Sunday, September 19, 2010

Randolph Stow's great novel Visitants seen in comparison with some others which take our Pacific neighbours for their subject matter

I  wrote this ten years ago. Doubtless I would write it differently now; I would probably be less ideological/politically correct (though I do think those who sneer about 'political correctness' are just trying, in the cheapest possible way, to shut those of us who want a more equitable world up).

Please excuse the minor formating problems in one of the quotes - just couldn't solve it.


Beachmasters  A Novel by Thea Astley, Penguin Books, Australia, 1985, pp 185, paper.
JF Was Here  A Novel for the 1990s by Nigel Krauth, Allen & Unwin, Australia, 1990, pp 168, paper.
Palu by Louis Nowra, Picador, Australia, 1987, pp 222, paper.
Visitants by Randolph Stow, Picador, London, 1981, pp 183, paper.

What human beings make of others is often invidious. The notion of the `Other' onto whom we project our sometimes unconscious fears and desires is a commonplace these days but remains a fascinating source of inquiry as much of the world undergoes the huge conceptual shifts brought about by analyses of the oppression of women, racism, homophobia and abuse of the environment which are in fact transforming the Realpolitik.

Next to the paradigmatic case of the class struggle, racism has offered twentieth century social analysts the richest field from which conclusions might be drawn and extrapolated into the study of other forms of exploitation and oppression.

Now that Australia, still struggling to shrug off its colonial past itself, is adopting a big brother attitude to the other, smaller South Pacific island nations which surround it, it might be interesting to examine the way it views these near neighbours in the light of these analyses.

Niugini is the site chosen by all but one of the novelists discussed here. This is not so surprising, given the colonial dominance Australia wielded over Niugini and that the exception is Thea Astley, whose writing is marked by a vigorous independence manifest in the authenticity of her vision and originality of style. She deals with characteristic strength in realities other Australian writers seem not to be prepared for. The site of her novel Beachmasters is a fictional islands state, which very much suggests Vanuatu, but Astley does not name it as such, probably in order to free her writing from the demands of history and other constraints of specificity. Her account of the revolution and bid for independence on aeland Kristi follows similar actual events throughout Vanuatu.

It is Niugini, which has called forth remarkable fiction from another of Australia's great writers, Randolph Stow. His Visitants also explores a conflict between an established order and demands for a post-colonial ordering which would embrace both the indigenous tradition and what that tradition makes of its experience of being colonised –

The story itself is an old one, possibly very old indeed. It tells how an older brother (black), through his impetuous behaviour, lost his inheritance to a younger brother (white), who took away the family's European tools and settled in Dimdim, the homeland of the Australians and various other white nations. As he also took away the mother and sister, these manufactured goods and skills have remained, quite properly, in Dimdim, descending in the female line. On to this story METUSELA then grafted another one, slightly adapted to the new phenomenon of the space-craft ... (p 153). 

Cargo cults are used as a trope of this experience by these Australian novelists in their accounts of the Old coming to terms with the imposed and deliriously embraced New (the profound disruption wrought on the inhabitants when the Second World War brought an abrupt influx of modern machinery which was later, just as inexplicably, scrapped also reverberates through these novels). While Astley's work remains resolutely in a disturbingly tough view of reality, Stow's reaches towards a metaphysical, mystical vision. Very high claims may be made for both these novels.

Louis Nowra, perhaps better known in Australia as a dramatist, has set his novel Palu in a Niugini moving towards and caught in the throes of independence. His narrator, Palu, is a woman imprisoned by the husband she has loved and supported from obscurity unto a tyrannical Presidency. Emoti, Palu's brilliantly gifted husband, might bring Michael Somare to Australian minds but that comparison must stop at the leadership quality, the brilliance and physical attractiveness the fictional Emoti shares with Mr Somare.

Nowra's novel has a slight whiff of conscious tour de force about it and it is certainly a remarkable imaginative feat. It is laid down over Palu's monologue, which conjures up pasts and gives an account of the present as she succumbs to incarceration. She herself is a brilliant and fascinating character. A spotlight falling onto a solitary figure on a darkened stage is not far from one's final impression of this novel. 

