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Athabasca University

Why this Conference? Why Now?

The idea for holding the “Papua New Guinea: Then and Now” conference began as a simple “thank you” to Sydney University’s Research Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, which had invited me to come for a year as a Visiting Scholar. What started out as my giving some public talks and then perhaps organizing a half-day seminar on PNG literature ballooned into a two-day international conference that took six months of work for a committee of four people, with the assistance of two graduate students.

It is not often in an academic’s career that the opportunity arises to re-create an important historical moment. But that was what this conference did. For one magical moment we were able to gather together many of the people who had helped develop a new literature. For the two days of the conference itself, they were able to visit, re-kindle old friendships, and reflect on their participation in an exceptional period in the cultural life of a new nation.

What was even more wonderful than bringing these people together was that many of them had never before seriously considered the role they played in the history of book culture in PNG. Some, like Roger Boschman, were just young people, passing through, and having fun doing what came their way. Yet, Roger Boschman served as a very capable editor of the Administration’s literary journal, Papua New Guinea Writing, on the eve of Independence. Others, like William Takaku, a talented actor and director, had been catapulted at an equally young age into serving as Director of the newly-formed National Theatre Company.

Others attending the conference might not even have considered themselves to be part of a new literature. But librarians and archivists play a key role in the dissemination and conservation of literary texts. Broadcasters and journalists often provide the only publishing venues for new literatures. Teachers mentor young readers and writers. Administrators initiate and coordinate writing and publishing programs and host literature competitions.

Well. That was the “Then” part of the conference, encouraging reflection on a moment, almost 30 years prior, when a national literature was created, almost overnight.

But Papua New Guinea literature was not just an historical artifact. Many of the original players were still in the game. Sir Paulias Matane was still publishing. Greg Murphy was still teaching young writers. And other, younger, players had joined in. To represent the “Now” of PNG literature, we invited contemporary writers, scholars, educators, librarians, broadcasters and journalists. We hoped that, together, all these people would provide the connections between what was planned and dreamed and what eventuated.

Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services