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By Rashmii Amoa Images courtesy of Mr. Keith Jackson
Writing is one thing. Having your material published, another. Yet both may become reality through the support of the Crocodile Prize Organisation (COG), a body that strives to encourage, support and promote literature written and published by Papua New Guineans. I am one of the handful of Papua New Guineans who have benefited from this entirely volunteer-run organisation and so it was with much delight to be able to interview COG’s President, Mr. Jimmy Drekore.
Rashmii Amoah: My first recollection of appreciating a person’s writing skills was after reading Enid Blyton’s The Folk of the Faraway Tree. That was over twenty years ago. At that time, I hadn’t considered that someone from my own country could write such a magical story, yet alone have a book published! My involvement in the COG’s activities has certainly changed that perspective. How long have you been writing for and how did you become involved with the COG?
Jimmy Drekore: In 1992 it was my first travel overseas, a scholarship from AIDAB (Australian International Development Assistant Bureau) to do college, at Downlands College, Toowoomba. I missed home so to get myself away from this home sickness I went to the library and skimmed through books. I started writing little texts or notes about home. Then I come across poetry books which are different to other books (I didn’t know what poetry was that time). I could relate because what I was writing were small stanzas so I started connecting those stanzas which was really the beginning of my poetry writing.
From 1992 to 2011 I had a good collection of poems from various subjects. In 2011 I came across the Crocodile Prize and submitted few of my poems. It was one of the joyous moment of my life when my poem “Walking bare footed to be educated” won the inaugural award for poetry announced by our legendary Russel Soaba at the Australian High Commission. I never left the Crocodile Prize since.
RA: Can you explain how the COG operates and what functions it serving the people of Papua New Guinea?
JD: COG is the body that runs the Crocodile Prize. It is made up of volunteers to secure sponsorships, facilitate publishing and ultimately encourages the culture of reading & writing in PNG through awarding of the prizes and publishing of the submitted entries in the annual anthologies.
RA: I was overjoyed when I read an entry for this year’s, entitled ‘ I find the time to write…and I write books’ by Papua New Guinean writer, Baka Bina. I felt Mr. Bina was describing my exact situation! Like Mr. Bina and the majority of Papua New Guinean writers, I have a lot of other daily responsibilities that usually my passion for writing is crammed into the few blocks of ‘spare’ ten minutes I have each day. I think Mr. Bina said it well when he said ‘to be able to produce a written piece, a person has to find time, commit time and spend time. The editorial work can come later when a body of work is completed in draft form’. It just reiterated to me that I don’t need a whole day or week to get writing done. But the time I do have must be used wisely. What advice does the COG aim to convey to Papua New Guineans wishing to pursue their passion for writing?
JD: Papua New Guineans are story tellers and there are those out there who have written something but haven’t come out. This I see evident through the number of surprising talents we unearth each year through the Crocodile Prize. If we can reach as wide as possible all corners of PNG the literary talents will truly be an amazing find because PNG stories and poetries are unique and diverse.
Our encouragement to Papua New Guineans is leave your story behind or you were never here.
( I highly recommend a read of ‘I find the time to write…and I write books’ (by Baka Bina). It is an inspiring personal narrative of the ups and downs of what it takes to finish a written piece. Read it on Keith Jackson and Friends: PNG Attitude asopa.typepad.com. Click on link ‘June 2015).
RA: Named after the first novel written and published by a Papua New Guinean, the COG’s national literary competition (Crocodile Prize) was named after Sir Vincent Serei Eri’s (1936-1993) novel, The Crocodile. It’s generally known that to be able to write and continually improve your writing skills, you must read. Pukpuk Publishing is the COG’s publication arm. It is responsible for the editing and publishing (amongst other titles) a book containing a chosen selection of entries from the respective year’s Competition. The books are titled ‘Crocodile Prize Anthology’. Could you explain what can be found within the pages of these PNG authored books? How can they Volumes be obtained?
JD: The Crocodile Prize Anthology contains poems, short stories, essays, Heritage (myths and legends) and writing for children all original works from PNGans. These are the best selected writings from a pool of more than 500 plus entries. Prize sponsors are acknowledged in each of the categories hence giving prominence for their support. The anthology is on sale through Amazon.com or email Jimmy Drekore through email@example.com to facilitate for hard copies.
RA: The bulk of the material I write is in the prose of comical satire. I write about issues I think are serious and need deep reflection by contemporary PNG society. In the first instance, Keith Jackson and Friends: PNG Attitude (asopa.typepad.com) edit and publish my material. Since first submission, I’ve benefited immensely. Not only in terms of improving my editing and writing skills but, the education filtered through the COG’s writers and commentators. There is so much information-sharing and discussion about historical and contemporary PNG society through the various genres. In what ways has the COG seen PNG writers develop? What genre (s) would the COG be interested seeing attempted by more Papua New Guineans?