Nigel Krauth's JF Was Here has an air of the dernier cri about it. The themes of racism, feminism, homosexuality (which Krauth conjoins with AIDS) are represented in the light of the colonial paradigm and Krauth toys with a kind of semiotic rendering of its hero's progress through life `X-BODY FOUND HERE' (p 20); `----X----INA'S GREENHOUSE GONE (p 42); `X-BOY THREW UP HERE' (p 90) and so on. This and the fact that it is a heterosexual male (`Nigel Krauth lives with his wife Caron and daughter Alinta on Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast hinterland' - on the inside front cover below a picture of an urbane looking Krauth) addressing these themes is partly what gives this novel its determinedly contemporary air. Unfortunately, Krauth's understandings prove to be based on spurious sympathies with the oppressed, whose interests he does not have at heart.

Feminists are often infuriated by male novelists' depiction of women; Indians by British writers' accounts of them; gay women and men by `heterosexual' writers' abuse of them ... because hegemonic accounts of we `Others' so often enact the myths, which sustain the status quo. And they do this despite the conscious best intentions of their perpetrators. Such is the power of human insecurity.

The imaginative feat of possessing the reality of the `Other' is itself likely to cause fury because it seems so of a piece with the power habitually wielded. The oppressed protest the incursion. `You have reviled and exploited us,' we scream, `now you see and want more.' This fury is compounded by the desire of the less powerful to associate with the strength of the oppressor; this hapless desire infuriatingly invokes defeat and surrender.

When Australian novelists attempt to write of Aboriginal people or our near neighbours, they are attempting to possess the reality their mob has influenced with abuse and wreckage as well as the benefits of Western civilisation.

Exploitation brings a little knowledge: a little familiarity with those over whom we exert power can breed a fascination and lust. Some of us come to desire the more and the more of what we do not have.

It seems to me that Stow and Astley, because of their profound humanity and largeness of spirit, would not offend the Pacific peoples of whom they have written because they have not made them their subjects. Stow has the poet's gift for annihilation of self and his sympathies seem to me to be so at one with the lives of the Niuginians he creates that no offense could be taken -
And he screamed: The house is bleeding ... A house is strong, I said, and has its own time ... you will see how a house endures ...
This house is too hollow, too loud. Because a house among palms is  like a house at sea ... A house should be like a cave, I said, closed and dark. But Naibusi said: No, that is not the Dimdim custom ...
My house is a conch, he said. By and by it will ring in the wind    ... The rain is eating my house, he said ... The wooden walls were the black of rain and the red of rust and green of slime ...
        Grey, he said. See, Salib', my trees are grey (p 5).

This is Saliba's account of her reactions to and colloquies about the MacDonnell of Kailuana's house, `Rotten Wood'. The house, in Stow's hands, takes on a significant history, lives in the novel. Likewise, as this short extract might suggest, Stow is able to take on the reality of the young native girl called Saliba coming to work in the house and her memories of that; Naibusi's, whose relationship with `Rotten Wood' is long and intimate and Misa Makadoneli's, who is part of `Rotten Wood'. It is more than a dramatist's ability (Visitants is built on a series of witness depositions) to split and share perception amongst characters, it is an ability to introject a consciousness and realise that consciousness poetically in its setting. Stow is also able to generate such intimacy with his characters (and the house) that we feel they are familiar. Astley's different strengths enable her also to give living expression to an oppressed reality without (insofar as I can judge) giving offense. The scope, clarity and worldliness of Astley's view, her tough impartiality make it evident that no insecurity will impinge on her accounting and rendering. The beautiful integration of French and `Seaspeak' (she does not offer a glossary of terms) in the language of this work, evidences the extent of her identification with the world she creates for us out of a French-English colonised island in the South Pacific -
Gavi closed the family album as if he were trying to close off a confusion in his mind.
        Hello, little aeland, he said. I love you (p 15).

