Book reviews: September 2015
I was delighted to receive a copy of the 2014 Crocodile Prize Anthology and wondered what to expect from my memories of a traditional oral and multi-lingual society. The more I read, the more I became enthralled. Congratulations to the PNGAA for underwriting the production of this very worthwhile initiative.
More than half the contributions were from women, indicating access to educational opportunities. The value of education as a whole, the stories of the extraordinary efforts by families to enable access to education for their children were indeed inspiring. Education is certainly valued in PNG.
Dominant themes in the Contemporary Writing and Poetry sections were the issues of political and police corruption at a national and local level. The lack of development, in particular road maintenance, the dangers in travelling in PMV vehicles, particularly in the Highlands, were a cause of frustration. Poor health services, domestic violence and the influence of Betel-nut (Buai) on the economy, were also discussed.
Some writers attempted to grapple with changes from a traditional to a western style society. The issue of a so-called ‘Melanesian Way’ was raised. Did I perceive here the beginnings of a truly national identity in the writing? The 2015 Anthology may provide further development of this concept.
About the ‘writing’ itself, there was a range of writing styles from simple prose and story-telling to complex and sophisticated analysis of some topics. One writer was almost philosophical in questioning corruption in PNG today. This person was one of several, both male and female, who contributed items in every category.
The establishment of the Simbu Writers Association, as an outcome of the Crocodile Prize, is indeed a positive development. I am sure that, as this Association grows, it will be a vehicle for positive societal change.
The entries in the Heritage and Children categories were interesting and hopefully will expand further in future Anthologies. A culture that does not understand or respect its history will fail to grasp the building blocks of that culture and thus will live in a cultural vacuum. To this end, Heritage Writing and Children’s stories are an essential part of the knowledge and passing on to succeeding generations of ‘taim bilong tumbuna’. In this respect it would be both beneficial and appropriate that multiple copies of each year’s Anthology, be distributed to every High School and then form the basis for class discussions.
Singling out any specific item for comment, would be unfair. Suffice to say all were interesting, indeed, some were challenging, but always instructive. In summation, the raw honesty, passion and strength shown by the writings was indeed uplifting and in my opinion gives positive hope for the future.
I urge all readers of Una Voce to support the Crocodile Prize, by purchasing the 2015 Anthology when it becomes available. You will not be disappointed and you will gain an insight into all aspects, both good and bad, facing the contemporary development of PNG today. Pat Johnson
PNGVR: A History 1950-1973 by Major Bob Harvey-Hall, RFD, ED (Retd)
The New Guinea Volunteer Rifle (NGVR)/Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifle (PNGVR) Association members have some very distinguished and illustrious ancestors. In 1939 at the outbreak of war, the NGVR was raised as a citizens' military/surveillance unit. It comprised kiaps, planters, bankers, traders, miners and perhaps a few adventurous rascals, all with an intimate knowledge of the land and people of New Guinea. The traditions of these men were inculcated in PNGVR, the post war successor unit to NGVR. The Association members were former PNGVR members.
When war exploded in the Pacific, Australia made an effort to defend the Territories, with the deployment of token forces mainly at Port Moresby, Rabaul and New Ireland. These were supported by the NGVR, ANGAU and the Coast Watchers. Australia’s main military forces had been sent to the Middle East, Africa and Europe to support the Commonwealth war effort against Germany. It is important to remember that, from the commencement of the Japanese invasion in Rabaul to the Kokoda campaign, a period of five months, the rest of Papua and New Guinea was defended by these civilian volunteer forces with minimal support. But that is another story aptly recorded by Ian Downs in The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, Eric Feldt in Coastwatchers and Geoff Gray in ANGAU.
Bob Harvey-Hall's PNGVR is a massive and erudite history of that Australian CMF Unit from 1950 until its sad disbandment in 1973. It tells, in intimate detail, of the years of struggle of an isolated CMF unit to deal with tribal authorities, local and national governments and the Australian Regular Army. It did so with distinction to become a major force, to grow a national PNG community and with PIR a defence capability. In this task they worked with Government administration, the Australian authorities and the Police.
I was fortunate to be in PNG as a PIR Company Commander from 1961 to 1963 and a Commanding Officer from 1968 to 1970. It was an experience matched only by my service in Korea. The PNGVR were my constant companions and advisors in those periods.
For those of you who have any interest whatsoever in the growth of the Defence Forces in Papua New Guinea I urge you to read this valuable document. I doubt whether a more informative unit history will ever become available. It is unique in the amount of information available and the 10 years of dedication of the author.
Congratulations to The PNGVR Association and author Bob. The book is a grand memorial to your departed comrades. Colonel Maurie Pears, MC
I recently received my two volume set of Pictorial History of Papua New Guinea, compiled by Dianne McInnes. There is one glaring omission in these otherwise excellent volumes, and that is the lack of any mention or photo of naval activities in PNG other than what happened in German New Guinea in 1914.
The Defence Force section in Volume 1 – Pre 1975 is mostly about Army with some Air Force, and the Defence section in Volume 2 – Post 1975 is mostly about Air Force with some Army. I can also think of some naval related activities that might have qualified for inclusion in ‘The Moments in Time’ sections of the two volumes. For example, the war crimes trials and other developments on Manus Island towards the end of and post-World War II. A photo of the huge US naval base at Manus and the shipping in Seeadler Harbour might have been included: there’s plenty available on the web and elsewhere.
I was also surprised that there is no mention of the Coastwatchers in the coverage of World War II in Volume 1. Eric Feldt’s book The Coastwatchers is not included among the sources for this volume.
I had two long postings with the Navy in PNG—at HMAS Tarangau on Manus from mid-1967 to early 1970, including being in command of HMAS Aitape, the first PNG patrol boat (later HMPGS Aitape), followed by three years in Port Moresby from late 1971 until early late 1974—so the absence of any coverage of naval activities in these two volumes of PNG’s history is very disappointing.
The Navy is indeed the ‘silent service’ in these two volumes. Sam Bateman
For details of this book please refer to the June 2015 book reviews.