Tag Archives: Malum Nalu Blog

Land Echoes – Writing Fiction Based on Actual History

Here is a story about a storyteller and how he told his grandfather’s story.

This is an interview I found on Malum Nalu blog about a friend and a Papua New Guinea writer and scholar, Steven Winduo. I wanted to feature Steven on my blog because some of the things and the way he wrote his novel is interesting and we can learn from them as writers. In his own words below, Steven explained how he wrote his book, Land Echoes (2014), based on his grandfather’s life story.


It is challenging to write fiction, based on actual history, than on pure imagination. The challenge is to be as close to history, but aided with literary license to reconstruct a storyline that maps out the narrative. The technique known as fictionalizing history is taken on board to plough the field of history and fiction to make something grow out of it.

Land Echoes (2014) is my first novel based on my grandfather, Holonia Jilaka, whose life inspired this book. Although not a biography the novel’s timeline is based on the part of my grandfather’s history.

I recorded my grandfather’s story on tape when I was a University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) student many years ago. The part that I was interested in was the part where he went to the Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 1933 as a shepherd boy with the Catholic missionaries. He spent three years (1933-1935) in Simbu area before being discharged as a mission boy. He then joined the police force, taking his training in Rabaul depot under the instructions from Ludwig Somare and a sergeant from Buka. Kiap Jim Taylor recruited him into the police unit to make the historical Hagen Sepik patrol in 1938/1939.

My grandfather told me only part of the story. The rest I had to read and discover for myself. From the transcript I had of his story I began the writing project in December 1994/January 1995. At that time I was studying for my PhD in English at the University of Minnesota, USA. It was winter holidays but I could not return home.

To keep me busy and distracted from homesickness in the middle of Minnesota winter I decided to write five pages a day the early drafts of the novel, Land Echoes. I wrote every day without for two months, completing the first draft of the novel by the time February 1995 came around. I was quite happy with the self-productivity that winter. I think I completed around 500 pages of hand written notes.

I then started the process of typing the manuscript into my laptop. By the time classes started again I shelved the writing project for my PhD program. From time to time I returned to my manuscript in the next 20 years, even after my doctoral studies. I had some help along the way from colleagues and writers in PNG and Australia. I received documents, manuscripts, and books about the famous Hagen Sepik Patrol that Jim Taylor, John Black, and Pat Walsh, but only as sources of reference to contextualize the history that was made with the help Papua New Guinean policemen like my grandfather.

I was interested in highlighting the life of my grandfather against the early work of the Catholic Church in the Highlands and the Australian government’s administration of the newly discovered highlands region of Papua New Guinea.

The only way I could make sense of this was to delve into history that I was born too late to know. I equipped the writing life with raw imagination to enter into the period beginning late 1920s and 1930s to juxtapose that with periods from 1960s to the 1970s. The challenge with a project such as mine was to make history interesting to read through fictional narrative, while making sure to remain close to actual events in history.

Read More on Steven’s blog

More Mystery Surrounds The Fishy Find

“The Fishy Find” follow-up story.

Burnt Fishing Boat Liau Yuan Yu 68
Burnt Fishing Boat Liao Yuan Yu 68, believed to have been set on fire after it ran aground just off Manus Islands, Papua New Guinea. Pic: Courtesy ABC.

I posted a story on December 30, about three bodies being found by villagers in a suspected illegal fishing boat off the coast in Manus, Papua New Guinea.

PNG authorities were unable to find the bodies reported in abandoned tuna fishing boat freezer. Here is the follow-up story from ABC PNG correspondent Liam Cochrane.

Liao Yuan Yu 68, the abandoned fishing boat Liao is believed to have been set on fire by the crew after it ran aground.

Three human bodies reportedly left in the freezer of an abandoned fishing vessel in Papua New Guinea may have been removed and replaced with three metre-long tuna, according to a journalist who accompanied police to the site.

Fishing Boat at Poana Island, Manus
Fishing boat aground on Poana Island, Manus. Courtesy. ABC

The fishing vessel was abandoned on a remote island in the far east of PNG’s waters in early December and locals reported seeing three corpses “of Asian appearance” inside a freezer.
But when police and government officials travelled to the site this week, they found three huge tuna on trays in the freezer, which had been damaged by fire.

PNG investigation team on the boat.
PNN investigation team members on the burnt fishing boat. Pic: Courtesy ABC

“The fish that were there looked like [they] had just recently been burned – you could still see blood on the fish,” said Stephanie Elizah, a senior journalist working with the Autonomous Government of Bougainville’s media bureau, who was part of the assessment trip.

“The information doesn’t add up,” she said.
“The young kid that went into the freezer area [initially], he noticed an ankle, it was decayed but it was still in the shape of a foot and was wrapped in black wrapper.
“You’re talking about a community that [has been] eating fish all their lives and they know the difference between a fish and a human body.”
It is unclear if the initial reports of human bodies were incorrect or if the corpses had been removed and replaced with the tuna.
“No one has come up and said whether they burnt the ship or they may have retrieved the corpses and buried [them] somewhere,” Elizah said.

Courtesy: Malum Nalu Blog and ABC News.


How Whitlam’s self-interest sank PNG

How Whitlam’s self-interest sank PNG

This article was re-blogged from Malum Nalu Blog. Malum Nalu is the most read blogger, journalist from Papua New Guinea. He also happens to be my cousin. Thank you bro for sharing this article from Geoffrey Luck.

