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16 April 2018


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Rashmii Bell

My interview for 'Pacific Conversations' with TNC Pacific Consulting's Dr Tess Newton Cain has now been published:

Rashmii Bell

Thank you, Max.

Interesting points you've made, Phil. Thank you.

A few things I'd like to expand on:

• The MWTE team has sent an email (+ follow up) to PM O'Neill and his Executive Assistant, pitching the idea of a literary festival (under the MWTE Project) be included in the APEC Program. Emails were in January. To date, no response (lest acknowledgement of email receipt). I will note that the literary festival proposed is intended to cover all genres - for writers, editors, publishers and illustrators. Aspiring and established.

• It would make sense for the Australian High Commission to take more of a proactive stance on this issue. Considering the literary culture, especially developing writers (Australian and First Nations) is diverse and thriving (generally). I would have thought Australia's presence in PNG would encourage, in fact demand the same of PNG.
The irony being PNG Writers (from the PNG Attitude collective) invitation to and inclusion in Queensland literary festivals since 2016.

• It is a shame that to date, the Australian High Commission has not deemed MWTE Project as a "stand alone project" that they could endorse, fund and support. We are all well versed in the successful reach and steady progress of the Project - I won't elaborate further.

• The MWTE team is always open to respectful, constructive dialogue with all organisations and individuals willing to contribute to or provide sponsorship for a literary festival - so overdue and should take place in PNG in 2018.

Max Uechtritz

Thanks Rashmii and Philip for this clarity and insight into a vexed issue... and for being so relentless in your pursuit to make it all happen.

Philip Fitzpatrick

When we were running the Crocodile Prize for Literature Keith and I tried very hard to get the governments of both Australia and Papua New Guinea to support our endeavours.

We had some early success with the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby when Ian Kemish was the High Commissioner but after he left the response became decidedly lukewarm and reluctant.

We had absolutely no success with the government of Papua New Guinea. A few MPs came along to the awards ceremonies to gain some reflected glory but made no substantive contributions in kind or finance.

If you consider that one of us was a practised exponent of blarney and the other was a very successful public relations guru you can appreciate the strength of the opposition we encountered.

After several years of banging our heads against the brick walls that both governments put in our way we concluded that the only way forward was seeking sponsorship from private enterprise.

We had a couple of bad experiences there too with various companies, organisations and individuals seeking to exploit our efforts for their own interests. Generally, however, the experiences were positive.

However, one of the things we never really worked out was why the governments of both Australia and Papua New Guinea were so disinterested in supporting Papua New Guinean literature. Our best shot was assuming that they saw encouraging free thought as somehow dangerous to them.

We realised that personal ambition, greed and corruption were big drivers but could never really pin down how it all came together in such a negative way.

Rasmii’s article reminded me of those unsuccessful efforts of ours but also some of my experiences as a social mapper in Papua New Guinea. In particular, it reminded me of something called Co-cultural Theory.

This theory was introduced into the anthropological canon in the 1970s by cultural anthropologists Shirley and Edwin Ardener.

They had noticed that many cultural anthropologists working in the field usually only talked to the leaders of the cultures they were studying, very often just the adult males.

These anthropologists then went on to use their findings to represent the particular culture as a whole, leaving out the perceptions of women, children and other groups made voiceless by the cultural hierarchy. With feminist anthropologists the opposite sometimes happened. Holistic appreciations were only realised when male and female anthropologists partnered for such studies.

This was a phenomenon that I worked out for myself when doing social mapping in Papua New Guinea. It was also an approach that harked back to my days as a kiap. In what were largely patriarchal societies I tried to also garner opinion from the women and children, usually in an informal way so as not to upset the alpha males.

I think this mistake by cultural anthropologists in only talking to leaders is also what happens when countries like Australia are deciding where to target their aid money.

Rashmii alludes to this when she reports her discussion with staff at the Australia High Commission. They and the Papua New Guinean government are only interested in big, high-end infrastructure projects that have visible kudo value.

Co-cultural Theory has application over a wide range of interactions between different cultures, particularly those that represent relationships stemming out of previous colonial associations.

Leadership that owes its mores and standards to colonial experience is one such aspect.

Exploitation within cultures is another aspect where, for instance, those ripping off low paid workers often come from the same cultural group. This happens in many rural worker schemes currently in operation in Australia. It also happens in government, especially in Papua New Guinea.

Another aspect is co-cultural appropriation, where a dominant culture adopts elements of a minority culture and exploits it for its own benefit. The exploitation of the traditional Papua New Guinean bilum by overseas fashion houses is a case in point.

What Australia needs to do when considering where to target its aid in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere is talk to ordinary people as well as their leaders.

It is only then that groups like Papua New Guinean writers will find a voice and garner some government support.

Keith and I started off under the somewhat naïve assumption that this is part of what the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby is supposed to do.

We were mistaken. Thankfully, we worked that out fairly quickly. Otherwise the Crocodile Prize for Literature may never have happened.

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