The responsibility for the pain we feel at the novel's close can be attributed to the connotations Astley has accreted around that word `aeland'. Her insistently wide, sceptical and yet warmly responsive vision enables her to surpass the sort of `all ultimately absurdly human' version of colonial revolutionary struggles which is the position humanist Western novelists tend to arrive at. Her portrait of Kristi's revolutionary leader, Tommy Narota is characteristic of her warm scepticism - the opportunistic Australian, Bonser has manipulated the boy Gavi into helping him run guns to the rebel headquarters at Vimape ...

Jacqui Leblanc ... was in full battle rig ... he was lean and small and dangerous. Two ni-Kristi carrying nalnals appeared at his side, sliding silently out of the dark.
`Okei!' Leblanc snapped his fingers at the guard-gate. `Ouvre ça!' The man stood helplessly. `You ovenem fanis!` ...
Narota, flanked by advisers, was hobbling across the nasara.
Leblanc snapped into a salute. Only Gavi caught the wink he gave Bonser.
... The boy had seen Tommy Narota often but only briefly ... Now his eyes glued fascinated by this old man limping between attendants and he was struck at once by his homeliness ... The priestliness of him! The moment wouldn't leave.
What was it?
Even Bonser. Stilled by some untranslatable ambience.
Narota was standing a few feet from them smiling in turn at all three.
He forgot to return Leblanc's salute and the forgetting,
unconsciously, became a snub of supreme dignity (pp 47-49). 

At the close of the novel ... Tommy Narota,
swept dust, watched it rise into the air and resettle, smiled at sunlight and waited. He waved to children passing on their way to school. Only some waved back. He winced from his rheumatism and remembered many things (p 174).

Narota blinks at the babbling that has broken out beyond the gate and sees the hands and that they are empty and full of requests, and he limps over to the gate to take them even as the hands' owner is tugged and wrenched by other children ... He has heard a voice, he knows, stirring memory, stirring all the lost years. And it becomes clearer, clearer, like the river rush at Vimape (p 185).

Stow also captures local thought-patterns and vocabulary in the language of his novel: the depositions/monologues given over to the voices of Niuginians freely utilise their manner of expressing themselves but he does not, out of instincts of respect and artistry, attempt to give a direct voice to traditional tribal powers. Thus the traditional Chief Dipapa is kept at a mysterious and sinister distance from (perhaps all) understanding and the once Naibusi (who does perhaps understand Dipapa's powers) is given a direct voice, she speaks briefly in her own language and her meaning is immediately represented for us by the odious Government Interpreter Osana, whom we have come to suspect capable of machiavellian interventions. Osana, reporting Naibusi, has the last words of the novel. Like Astley, Stow does not offer a glossary.

Stow’s presence in Visitants is translucent; Astley can be felt everywhere in Beachmasters as an idiosyncratic scepticism, a rigorous impartiality, practicality and love. The language of both is possessed by their material.

Nowra uses an idea of tribal religious beliefs in Palu freely, indeed the novel is ostensibly structured on the idea of transgression against them - Palu, abetted by her father, violates the sanctity of the haus tamburan, the novel then follows a course of expiation, an expiation in which her husband Emoti is also involved, for he too breaks with tradition, thus exposing himself and his tribe to supernatural wrath. Nowra's appropriation of `animism' (in this case the spiritual significance given to bats and birds of paradise in particular) for this purpose is perhaps too neat: Palu is finally miraculously absolved by the birds and the Bat Demon (the emblem of evil in the novel) miraculously crashes into the palace of the power-crazed and spiritually eviscerated President Emoti. Nowra's sense of animism is likely to seem crude to those who hold these beliefs. He proffers respect for what also appears to be a limited sense of traditional sorcery - Palu practises magic with some efficacy - but is also careful to render these beliefs in ambiguous terms so that Western readers can interpret them as coincidence, or ideas of reference induced by Palu's demented state as she reminisces in prison, or attributable to her isolated and vulnerable state in Australia - she sees the red-haired, white-skinned dwarf demon when she is pregnant and lonely but note, what he augurs comes to pass. Dealing with exotic religious beliefs also lends Nowra the opportunity to indulge in some sensationalism - Emoti practises a horrifying strengthening rite (bloody genitals are a feature of the version of sorcery we are offered in Palu). Nowra's account of sorcery seems too transparent a conduit for what one suspects are his own (ordinary enough) anxieties (about menstruation, for instance).

