THE Crocodile Prize was first awarded in 2011 and has been a nurturing force for Papua New Guinea's writers. KEITH JACKSON, co-founder of the Prize, told the ABC’s LIAM COCHRANE how it all began….
JACKSON – [The Prize was initiated] to ensure there was some incentive and recognition for creative writing in PNG. There had been, around the time of independence, a great burgeoning of literature in PNG – poetry, short stories, memoirs, histories – but, over the years there was no structure to support it and there was no publishing industry, so it really faded away.
In 2010, Phil Fitzpatrick, an Australian author and former patrol officer in PNG, and I got talking and wondered whether we might be able to do something to fix it.
COCHRANE – And since those early days, how have things developed?
JACKSON – This year has been a terrific year for the Prize. We’ve had well over 600 entries from about 130 writers from all across PNG. We’ve got some good sponsors and are able to give prizes which offer incentive to writers. But the best thing we can do for people is to encourage them to write, to recognise what they write, to publish their writing – which is very important.
The big question still remains, what are we going to do in future to make sure this is a sustainable enterprise within PNG. That’s the real tough one.
COCHRANE – The question of sustainability I guess is interlinked with that of funding, I understand there have been some problems this year with one of the major sponsors pulling out. Can you tell us briefly what happened there?
JACKSON – It’s a bit of a mystery to me too. One of PNG’s big wholesale and retail companies, which had sponsored the short story award since the beginning and indicated they were sponsoring again for 2014, at the last minute pulled out. Fortunately we found an Australian, who wishes to remain anonymous, to quickly jump in and provide the funding, so the contest itself didn’t really miss a beat.
COCHRANE – For you personally, this is obviously a huge labour of love. What keeps you motivated to trawl through all of the entries, provide feedback and make this prize happen?
JACKSON – That’s a good question because it’s one that I ask myself from time to time and have done so throughout this project. Basically the answer is the engagement from the writers themselves. Their enthusiasm, the reality that they want to write and they have not had the outlets to write for – which we are now able to provide both online and in the forms of books and anthologies.
Their response is one of gratitude and enthusiasm and passion; and also a huge improvement in the quality of the writing that is coming out of PNG as we go through the processes of editing and publication and mentoring. We have a team of mentors who are working individually with particularly talented PNGn writers to produce material with them in a mentoring or editorial capacity.
So this whole enterprise has now spread its wings into being a wonderful bilateral program in which Australians are working with Papua New Guineans to ensure that they’re own literature is developed and consolidated. Increasingly my job is to look for those elements that will sustain it in a management sense for the future.