Now they have donated a considerable sum of money to the Crocodile Prize that should allow the printing of up to 10,000 books of original Papua New Guinean writing to be circulated throughout the length and breadth of the country.
It is believed that this print run of The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2012 will be the largest of any book ever published in PNG.
Ken McKinnon has done so much in his life that is often overlooked that he was a pioneering director of education in PNG from 1966-73; known as the man who reformed and redirected the education system, gave it a national orientation and put it on an ‘independence footing’.
Despite the fact that the ASOPA-trained McKinnon (he was in the first batch of young Australian teachers bound for PNG who were trained there in 1954) quickly showed that he was someone out of the ordinary - rising rapidly though the ranks in the PNG teaching service - there was nothing straightforward about his appointment as PNG director of education.
Contemporary records show that the head of the Australian Department of Territories, George Warwick Smith held back McKinnon’s appointment for a year “because he did not like [him]” and despite it being “crystal clear that McKinnon was so far ahead of the others that it would be ludicrous to consider anybody else.’
The selection committee had unanimously agreed to appoint McKinnon, then in his early thirties, and then TPNG waited for a year it could ill afford while Warwick Smith got over his angst.
That Warwick Smith, a notoriously stubborn and bloody-minded man, was also a goose of the first order is shown by McKinnon’s brilliant career following upon those early days.
Emeritus Professor Kenneth R McKinnon AO AUA(Adel) BA BEd (Qld) EdD (Harvard) DLitt (Hon Woll) DLitt (Hon Deakin) DLitt (Hon UNSW), DUniv (Hon James Cook) FACE was to become one of Australia’s most outstanding educators and educational administrators.
After leaving PNG he became chairman of the newly-established Australian Schools Commission (1973-81) and vice-chancellors of Wollongong University (1981-95), James Cook University (1997) and Charles Darwin University (2002-03). He was also chairman of the Australian Press Council from 2000-2011.
His other appointments also provide a clear indication of his energy and ability - board member of the College of Law, president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee and chairman of the National Commission for UNESCO as well as a consultant to the World Bank and 18 universities in Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia.
Apart from his great support of the Crocodile Prize, I have a particular reason for being grateful to McKinnon.
As a young school teacher at Gagl (near Kerowagi) in 1966 – writing occasional scripts for the ABC and freelancing for the then South Pacific Post and Pacific Islands Monthly – I was plucked from my outpost and transferred to Port Moresby as editor of school publications, so initiating a career that has continued to this day.
And it was McKinnon who signed the papers that gave me the job.
So, after nearly half a century, the two of us are still managing to find common cause in our love of PNG and its people.
And that’s a good story, if ever I had the pleasure to write one.