THE McKinnon-Paga Hill fellowship scheme is a great opportunity for Daniel Kumbon, Martyn Namarong and me to learn new ideas and skills about managing literature from a developed society perspective.
Australia has come a long way in the development of a national literature. Authors like Kate Forsyth, Thomas Keneally, Philip Fitzpatrick, Bob Cleland and others including our friends in the media profession will have a lot to share during our meetings and I am looking forward to all of it.
This is the first time I have travelled outside Papua New Guinea and for me there is no better place and people to visit than Australia and Australians, for they are the one that exposed PNG to the outside world and paved the way for modernisation.
Moreover, Australia is the only foreign country where I have many friends because of literature and I think most Papua New Guineans feel the same because of our proximity, education and other relationships.
The visit is going to be memorable and I look forward to every moment of it.
There are many famous contemporary Australian authors but regrettably I haven’t haven’t read any of their books apart from Bob Cleland’s Big Road and couple of Philip Fitzpatrick’s novels, hence I really can’t say I like any particular Australian author.
On this note, I must add that not many educated Papua New Guineans have access to books written by Australians and I don’t know why. This is something that needs to be explored by writers of both countries.
Our literature is our identity. Stories are part of our culture and books are storehouses of our heritage. Our Australian counterparts can learn a lot about PNG’s rich cultures through our books.
In Australia I will gain knowledge about literature and literary organisation management including marketing. Book reviews and marketing are something missing in PNG. My Australian counterparts might provide some valuable hints for us to take home.
Currently there is a great renaissance of PNG literature courtesy of the Crocodile Prize supported by Pukpuk Publishing, a spinoff publishing entity that evolved from the Prize.
Since the Crocodile Prize was founded by Australians Keith Jackson and Philip Fitzpatrick in 2011 to revive PNG literature, hundreds if not thousands of pieces of writing in the form of books, essays, short stories and poems have been produced by Papua New Guineans and the evidence of this is the annual Crocodile Prize Anthology.
Many books have been published by Papua New Guineans just in the last four years and this is probably the greatest leap forward in PNG literature since independence in 1975.
However, our greatest problem is that there is no readership base even as we try so hard to get schools to buy our books. The simple reason is that they don’t have money.
The different level of governments in PNG and donors are not interested in putting money into buying locally authored books for schools and colleges.
Although Papua New Guinea is geographically closer to Australia and both countries have a long historical connection, not many Australians, including those in the media professions, know PNG. This is evident in what they say and write about PNG and its wealth of ethnicities and cultures.
They often erroneously portray a bad image about PNG. I feel I must tell Australians that PNG is not such a bad place to live. Most ordinary Papua New Guineans are sociable, kind hearted and friendly. The respect for foreigners living in the local community is very high and there is peace and harmony.
If you don’t believe me, make somewhere in rural PNG your next holiday destination and you will experience what I am telling you.
Literature is important to us. Books are the storehouse of PNG’s culture and history. It should be the responsibility of the PNG government to promote our national literature but they fail miserably.
They have been preaching literacy through the so-called Book Week that schools celebrate annually but how can PNG have a literate population if there are so few of our own books in schools and libraries to motivate people to read?
It is shameful of the PNG government when foreigners and private companies like Ken McKinnon and the Paga Hill Development Company see the importance of literature in PNG and embrace it with funding.
I am so proud of Keith Jackson and the PNG Attitude blog for initiating this great scheme and thank you Professor McKinnon and Paga Hill for sponsoring the initiative.
It will greatly benefit PNG writers and it will benefit the cultural exchange between our two countries.