The Papua New Guinea Literary Competition The Crocodile Prize received the highest number of entries ever, this year. On closing last night the Crocodile Prize fetched a total 826 entries from 132 writers & illustrators.
Poetry 355; Essay 196; Story 129; Children 52; Heritage 48; Illustration 21; Tourism Arts Culture 15; Book of the Year 10.
These numbers may not sound very much for writers in other countries, but for any Papua New Guinean writer, it is a very heart-warming news, especially coming from a literary culture that almost became extinct. In the early 70s, leading up to the country’s independence, passion for art, culture and heritage including the literary pursuits and publishing of works written by PNG writers were at their peak. It is not quite clear why the interests have fallen so much after independence. That culture may have been used because we were proud of our identity and we wanted independence so much or perhaps the general growth of consumerism and the wider issues of social, economic and political changes have contributed to this new – lack of passion of culture. I remember growing up with radio stories written by PNG writers, attending and being part of stage plays – written by PNG writers. Poetry, stories, essays as well as other forms of literary work were promoted and supported by the national government.
The lack of passion in the arts and the literary support to me is quite surprising and sad; our culture is based on oral history and story-telling.
As a PNG writer, a practicing artist and an arts curator, it seems very clear to me, that the PNG government’s priority is elsewhere and not the least in the arts. But to not even support the literary aspect and especially in developing educational content that is relevant to our children and educational for our people is wrong. We cannot just tell stories and pass them on – now we can write them down and keep for many years.
It is not how much minerals we export and logs we sell, but the natural beauty, our rich art, culture, languages and stories that set PNG apart, and gives us our unique identity. The literary scene dwindled to almost non-existent, although that could have been easily combined with and taught through the education system. There are not many avenues and support nor funding where PNG writers could train or share their work, and even to sell. Most workshops, training and activities relating to creative writing or any literary work have been Aid funded or Privately sponsored in the past four decades. Now this is how things have started to change for the PNG literary scene.
THE CROCODILE PRIZE STORY
The Crocodile Prize was established in 2010 by Phil Fitzpatrick and Keith Jackson, (both Australians) worked for many years in Papua New Guinea; Fitzpatrick as a patrol officer, Jackson as a broadcaster and journalist.
The Prize evolved from the popular PNG Attitude blog, which has a policy of encouraging and publishing Papua New Guinean contributors.
The concept of a national literary competition was triggered by Fitzpatrick’s concern that creative writing in Papua New Guinea had fallen upon hard times, and that this was a cultural constraint needing to be addressed.
The first awards were presented in 2011, a year of determining whether or not a project of this kind could be managed successfully given geographical, financial and the constraints of a voluntary organisation.
Using PNG Attitude as a vehicle for publicity and initial publication, Fitzpatrick and Jackson soon discovered an enthusiastic and rapidly emerging body of Papua New Guinean writers.
They were assisted greatly in the early stages by material and financial support provided by the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby and later by a range of sponsors, most of them PNG-based.
This backing made it possible for a range of associated activities to be instituted in addition to the Prize, including an awards ceremony, the publication of an annual anthology and the initiation of writers’ forums.
After the first awards in September 2011, it was agreed the Prize should become a permanent part of the literary landscape of PNG. Now under the management of the Crocodile Prize Organisation, COG, 2015 will mark its fifth year of operations.
PHIL FITZPATRICK on 2015 Competition
Thus ends another year of the Crocodile Prize literary contest.
IT’S not every day that you get to influence the revival of literature in a whole country, unintentionally or otherwise.
I must admit to some surprise that it has happened at all. What started as a humble writing competition seems to have bloomed beyond all expectations.
There is a sense of pride in what has happened but, strangely, it’s not personal. Rather it is a sense of pride in the achievements of the writers involved.
At a personal level it has been more of a humbling experience. There is also a sense of awe and enrichment.
The enrichment comes from reading the works submitted to the competition and the sheer learning experience involved.
I think, despite nearly fifty years travelling back and forth to the country, I’ve really only learned to understand Papua New Guinea in the last few years of the Crocodile Prize.
There is also a tinge of anger involved, mostly through the fact that an uninterested government and lackadaisical education system could let such a promising and rich cultural emergence in the 1970s wilt on the vine and become moribund.
That aside, one of the ironies I really enjoy is the fact that the revival has only now been possible because of the advent of digital technologies that were supposed to see the demise and eventual extinction of books. Such are the shaky prognostications of the doomsayers.
The key factors in the Papua New Guinean revival have been the Internet and the availability of digital publishing and print-on-demand technologies.
These have underpinned the Crocodile Prize, firstly by providing a writers’ outlet in the form of PNG Attitude and secondly in offering a cheap way to publish the best in an annual anthology and then to go even further in publishing stand-alone individual books by Papua New Guineans.
The future of literature in Papua New Guinea is starting to look rosy but we need to remind ourselves that it is still extremely fragile.
The disastrous complacency of the 2013 competition organisers reminds us of what could still happen.
2014-15 has been a watershed year and there’s light at the end of the tunnel but sustainability is still a long way off and we aren’t there yet by any stretch of the imagination.
The winners of this year’s Crocodile Prize will be announced early September. The awards event will be held in Kundiawa on Saturday 19 September