I was ten-years-old when Papua New Guinea received Independence from Australia. I remember that day and what we had to do in school. As a Papua New Guinean and a child at that time, I never understood what the change in my country meant; I guess I was too young to understand.  However, over the years, I noticed how things have changed.

· NOVEMBER 04, 2014

Gough Whitlam and a young Michael Somare at Independence celebrations. Credit: Whitlam Institute.

In all the words written about Gough Whitlam, little has been said of one of his greatest ideological and opportunistic initiatives, one of which he was inordinately proud, yet inevitably became one of his many disasters. We know it as the failed state of Papua New Guinea.

Gough Whitlam and a young Michael Somare at Independence celebrations. Credit: Whitlam Institute.

In the 1960s Whitlam used PNG as a lever to advance his ambitions in the Labor Party. His regular visits culminated in his 1970 tours of the territory inciting radicalism and disparaging the efforts of government, business and settlers in his crusade against what he termed Australian colonialism.
Whitlam has been seen as a visionary, but in reality he was a fashionista, shrewdly sensitive to ideas already current in the wider world to which he could sincerely subscribe and could appropriate.
So it was with anti-colonialism, the grand international theme of the 60s. It swelled to the nationalistic drumbeat as former colonies gained independence, then ­blossomed as their petty tyrants took triumphant control of the UN organs of moralistic reform.
In the first few years of that decade, 30 former colonies of France, Britain, Belgium and Italy secured independence, some after bitter and protracted bloody struggles.
The steady Australian policy of uniform development of PNG was contrasted to the frantic Dutch ­efforts to produce a political elite in West New Guinea, as Indonesia sprinkled paratroopers into the swamps of Manokwari.
Hugh Foot, the British colonial administrator who lowered the Union Jack around the world, became Britain’s ambassador to the Trusteeship Council in 1961, gamekeeper turned poacher. The next year he led the UN visiting mission that critiqued Australia’s management of PNG, ­demanding a local parliament.
In response to these growing pressures, a House of Assembly of 100 members was elected from a common electoral roll in 1964, but the Trusteeship Council and the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation increasingly demanded independence. It was a campaign Whitlam wholeheartedly endorsed, oblivious to the realities of PNG or the wishes of the great majority of the native population.
ALP policy under ­Arthur Calwell supported the Menzies government policy of uniform development. Calwell visited New Guinea regularly and was well-informed on territory affairs. Whitlam set out to destroy the bi­partisan approach to PNG ­dev­elopment. It fitted ­con­ven­i­ently with his efforts to ­reform the party and replace ­Calwell as leader.
Paul Hasluck, minister for territories and author of the gradualist policy of development, told parliament in April 1961 that Whitlam was using New Guinea as “just another rung on a ­borrowed ladder” for his climb to leadership.
In 1965, Whitlam told a World Bank seminar in Goroka that “the world will think it anomalous if Papua New Guinea is not independent by 1970”.
A few days later he went much further, in a dinner speech to the 400 most influential Australians in Port Moresby. That speech has never been reported because he pulled one of his most reprehensible stunts.
Before he spoke, he called for any journalists in the room to stand up, then asked the four of us to undertake not to report what he was about to say — “otherwise I will not be saying it”, he said. What he went on to say shocked everyone in the room.

Only deputy leader and speaking against Labor policy, he warned that as soon as Labor came to power it would announce full self-government for PNG, and immediately set the constitutional wheels in motion to grant ­independence.
Whitlam hoped to unnerve Territorians, but not let his party or Australia know. To this day I have been ashamed I didn’t break that undertaking, extorted under such disgraceful circumstances.

By 1967 Whitlam was leader, but he narrowly lost the 1969 election. In his notorious tour of PNG in 1969-70, he courted small radical elements such as Pangu Pati while ignoring government officers, and insulting conservative native leaders as “Uncle Toms” and their massed supporters as stooges of Australian colonialism.
The tour climaxed in Rabaul where Whitlam blundered into a land and local government dispute. At a mass gathering of more than 10,000 wildly cheering Tolais at Queen Elizabeth Park, what he said, further exaggerated by deliberate mistranslation, was interpreted as support for their rebellion and a promise of independence. Senior administration officers were furious that he had allowed himself to be used.
Six months later prime minister John Gorton faced a similar crowd at the same site, but this time raging in fury against Australian government policies. The situation became so threatening the district commissioner slipped Gorton a pistol. In the event, the tension evaporated when the sound system failed.
PNG achieved self-government in 1973 and independence in 1975. It was all too early, with too little done. The pressures had come from outside, but Whitlam forced the pace by encouraging and magnifying the ambitions of unrepresentative elites.
In his book The Whitlam Government, he wrote: “If history were to obliterate the whole of my public career, save my contribution to the independence of a democratic PNG, I should rest content.”
Last month, a Papua New Guinean writer, Mathias Kin, marked Whitlam’s contribution to his country’s independence with this bitter comment: “It lasted only 15 years before self-interest and corruption grabbed it by the throat.”
Geoffrey Luck was the ABC’s news editor, PNG, from 1962 to 1967 and trained the first Papuan and New Guinean journalists