I COULDN’T GET A FLIGHT OUT of Hervey Bay on the day before the first annual general meeting of the Papua New Guinea Society of Writers, Editors and Publishers and the Crocodile Prize events, so I opted to fly up on the same day. Not a good move.
Getting up at 4.30am, sitting on two aeroplanes for several hours, lobbing into customs at the back end of the almost simultaneously arriving Virgin, Airlines PNG, Qantas, Air Niugini flights from Australia and then racing out to the Australian High Commission for 3pm hoping to be relatively organised and coherent at my age is a physical and mental impossibility.
Sitting there frantically searching for the list of email votes for the society election, which I found the following day exactly where I had packed it, and banging the right hand pad on my laptop wondering why nothing would work, I thanked my lucky stars that Amanda Donigi, Jimmy Drekore and Ruth Moiam were there to smooth it all over.
Amanda is super cool and takes everything in her stride with effortless panache. Jimmy is a bundle of energy exuding charisma every which way; if you could bottle it you’d make a fortune. And for an ex-kiap used to winging it, Ruth is so organised it positively scares me.
At the end of the afternoon it was absolutely gratifying to see them win the respective president, vice president and secretary positions in the Society. Along with Gina Samar, a professional accountant who won the treasurer’s position, the society has elected itself a great team.
And a team they are, working together seamlessly with help from the enthusiastic committee of Steve Ilave, Regina Dorum, David Kitchnoge and David Gonol the Society is off to a great start.
It is now time for Keith and I, as well as those other people in Australia who helped us, to step back and let the new executive and committee get on with planning the 2013 events. I’ve no doubt that they will do it well.
After several red wines and a good night’s sleep, I handled the writer’s forum and the awards ceremony the next day a lot better. Indeed, I mostly sat in the background and listened to the fascinating speakers.
At the forum I was impressed by the intelligent and jittery presentation by Martyn Namorong. Between the coughs and the constant waving of his ever-present iPad (I wonder if he sleeps with it turned on), I listened to him talking about overcoming fear and the power of social media. Don’t be fooled by Martyn’s retreat to his home province; we’ll hear a lot more from him.
Emmanuel Narakobi told us how he’d gone into social media hoping to make money and had got caught up in the “power to make social change”. Both he and Martyn made us aware that social media is a new literary genre in Papua New Guinea which has the potential to do great good.
In contrast to this high-tech literature, Drusilla Modjeska and Russell Soaba brought us back to earth with an enlightening discussion on the craft of writing. Both Drusilla and Russell do what I do when writing; they sit down with a pen and paper.
Together they explained how to write an opening paragraph. As every writer knows this is not an easy task. Did you know that it took Russell five years to write the first paragraph of his novel Wanpis? He went on to tell us about the distractions (“toads and trolls”) which can divert writers from their craft.
To further bring us down to earth, Francis Nii and Jimmy Drekore, albeit aided by a Powerpoint presentation, explained how complex outcomes can be engineered using the most basic of means.
To do this, Jimmy went through the history of the Simbu Children Foundation, which is entirely voluntary, raises its own funds and helps dozens of children with medical problems in the province.
The Foundation has recently arranged research which found the cause and treatment for an incredibly debilitating and painful bone disease affecting many highland children. The parallels between what the Foundation has achieved and what the Society might achieve are self-evident.
To cap this off Francis explained the operation of the famous notice board at the Kundiawa General Hospital where he advertises, among other things, the work of the Foundation and news from the Crocodile Prize competition. Apparently everyone in Kundiawa consults the notice board. I’d often wondered why we got so many entries from the province.
The awards ceremony was a glittering finale to the day. Drusilla’s novel, The Mountain, had its Papua New Guinea launch courtesy of Russell; Bob Cleland’s book, The Big Road, was displayed along with a collection of reprinted and new works produced by John Evans and his team at UPNG and Amanda’s new magazine, Stella. Sales were made and the proceeds graciously donated to the Society – just under K1,000.
The Crocodile Prize Anthology 2012 was launched and two government ministers (Education and Tourism, Arts & Culture) gave speeches. One speech was off the cuff and the other was scripted. Both were tentative and I came away with the feeling of a government carefully feeling its way forward. Both men were open, dignified and pleasingly humble; a marked contrast to the antics of the previous few months.
There were a few glitches. For example, next year the winners will need early notification so they can be there to collect their prizes in person.
The next day we had a planning lunch at the High Commission and made arrangements for the executive and committee to get together in October to start the hard work for the 2013 competition. We also confirmed the plans to distribute the 2012 Anthology.
After that I went back into the city to meet with the people for whom I do consultancy work. As they say, reality bites; but I was happy anyway.
There's been a bit of a delay in printing the Anthology which means that people in Australia who have placed orders, and donors who would normally be sent free copies, will have to wait until next month to receive their books - KJ