Lively Tales from Papua New Guinea by Bev Floyd, Watson Ferguson & Co (Boolarong Press), Salisbury Qld, 120 pages, 2017. ISBN: 978-0995410541. Available from the author here
TUMBY BAY - What seems ordinary to some people can appear quite exotic to others. Thus it is with the experiences of many Australians in Papua New Guinea prior to independence in 1975.
In reading Bev Floyd’s story of her eleven odd years as a teacher in Papua New Guinea, beginning in 1964, I came across nothing remarkable but that is only because I was there myself.
To someone unfamiliar with Papua New Guinea, Bev’s time there will be read quite differently.
As she says, the privilege that many Australians enjoyed working in Papua New Guinea was special and like many the experience “formed us and shaped our future lives”.
Trying to convey that to those outside this privileged group is often difficult; many have tried and many have failed.
This dilemma probably explains the twofold approach Bev decided to take in presenting her story.
To breach the gap between readers in the know and readers to whom Papua New Guinea is an unknown she has integrated her own personal story into an array of historical and factual information gleaned from a variety of sources, not least the internet and Wikipedia.
For the most part it works. Here and there, however, the introduced material tends to overwhelm the personal.
However, for many old and knowledgeable Papua New Guinea hands wading through this information to get to the more interesting personal memories may be a minor irritation.
To my mind, for instance, there is too much data related to World War II and the Pacific campaign. That may just be bias on my part however.
Another concern I have is the potential for inaccuracy in data taken from the internet, especially Wikipedia. That said, I didn’t come across anything too outrageously off beam. Bev obviously did some extra curricula homework.
Towards the end of the book, following an account of a revisit to Papua New Guinea after 50 years, Bev presents an interesting assessment of the state of play and what the future might hold for the nation and its people.
She’s very diplomatic in doing this but it is easy enough to read between the lines.
In a final summary under the heading ‘Unity’ she finishes with a comment by someone who “lived in PNG for many years and still has family living there”. Of Bev’s assessment this person says:
“Bev, my only comment on your article is that it sounds too good for PNG compared to what my family tell me. You sound much more hopeful than my family for short term improvement. You don’t mention much at all about all the corruption that goes on by Govt Ministers and the lives they destroy and so on.
“Some of the folk I meet and talk with get very angry with [the] present leadership in PNG and all that goes on. You hint a little at it, but don’t make it sound too bad at all. My family and friends are all in good positions in the country and most don’t have a personal axe to grind, but still get very angry.”
Bev, like many of us, sincerely wanted Papua New Guinea to succeed and we have a great deal of trouble recognising it has failed to live up to our expectations.
However, she doesn’t claim to be an expert and is happy to admit this, which is refreshing. Pretension to expertise by non-Papua New Guineans can sometimes be a big turnoff.
The book has an unusual A4 landscape style format, which allows for the large scale reproduction of photographs, some of them quite stunning. In the absence of attributions I’m guessing they are mainly Bev’s.
The main text detailing her time in Papua New Guinea is also unusual in that it is presented in the third person, present tense. This sounds strange, given the subject material, but it works quite well and contrasts nicely with the more conventional texts of the supporting data.
Towards the end of the book when describing her return visit, she reverts to a more conventional approach.
There are some minor typos in the text, and it is repetitive here and there, but overall it fulfils the goal of presenting a fascinating country to both the experienced Papua New Guinea aficionado and any new chum contemplating a visit there.