Nowra uses Palu's consciousness to satirise Australian society: she sees Australian women as `brazen' and hopelessly secular, feminists particularly so –
After tiring of asking me questions about my country and the oppression of women there, they began to talk openly about orgasms and sanitary napkins ... Didn't these women understand that by telling men all their secrets they lost their power and their magic? ... I knew the power of good and bad blood. I had seen a market garden in the Highlands destroyed because some stupid girl had walked through it when she had her period (see pp 104-5).

Palu is in a long line of fictional foreigners imported by writers in English to satirise their society (`I soon learnt that the major preoccupation of Australians was sex' - p 98; `All of this was totally alien to me. It made nonsense to have sex if a woman didn't want to get pregnant' p 110), unfortunately her comments, as well as being a medium for Nowra's not very incisive satire (`One time when I came to clean I found that he had piled up all the precious things in his life (photographs, paintings, jewellery, papers - white people love to preserve things' (p 117) also seem to be a reiteration of hegemonic myths - `He told me about his failing business and his secret infatuation for members of his own sex ... The following week when I arrived to clean I found him lying naked on a bed in the lounge room. He was naked and dead' (ibid.). In such accounts of reality homosexual men suicide and women who challenge the power of men become alienated from their `true nature' and are thus punished. Like Nigel Krauth, whom we shall consider below, Nowra employs the exotic site of his novel to maintain his own local, traditional values - Palu's father, disappointed by her not being the son he desires, indulges Palu in her transgression against femininity, thus invoking a terrible (and in Nowra's hands, a sensational) fate. A reader senses in the writing which plots Palu's fate while depicting her as extraordinarily able, energetic and confident, anxieties about the roles women might assume. Nowra allots Palu misfortune for daring so to transgress: she longs for children but cannot, to her unrelenting misery, conceive and when she finally does the infant is born dead; Emoti comes to favour women with dubious claims to his attentions; she is for the main part, isolated and lonely; she is a prisoner. Palu, Natural Woman, is also seen in contrast to her husband who struggles to reject his traditional culture and who is corrupted unto insanity by the power his Western education has conferred upon him. In this way, Nowra uses his characters to deal facilely with the issues, which he faces endogenously. Further, he maintains a particular idea of `Noble Savage', in contrast to Australians (particularly those with leftist leanings) who appear to have been deracinated by contemporary urban life. The `natural' Black brings at least a momentary vitality to the epicene urban Australians who exploit them (one of the women for whom Palu cleans comes surprisingly alive, soon a Black African comes down the stairs). Contemporary Western culture vitiates. Sex is, as usual, the focal site for anxieties about challenges to male heterosexist power - Emoti's magical rite not only embraces pain but imitates menstruation.

Palu is a conservative text, weakened by Nowra's tendency to dichotomise and seek refuge from the difficulties of contemporary life by attributing strength to tradition - which is represented in his novel by tribal life. However, his writing is informed by his version of that culture in ways that lend it striking effect - Palu communicates movingly and illuminatingly with a gecko who takes on the qualities of a totem; Nowra has her picturing her husband's final days as he is possessed by the Bat Demon for us –
I hear you on the radio and your voice is high-pitched. Soon only bats will hear you. So high is your strained voice that I cannot understand what you are saying. The palace will soon be filled with thousands of bats coming home to roost on the ceiling above your sick bed (p 214).

Nowra, unlike Stow, remains outside, he is uncommitted and his novel lacks the clarity, strength and love of Astley's; his writing is interested and sensational.

As I have already suggested, it seems to me likely that Krauth's novel will be found by others of those whom it depicts, to be offensive.

