An important primary source on the history of Papua and New Guinea is now online
I was surprised and pleased today to discover that a new title has been added to the already impressive collection of digitized Australian newspapers on Trove. Papuan Times, a self-described “paper for Papuans” that was produced by graduates of the school at Kwato mission in Papua from 1948 to about 1957. Issues from 1951 to 1957 are held by the National Library of Australia, and the issues from 1951 to 1955 have been added to Trove. See for instance what may be the earliest published writing of Alice Wedega:
Wedega, Alice. 1951. “To the Papuan Times.” Papuan Times, July 27, p. 9. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/250494973.
As you can see from the above link, Trove provides title-level access to individual articles in each issue. With its crowdsourcing annotation platform, it aspires to transcribe the full text of each article, just as it does for Australian newspapers from the nineteenth century to now. This is already an amazing accomplishment, and it appears that it will only get better with time. It speaks to the dedication and ingenuity of the librarians at NLA, and I applaud them for bringing this valuable primary source on the history of Papua New Guinea to the public in both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Papuan Times is deceptively simple. It was produced by hand on a mimeograph machine left behind by Allied troops after the Second World War (see Abel 1951) often using surplus paper, and had at best a circulation of a few hundred (see The Age 1952). As the editors gained experience, it developed more sophisticated formats, including complex multicolumn layouts of hand-drawn illustrations and text. Its reporting grew from news summaries from other published sources to firsthand reports by correspondents and interviews with government officials and elected leaders. At the same time, it published a range of opinion and personal news from the broader Kwato community, which at the time had become a Territory-wide network of missionaries, teachers, farmers, businesspeople, and town-dwellers. Editors appear to have taught themselves the journalist’s craft through imitation, if not outright copying of text or tracing of photographs (e.g. Papuan Times 1952). At the same time, many forms of writing represent a mixed genre of letter, essay, and announcement, more like a social media post from a friend than either a news report or opinion. For instance, in the Wedega letter to the editor above, written on the occasion of the newspaper’s third anniversary, takes the form of a poem but also seems to describe an actual gift to the young editors by one of their former teachers. It suggests, then, that we should consider all of the submitted writing in Papuan Times as print prestations, gifts of information circulated among fellow readers and writers through which a new institution comes into being on the margins of the colonial public from which Papuans were still largely excluded.
Personally I can’t wait to begin using Trove in my own study of forms of news discourse in Papuan Times. Up until now, I had been relying on my own archive of hundreds of mobile-phone photos. In the course of recent writing on Papuan Times, I have also transcribed a number of articles, including the above Wedega “poem” and will be contributing them to Trove as I continue my research, as my gift to the broader community of readers of Papuan Times. I encourage you to read Papuan Times, transcribe a few articles, and make use of Trove in your own research and study as well.
Abel, Russell W. 1951. “An Appreciation from a Reader.” Papuan Times, July 27, pp. 3–4. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/250494954.
The Age. 1953. “Headhunter’s Grandson Is Higher Educationist.” The Age, January 29, p. 3. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/206116263.
Papuan Times. 1952. “Recruit for Malaya,” Papuan Times, February 22, p. 2. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/250495398.