Elites & education: John Kadiba on Ulli Beier

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude,  31 December 2011


This is an extract from a new book by JOHN KADIBA, Night Dreams of Passing Memories.  In view of Martyn Namarong’s recent article criticising elites and education in PNG, it casts an interesting light over how things used to be and how they could be in the future given the right will – PF

I TOOK SOME OF ULLI BEIER’S COURSES in my studies at the University of Papua New Guinea. Ulli had taught English Literature in the developing countries which were colonised by the British, in particular Africa.

Ulli Beier (1922-2011)

While holidaying in London, Ulli responded to an advertisement for a founding teacher to develop and lecture in New English Writing from Developing Countries at the newly established University of Papua New Guinea.

The idea of teaching such an innovative English course greatly appealed to him. He thought that it was a fantastic opportunity to design a literature course for a new university without regard for the academic traditions of England or, for that matter, the traditions of Australia. He thought such academic traditions taught in developing countries, were helping to perpetuate colonialism.

In his courses on literature and creative writing at the University of Papua New Guinea, Ulli taught with great passion. And in turn, his students discovered their passion for experimenting with creative writing connected to their immediate world, and for reading the writings of authors from other developing countries and the black writings from the United States.

Two textbooks that stand out in my mind were the seminal African novel in English, Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian novelist Chunua Acebe, and Another Country by James Baldwin, the black writer from the United States.  At the time, the latter novel was banned in Australia, I presume because of its explosive racial and sexual overtones.

With the exception of one student who became a writer, I and other students went on to pursue different career paths.  Nevertheless, as students, under Ulli’s eager supervision, we wrote plays, poems and short stories. 

And in these writings, some voiced their thoughts and experiences about their traditional cultures, others about politics, yet others about their anti-colonial feelings and race relationships.  And we were all writing in English as a second language.  Some students were more adventurous in the use of English while others were not so daring.

Most of the students’ plays, poems and short stories were published.  Some writers were forceful and explosive in the style of their writing, while others were tame. 

And with Ulli’s help also, the autobiography, Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime by Albert Maori Kiki and the first novel in Papua New Guinea, The Crocodile by Vincent Eri, were produced. 

John Kadiba, PNG author

My interest was in writing short stories.  My most popular story, entitled Growing up in Mailu, appeared in different literary publications in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific and was for a time adapted for radio programs in Papua New Guinea.

Night Dreams of Passing Memories, by John Kadiba, July 2011, ISBN: 9781462849123, available from Amazon.com for $29.99 or contact the publishers on Orders@Xlibris.com.au


Phil, I greatly appreciate you selecting the extract in my book on the late Ulli Beier.

Ulli was a great creative teacher and together with his wife, Georgina, they had an enormous influence on the early writers and artists in PNG.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Ulli and Georgina for the work they did in mentoring and inspiring the first generation of writers and artists in the country.

Posted by: John Kadiba | 31 December 2011 at 11:02 PM

Keith, thank you for posting this extract which Phil Fitzpatrick selected from my book. Much appreciated.

Posted by: John Kadiba | 31 December 2011 at 11:07 PM

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: