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.”
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.