Some Australian critics maintain that `good writing' has little enough to do with its subject matter and most to do with its inherent qualities, which Robert Dessaix, with something like courage, defines for us in his article on the problem of multicultural writers in Australia –
The more textuality, the more meaning ... Soviet structuralists would go further to claim that by `good' the speakers of an astonishingly wide variety of languages mean texts that are productive of large, intersecting webs of meaning. The larger the webs, the greater the number of intersections, the `better' the text ... That's why everybody, except an advertising executive, thinks a Beethoven sonata is `better' than a Kellogg's jingle ... Of course it's `subjective', but the subjectivity is widely shared (Dessaix Robert `Nice Work if you Can Get it' Australian Book Review no 128 Feb/March 1991 p 25).

But none of this addresses the problem of representations: the empowering and denying power of literature as it depicts and defines success/failure, admirable/contemptible, significant/absurd, strengthening/weakening. Writing which challenges established notions of power are much more likely to be dismissed as `propaganda' than texts which support established cultural notions of strength and authority. Some of these dismissed subversive `texts' will have fewer intersections in their nets and some of the ones which have been given serious attention are indeed extensive and complex but remain propaganda, deeply informed by an ethos that empowers the author. Perhaps it is worth bearing in mind here what Orwell wrote, All Art is Propaganda.

I think the oppressed must insist on the power of representation for good and evil, for real power and happiness in the world.

Krauth's novel is subtitled A novel for the 1990s. Its AIDS theme is apparently what makes it so. The Niugini it represents is largely Port Moresby from 1919 to 1934 - `During this period of the late twenties Moresby changed from a complacent trading post to a nervy, complex town' (p 101); then from 1972 till 1975 when Niugini was granted independence by Australia (the appalling experiences along the Kokoda Trail during the Second World War are also commemorated).  Krauth pays particular attention to the `shocking ... primitive ... logical' (p 108) nature of this still dangerous, evanescent capital. His two principal characters - Ina who flees a suffocating marriage and Australia to live in Port Moresby in the twenties and thirties and John, now dying of AIDS, who was one of the bright and not so bright, educated young Australians who tried their luck and stretched their wings on tax-free Australian-commensurate salaries in Niugini in the sixties and early seventies - involve themselves deeply in the life of the colonial capital. Ina's passions, gardening and golf, bring shade and something like shape in the form of tree-lined streets, the Papuan Government Botanic Gardens and a golf course to the town; John, a town-planner, brings - `my madness. Australian madness' in the shapes of `the five incongruous skyscrapers sticking up in front of him' (p 134) and another contamination of industrial civilisation, death through AIDS to his passion, `brilliant, shifty, handsome' Francis Tapukai, his colleague, poro, lover. Ina also brings death to the `natives': one of her favourite workers, Stephen Vaimuru, is iniquitously trapped by `the native's friend', Governor Sir Hubert Murray's White Women's Protection Ordinance. Ina gives herself in culpable innocence to Port Moresby; John in postmodern irony –
he found amusement and challenges in the ironies of white men planning towns for a ten-thousand-year-old culture ... - a new town called Waigani ... would feature at its centre a Parliament House shaped like an upturned boat, an Australian embassy taller than every other building, a Prime Ministerial office block resembling a giant pineapple wearing a plastic hat, and a six-lane super highway to be called Independence Drive, which would run for a kilometre and stop abruptly (p 108).

Novelists typically people the exotic site with unfamiliar and powerful temptations. Customary inhibitions lose their force. Desires spring from the power imbalances, which are inherent in colonialism. It is interesting that the three novels set in Niugini and written by males pay tribute to the power of the beauty of Niugini men. Astley's appreciation of male pulchritude is more evenly distributed.

Krauth's Moresby ferments with sexual tensions, his writing relishes the seamy, seething atmosphere and this leads to both complexity and confusion in JF Was Here. Krauth does not deal overtly with anxieties about `miscegenation’, which, I think astonishingly, are prominent in the two better novelists of the four being discussed here. Astley strongly marks the social and personal confusion resulting from the colonial incursion in the islands of the South Pacific by way of an idea of `miscegenation’, which results in unwitting incest. Her composure seems discomfited by the idea of mixed race unions and yet she maintains her usual worldliness of style - Père Leyroud says to the humiliated and disturbed Gavi,
Pride in your humanity ... that's what counts. It doesn't matter whether you're pink or yellow or grey or brown. We're all mongrels. That's the only thing to remember. You become what you become through what you are.' He lied with all the decades of a confessor behind him (p 47).

