‘The Crocodile Prize” Competition Finesses The Writing Talent of Papua New Guinea

The publication - 'The Crocodile Prize - Anthology 2011" - contains the literary expressions of 21 PNG writers

Behold! the conscience of PNG speaks from the shadows no more!

I was most privileged and honored to take part in the inaugural launch of ‘The Crocodile’ Prize Awards, which took place yesterday at the Australian High Commission. No-one would have known that on the grounds of the Australian High Commission, taking place behind closed doors was a birthing of the PNG writers’ collective resolve: to make writing as prominent as the eye can see, the nose can smell, the ear can hear and the mouth can spread the news, that PNG writers are not a dying breed. Far from it!

Keith Jackson (with glasses), Phil Fitzpatrick and our host HE Mr Kemish, the Australian High Commissioner to PNG

I found myself holding back my emotions as I gazed into the happy expectant faces of upcoming contemporary PNG writing pioneers and the assurance of the future of PNG literature. A group united in spirit to make their mark on PNG’s future and its destiny. I felt an overwhelming sense of oneness with this eclectic group of vibrant and perceptive writers whose country is the bedrock of the content of their literary expressions.

PNG writing has come of age, olgeta! The new generation has discovered its own ‘wave of motivation and inspiration’ to drive their literary talent into the public domain. Thanks in no small measure to Keith Jackson and Phil Fitzpatrick and the great support received through Keith’s ‘PNG Attitude’ blog that saw yesterday happen. It was a labour of love that was not in vain.

I could hear and feel in my spirit that for each of these writers their literary journey has truly begun. It was a long time coming. This is a journey that they most certainly will not travel alone. Wherever we are these are our voices too. We must lend them our strong support so that they can continue to give us, through their writing, the checks and balances we need to maintain, in how we relate to eachother as Papua New Guineans and how we should deal with the challenges that we advertently or inadvertently have brought upon ourselves and from which we are struggling to free ourselves.

I did not know many of them but when I started reading their works in the recently published ‘The Crocodile Prize – An Anthology 2011’ I realized that I do know them. I recognized the struggles, successes, uncertainly and so on that they are experiencing as they strive to understand where they have come from and where they should be going. Some of which I totally identify with.

Some of the writers. Russell Soaba in the foreground (with purple shirt) - he was one of the iconic pre-Independence PNG pioneer writers.

We are united through their interests and concerns from the political to social and communal issues to their spiritual belonging to PNG and their experiences while growing up in their villages, Port Moresby and other places in PNG as well as life in general.

The Anthology contains the literary expressions of, if you like, their reality.

These are the voices that need to be heard. As the winner of the Essay Award whose essay entitled ‘The Political Economy of Everything That’s Wrong in Developing PNG’ quite succinctly stated in his winning essay when he read to us an extract of his writing upon receiving his well-deserved award:

“…I don’t dream anymore, I am grounded in reality. I grapple with the facts as they are. Perhaps there are too many visionaries and dreamers such that no one is there to deal with the reality of life in Papua New Guinea. Even a vast majority of people who are trapped like me do not wish to deal with reality.”

How many of us public servants hear this ‘voice’, how many of us can understand this writer’s reality who are also grappling with the facts as they are but with a difference. To do something about it by raising our game to be more focused on public service and to make public service our reality so that we can move forward with mitigating or preventing this writer’s pain and many like him. They say that writers are society’s conscience. Has ours arrived or are they too late?

The day ended with the award ceremony kindly hosted by the Australian High Commissioner and his staff in the foyer area. The sight of the awards, a small crocodile figurine mounted on a rectangular wooden base and with a metal plaque, and with such meticulous detail was evidence enough that ‘The Crocodile Prize’ was here to stay. PNG’s literary renaissance would be a force to be reckoned with, without a doubt!

Thank you so much Keith Jackson, of PNG Attitude fame among his other illustrious achievements and of course avid writer and close PNG observer, Phil Fitzpatrick – both close friends of PNG with a passion for PNG writing and writers – for your  commitment spiritually, and financially that saw this inaugural literary competition come into being yesterday. To Keith and Phil, you must have felt like doting parents as your ‘child’ was born. Am sure that Patrick (Big Pat) Levo, Features Editor at the Post Courier felt the the same way too. Thank you gentlemen for your vision and for such an awesome result.

Lady Margaret Eri

One brief moving moment I experienced during the award proceedings is worth mentioning here. I wondered who else may have also caught the moment. When Lady Margaret Eri was asked, impromptu, to say a few words, she did so graciously and I found myself hanging on to every word she said. Lady Margaret  is the widow of one of the iconic sons of PNG. From her disposition, I can see that under that calm and collected exterior she would have been unmistakably the rock and the pillar of strength behind the late Sir Vincent. As she spoke in a quiet dignified and assured way, she mentioned that her beloved husband, the late Sir Vincent Eri passed away in 1993 and that this was the first time that such a significant gesture had been paid her husband. There were no dramatics just simply a statement of fact.

I was moved to tears. I don’t know why but one thing was for sure in my mind – we tend to forget our forebears and the endless possibilities they had opened up for us. We tend to take them for granted. It was truly an eye-opener what she said and a heart-rending reminder of what we need to do more often. Remember those who have blazed the many trails for us – that enabled and empowered us to pursue careers in almost every field of development, our passions, our preoccupations – great and small, our peaceful lifestyles, and above all a nation to be proud of as well as be part of which they had not allowed anyone to take away from us – our birthright Papua New Guinea.  Sir Vincent was one of the pioneers of our nation. Could remembering the trail blazers be another or new ‘wave of motivation and inspiration’ for contemporary PNG writing? Only time will tell.

With Mizraiim Lapa and Lapieh Landu - winner of the Dame Carol Kidu Award for Women's Literature.

The day closed with a small reception to celebrate the launch and the awardees. I was quite pleased that I had managed to get most of the writers to autograph my copy of ‘The Crocodile Prize – Anthology 2011” and took a few photos with them. What a wonderful fulfilling day.

With Keith Jackson - we were classmates at UPNG in the early 70s.

I went home feeling so uplifted. Of all the days during this week, yesterday had to be the highest point. It been the eve of celebrating PNG’s 36th national day, I realized what a fitting tribute the day was, (Thursday, 15th September, 2011) to a soon-to-become a better known group of artists – the PNG writers.

Hello, Papua New Guinea! The writers are coming!