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15 November 2016

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Who can forget the Oprah debacle. Her popularity always amazed me. However, just sit in the basement food hall in a suburban shopping mall or the JetSet departure lounge at a domestic airport terminal and you can easily understand why.

Our current treasurer is quite well-read.

Scott Morrison has two books on economics and has just finished colouring the first one in.

It was also quoted by Gough about Clyde Cameron.

Building a literary tradition is an essential part of building a nation.

This seems to have been a point missed by successive governments in Papua New Guinea. And perhaps the Australian administration before that.

Repressive governments seek to weaken nations by repressing its literature.

When any government reverts to austerity measures the first thing they attack is literature and the arts.

We saw this in Queensland when the previous premier, Campbell Newman, quickly axed the Premier's Literary Award (he gave the money to a television company so they could produce the reality show 'Big Brother' in Queensland - that's called Philistinism).

The Abbott/Turnbull government did the same thing with the Australia Council. August literary enterprises like Meanjin had the government support ripped out from under them.

Peter O'Neill's refusal to support PNG literature makes him a Philistine par excellence.

I think that Phil is onto something here.

The Roman Empire had it origins in one particular city state within Italy. Early Rome had a social structure based upon familial or clan affiliations, together with a quite specific language and culture.

Thus, to be a Roman had a very specific meaning that was restricted to the citizens of Rome itself.

Later, as Rome's power grew, what is was to be Roman kept being redefined until eventually, people born and raised in places as disparate as Britain and Istanbul would proudly proclaim themselves to be Roman.

A somewhat similar situation arose with the British Empire where, for a long time, those who lived in the colonies still thought of themselves as British, as distinct from Canadian or Australian or Rhodesian.

So, in Australia for example, the first distinctively Australian passports were not issued until 1949 and, even then, the holders were described as "British subjects".

My point is that many of today's apparently well established nations were and remain incomplete or works in progress.

Scratch the surface of modern France or Germany or Britain and you soon find sometimes quite striking regional differences in culture, language and general attitudes.

It is arguable that the recent US presidential elections have exposed socio-economic and attitudinal fault lines that have lain dormant or forgotten for quite a long time.

It seems that, in our collective enthusiasm for our high technology, joined up world, we have overlooked or forgotten about the complex web of cultures, traditions and relationships that actually underpin virtually all nation states.

In this context then, PNG may be less of an outlier than may initially appear to be the case.

However, that said, I think Phil is right to say that shared literature, music, art and language are the glue that helps bind nations together. In the absence of this glue, any nation is necessarily a shaky edifice, all too prone to disintegration if placed under any significant pressure.

Military force alone has never, ever been enough to hold nation states together.

The typical founding fathers (and mothers) have always appealed to something bigger than just force or expediency. There has always had to be a big idea that underpins a successful nation state.

For example, I would say that Australia was born of a sense of the six colonies sharing a single, huge and isolated continent, having an often very harsh environment unlike any other and a largely common history.

The USA was conceived, firstly, through the cataclysmic upheaval of a revolution justified by the liberal philosophy of the enlightenment and then subsequently consolidated as a nation (as distinct from a collection of former colonies) through the agonies of a particularly hideous civil war.

The task of nation building begun first by the Australian colonial government and then, after independence, by Sir Michael Somare et al, is clearly far from complete.

However, viewed from an historic perspective, there are both promising signs of progress as well as clear evidence that there is a long way to go.

Fostering specific PNG forms of literature, arts and music is a necessary step in what will be a long journey to true nationhood and PNG Attitude is making a conspicuous contribution to this task.

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