JD: The COG has provided this once in a life time opportunity to Papua New Guinean writers to realise their dreams especially in editing and publishing their writings. On that note, we also need more Papua New Guineans to be editors which is currently a challenge.
RA: In his time (2010) as Australian High Commissioner Mr.Ian Kemish was instrumental in supporting the Crocodile Prize. Unfortunately in 2015, the COG has seen a withdrawal of sponsorship from the Australian High Commission. I was extremely disappointed when I read of this, only because I consider my literary and analytical skills as a product of the high standard of the Australian Education Curriculum. Not only the curriculum but generally, Australia has consistently emphasised the need of having literary resources (especially Australian-authored) readily available in schools, homes and the community. What is the message signalled to the COG when organisations (and individuals) who continue, or seek to establish, their commitment to providing sponsorship for the Crocodile Prize?
JD: Sponsors are indicating that they believe in a greater good that will benefit Papua New Guinean writers, potential writers, students and all who will part take in the Crocodile Prize.
RA: There’s no denying that literacy development in early and primary education provides a foundation for reading and writing skills. I think PNG is doing well in this area. But I think it’s very important that Papua New Guinean children are reading books that have been written by Papua New Guineans. Also, I think that the same level of commitment is shown to other age-groups of our population. The availability of literature written by Papua New Guineans that is readily accessible by school leavers, adults and our elders is very limited. How does the COG work to address this issue?
JD: In PNG there are not too many public libraries hence we encourage all tertiary institutions and universities to come on board and stock their libraries with books written by PNGans. Interest in literacy must be grasped by students, primary to university level. Let’s start with this generation so in the future we have a literate population.
RA: Just yesterday I read a quote by the late Robin Williams (Actor) who said ’ No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world’. I think that is so true when reflecting on how
Entry contributions in this year’s Crocodile Prize Awards have adjusted my perceptions about PNG society. What has the COG seen as the predominant themes discussed by the PNG writers through their poems, short stories, essays etc?
JD: Experiences of the writers in their own settings have provoked most of their entries. There is no specific theme that stands out but general Governance issues spread across the writings.
RA: This year’s Crocodile Prize Awards ceremony take place in Kundiawa from the 18th -20th September. The weekend event is being hosted by the Simbu Writers Association of which you are the President. It is also the year in which after five years, an operational shift is being made. The COG under the leadership of Mr. Keith Jackson and Mr.Phil Fitzpatrick who have volunteered their literary expertise, editorial oversight, networking and management has been truly invaluable to the development of Papua New Guineans writers and respective titles being published. However, in line with what both men have strongly encouraged, it is time for us Papua New Guineans take more ownership of the COG to ensure PNG written literature develops a permanent presence in our society. How can Papua New Guineans get involved and ensure that this happens?
JD: This year, the COG invited and are pleased to announce that the Minister for Education and Member for Gumine. Hon. Mr. Nick Kuman will be in attendance at the Awards Ceremony. This one step towards Papua New Guineans acknowledging that ‘now it’s our turn’ to take ownership of the COG.
RA: Papua New Guinean writer Phillip Kaupa’s poem ‘Write for a greater prize’ has become somewhat of my mantra for own writing. On the days I’m stuck and I often refer back to his line ‘That words can linger, though they start small at the finger’.I write in the hope that someone when reads my work, it leaves them with the desire to reflect on their own perceptions and maybe challenge what they see,hear and read around them. What inspires you to keep writing as you continue your involvement with the COG?
JD: One day I will be gone so I have to leave a foot print so those coming behind will know Jimmy Drekore was here. I always say this, if you don’t leave your story behind, you were never here.
(Read ‘Write for a greater prize’ by Phillip Kaupa on Keith Jackson and Friends: PNG Attitude asopa.typepad.com. Click on link, ‘ June 2015’)
RA: Mr. Drekore, thank you for your time. With the invaluable work that the COG does in addressing the literary needs of our nation, it can only be strengthened by more Papua New Guineans getting involved to ensure that we’re reading, writing and supporting literature written by Papua New Guineans. I truly believe that a literate nation is an informed nation, making an empowered people.
Thank you. Together we can change Papua New Guinea for the better.
Follow the Crocodile Prize Organisation on Facebook via their page ‘Crocodile Prize’, website crocodileprize.org or by visiting Keith Jackson and Friends: PNG Attitude on asopa.typepad.com to read examples of high standard literature by Papua New Guinean writers.