India. More deeply he begins to understand that this squalor is the result of more profound and complex inequities and corruption.
Towards the end of the book, Brown endeavours to analyse his feelings and express what he has learned about humanity and the world. I’m not sure he captures this fully and successfully.
As he says, the experiences “gave me an understanding of inequity in the world and the importance of the need to do something about it.”
I guess, in that sense, he joins so many other people who have come to the same conclusion but did not believe they possessed the means to do anything about it.
Richard, there are three options available to writers who cannot or don't want to use a major publisher.
Traditional publishers are in the business of making money and are very careful about what they publish. In most cases they have a stable of proven money spinners and are loath to take on newcomers.
The field is also dominated by a couple of major companies and getting a foot in the door is extremely difficult, especially in Australia and almost impossible in Papua New Guinea.
The first option if a traditional publisher is not interested in your book is to get it printed privately using a local printer. This is the most expensive option and, no matter how much you traipse around the countryside promoting it, you'll never break even.
The second option is to use a vanity publisher. These guys are basically rip off merchants. They take large sums of money from authors to publish their books but fail miserably when it comes to promotion.
The third option is ebook-led self-publishing where it costs nothing to upload your book to retailers like Amazon, Matador, Lulu, IngramSpark or Completely Novel, and where per book royalties are excellent and you tap into a vast distribution network.
Their quality of production is on a par with both traditional publishers and vanity publishers. These people are a boon to writers in places like Papua New Guinea.
It is also the case that many writers are more interested in people reading their books than making money out of them. These literary purists have a long tradition.
A useful article on the matter is available on the following website:
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 20 January 2022 at 09:32 AM
What interests me, Phil, apart from the subject matter of so many of these esoteric volumes is their selling power.
Or potential selling power.
A colleague of mine, Paul Daffey, who is the acknowledged master of country footy knowledge Australia-wide --- not just country Victoria --- has told me the figures needed to make a profit on the sales of hard copy books.
Daff says unless you sell 3,000 copies you won't even break even. Just with printing costs. He journeys to all parts of Victoria when his newest hits the shelves (he's written 6 spectacular books about Vic. country Aussie Rules).
He has book launches, signings in regional and little country town bookshops/newsagents/general stores, after-dinner talks leading into his sales pitches at Saturday night footy club and sports club dinners and so on.
I know there's a self-publishing alternative available but for Luddites such as me that sort of technology stuff would be beyond my comprehension. And how good would those volumes look, anyway, compared to books prepared by a professional printer.
Posted by: Richard Jones | 19 January 2022 at 02:36 PM
Interestingly, I was struck by the connection between the reported observations of Chris Brown and Dr Chris McCall.
Both have witnessed the consequences of unbridled corruption. Where personal agendas override other considerations to the point of evil.
In essence they witnessed the logical end point to the late Margaret Thatcher’s assertion that “there is no society.”
Easy to dismiss as another thirty second sound bite on the nightly news. Another “shithouse country” in the words of a former US president.
Well, it might seem like that until a grieving mother turns up at your door at 4am cradling a deceased toddler who has died from an entirely preventable cause.
When you arrive at a community to transport their vegetables to market to be met by a line of women, one of whom is bleeding profusely from an axe wound to the back of her head.
It doesn’t take long to shake you out of your complacency and examine your sugar-coated bubble of how you thought the world worked.
It’s about then that you either pack up and “go pinis” or something more profound happens. You have unknowingly crossed a Rubicon and instead you stay, no longer fully comfortable or able to relate to where you came from.
I empathise with both writers, neither of whom I know but who’s sentiments are immediately familiar. And I am thankful they feel the way they do because in this incredibly shallow world of Mac Mansions and “tat” there is more truth and purpose to be found in the realities they returned to, than from where they came from.
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 19 January 2022 at 11:44 AM