Gavi is a young adolescent and sensitive to be sure but the potential for disturbance Astley gives to his discovery of his parentage is surprising in terms of the highly heterogeneous nature of the characters who inhabit the world of Beachmasters and in terms of the very great significance his discovery has in her plotting. Astley's plotting elsewhere has tempted credibility while remaining plausible. One of Stow's principal characters and his most fascinating seems to be succumbing to the discovery of the `mixed racial' nature of his parentage, though the other explicit reason for Misa Kodo's (Alistair Cawdor) depression is the desertion of his wife with the local Medical Officer. And Alistea Kodo's decline is associated with the influence of the flying saucers (the `visitants'?) who appear to be an augury of and perhaps influencing the passing of the old social order. Stow has an antique writer Browne giving a very realistic explanation of similar sightings `not long before the Spaniards arrived, destroying the realm of Montezuma' (pp 106-7) to those recorded in the Prologue to  Visitants and those witnessed during the course of this novel. Stow leaves the significance of the sightings of flying saucers open, thus endowing them with a complex and, I think it might be claimed, profound significance. Osana, in his deposition on the final events (investigated by another, synchronistic Browne) which lead to the passing of the old order on Kailuana, claimed that the old resident of `Rotten Wood', Naibusi told him that Alistair said to her
I am mad now Naibusi, and I will not be better ... It is like my body is a house, and some visitor has come, and attacked the person who lived there.' He said: `O Naibus. O my mother. My house is echoing with the footsteps of the visitor, and the person who lived there before is dying' (last page).

Osana has already suggested that Alistair Cawdor was the possessed agent of all the events, which lead to destruction and death on the island. To what extent Stow wishes us to link this with ideas of `miscegenation', is difficult to define because one is not sure of the consciousness of the artistic process but the correspondence seems to be there. Does there not hover about Alistair Cawdor the idea that he has been `possessed' (by another race)? Like Astley's Gavi, Alistea Kodo seems to have been more than shocked to discover he has a parent of a race other than the one he had always assumed himself to belong to. Astley positions `miscegenation' as untoward, hastily hidden, Stow as a dark and secret shame. In both cases, the hapkas is the scapegoat of revolution. It must however be born in mind that Stow's novel exposes the limits of human understanding - Dalwood claims, in his deposition, that Alistair said to him,`I saw. Timi, I saw. Down the tunnel. My body. Atoms. Stars' (p 179).

On the face of it, Krauth is much less disturbed by confusions engendered by the racism, which seems to lie so deeply in our psyches. The White heterosexual male's sexual prerogative seems more the issue to which contemporary insight might take exception in JF Was Here. Krauth's writing seems at times to compromise his intention: the innocence of Ina's favourite `native' worker waiting outside her bedroom at night to deliver a message is confused by a description which suggests an antithetically sinister intent - `beneath Ina's monstrous staghorn beside the french doors which, had they been open, would have given direct access to Ina and Andrew's bedroom' (p 103). Krauth persists with the idea of the outrageous injustice suffered by Stephen Vaimuru as no more than a dupe of a plot which issues from the colonial situation itself - the jealousies, resentments and sexual tensions of the closed, hysterical world of the businessmen and planters and their indolent and priggish wives but he has already dyed Vaimuru's innocence in suspicious hues by having Ina explain and confess in italics to the child John - `The first attack occurred in 1924, Johnno. There was another a year later. Then two more. White women were the victims' (p 100), then on the next page,`The attacks increased. A woman woke to find her houseboy lying on top of her. A policeman assaulted a four-year old girl ...' Krauth seems drawn against his better intentions to testify to the idea of the lust White women excite in Black men. But this remains an undercurrent. In JF Was Here it is the White women who do the lusting, they fall in love with Francis Tapukai `like that' (p 115) i e helplessly, hopelessly, immediately. Jill Hall changes her name to Jill Warwarup and leaves her `official white husband who was an Anthropologist at the University' and moves in with Francis Tapukai. Krauth describes their congress in a scene, which is the most vivid in his novel and also its climax. John is implicated in it, resulting in a situation which is fraught with the sexual aspect of colonialism - the most important aspect of it, in Krauth's account. Power tensions are intrinsic to the sexual situation.

