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McKinnon-Paga Hill enhances PNG-Australia cultural exchange

Francis NiiFRANCIS NII

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.

Comments

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Jimmy Awagl

This poem I recited during the night of 2015 Crocodile Prize Award at Mt Wilhelm Tourist Hotel- Kundiawa, in the presence of Education Sectrary, Dr Uke Kombra.

There ain’t any money in writing

Writing is an ambition
I write about anything
Wherever my interest goes
Call myself poet, essayist or novelist
But there ain’t any money in writing
I am a writer
Exploiting my intellect
Speaking my mind
Producing my best
But there ain’t any money in writing
Many times I wonder
Why Education ain’t buying my books?
Why schools aren’t buying?
Why students aren’t reading?
But there ain’t any money in writing
Yet I aspire
Still I struggle
Producing volumes
That collect dust in the house
For there ain’t any money in writing

I Wish both the foreign donors and the PNG Government buy locally authored books for schools through out the coountry to encourage PNG Literature to bloom.

Rashmii Bell

Excellent article, Francis. I agree with all the points you've covered here.

A lot of my writing is influenced by Australian literature - the language is easy to follow, learn from and I appreciate the humour.

I quite like Text Publishing titles. Perhaps those involved in donating books to PNG could focus on sourcing Australian authored titles - particularly children's literature.

At the same time, the best thing for the national spirit is if donors are purchasing, promoting and distributing books written by Papua New Guineans.

The point about book reviews is significant. I think this is an area that if more Papua New Guineans got involved in learning how to write book reviews, we'd be better able to convince our counterparts to buy PNG authored titles.

Bomai Witne

I know a primary and high school who are currently repaying debts for 2015 school year.

The head teachers responsible for the debts are happy in another school this year, working hard to create more debts and move on without any attempt on the part of the school board and provincial education authorities to make them accountable.

Daniel Kumbon

Yesterday, Steven Gimbo mentioned it in commentary on Martyn Namorong’s piece and, Francis, you mention it again here that reviewing and marketing of PNG books is a problem in PNG.

There appear to be no distribution networks of PNG-authored books and a lack of interest in selling them. I approached bookshops in the city but they were reluctant.

Only the UPNG Bookshop sold copies of my two recent books for which I was really grateful. I presume all copies were sold because there was no copy on display when I visited the bookshop last week.

Schools appear to be the only places where PNG-authored books can be bought and read.

Three schools in Enga got copies of my books but they haven’t paid me yet for nearly two years now. But I understand they simply don’t have the money. I know they even find it hard to feed the students in the mess.

But Francis, how PNG books can be marketed and distributed in Australia is a possibility we – me, you and Martyn - can explore while we are there.

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