As does Nowra, Krauth makes of his Black hero a Noble Savage : the magnificent Francis is even innocent in the beatings he inflicts on White women if they hang around him long enough - `I don't really beat the women ... I just beat the whiteness in them' (p 145), he explains to John on one occasion. His irresponsibility is delightful, as is his relative powerlessness - `when he was drunk with John he would go floppy as a cloth doll ... he would lie around ... happily defeated by drink ... careless about his own submission ... I can't help it. I have to beat them' (p 132). The Other is never as sensible as us. They are like children. They submit. (Those are some of the reasons we find them delightful).

Despite his efforts to depict the oppression of women, colonialism and racism in the light of enlightened contemporary thought, Krauth's plot betrays him. Like Palu, Ina has transgressed against her gender: she is independent, athletic, adventurous; she abandons her children in order to live her own life. She is unnatural. John, homosexual, is also unnatural. They are driven forth into the wilderness, Furies lashing them through the remainder of their days.

Krauth, in attempting to question the prevailing patriarchal mythos, seems to have aroused atavistic voices which overpower him, speaking through him and beyond his silencing. He nominates Ina and John `outcast, dupe of history, victim and killer' (p 5). The Adam and Eve myth lies behind the story of Andrew (planter) Prideaux and Ina in the Garden of Port Moresby. John Freeman is Corruptor, bringing the filth of civilisation to the Perfect Innocence of Francis Tapukai. The insult Francis Tapukai does not add to `You colonialist bastard' after John has struck him viciously in the climactic scene with Jill Warwarup is of course, `poofter'. White women are also Corruptors of this black Imperial Adam (if only they'd leave him alone).

We embrace the Other at our own risk. We find it is no longer. It has invaded us. We begin to thrash around in our horror.

Krauth's subtext is a patriarchal fantasy set in exotic sites (Port Moresby, gay Sydney) the better to hide it from subversive ridicule. He has John and Ina punished for raising their heads (in pride; to observe their situation; to think). Pursuing the theme of the Lost Boy, Krauth depicts the killing of an actual kidnapped boy (Graeme Thorne - a famous and tragic kidnapping in Australia) - `the kidnapper had been surprised by his unwitting family, causing him to crash the lid of the boot hurriedly down of Graeme's raised head. PWANG! (p 21) and, synthesising it with other hidden but real concerns of his novel, concludes JF Was Here with Ina advising John –
Aim at blue. Hope for the best. You drive with love Johnno. Not with science ... Drain the mind of thoughts ... Don't lift the head now. Don't lift the head.


But by this stage we know better: Ina would never have advised that.

© Ian MacNeill


  1. Ian, I only recently discovered Stow's "Visitants". I am thoroughly intrigued that his book starts out quoting the 1959 Father Gill incident. I am a big fan of this incident. Some of the wittnessess are still alive. I ordered the book through ABE and look forward to reading it. Regards, Mike. Mount Albert, Ontario, Canada.

  2. Thank you for your comment Mike.

    The Reverend Gill's account of the flying saucer and its crew is fascinating. There were thirty-seven Papuan witnesses (if I remember correctly).

    The book is very complex. I hope you are carried away by it.

    May I offer the suggestion you just say the Pijin English words aloud?

    That method can help you to guess the meaning. Some might be difficult because they might not exist in Canadian English e g 'hapkas' is 'half-caste' child of parents of different 'races'. Not sure if the term is ever used in Canada.

    Mount Albert, Ontario is about as far as you can get from New Guinea/Niugini.

    I M