Last night, we, and about 140 others sat in a cinema in Carlton and watched ‘Mr Pip‘. ‘Mr Pip’ is based on a book by New Zealander Lloyd Jones about how literature can take you away from the world you live in, to a world only you can know and see.
It’s not a new notion, the idea that each of us experiences what we read differently because of what we bring to it. This showing of ‘Mr Pip’ was organised to support a new library that has been constructed in Bougainville, a small island about 1000 km north east of the Papua New Guinea mainland.
Every one in the audience had a connection with Bougainville. For some it was just that they were jollied there by charismatic organiser, Maggie. For most, though, it was because they had lived and/or worked there at some stage. I spent some of my childhood there and have powerful memories of that time – the people, the landscape, the humidity. There were Bougainvilleans who had fled or been airlifted off when the fighting made it impossible to stay. There were expatriate workers who worked in the mine that sparked the war. There was a member of the peacekeeping force who had served there during the civil war.
At least some of us were there because we wanted to revisit a beautiful, challenging place that stayed with us long after we’d left. For others, there was a wish to open the conversation about who was to blame for all the death and heartache. Yet others wanted to talk about how to move forward and construct a meaningful future for a people who have lost so much.
I looked up a few reviews this morning, and many of them struggle to understand what the film is about. Partially I guess, that reflects how little known Bougainville’s challenges are in the wider community. Personally, I loved it. As someone who swam those beaches and rivers, I loved revisiting a childhood home. As a writer, I loved seeing what Matilda’s imagination made of the words of Dickens. It was also important, if not always comfortable, to again see what war does to people – passively and actively.
I hope that ‘Mr Pip’ is seen by many people and that it opens conversations. About the power of novels and films. About beautiful places and people. About war. About those forced to flee their homes and travel overseas to find new ones. About governments and those they govern.
Bougainville is the almost violin-shaped island to the right in the map above.
This is the novel.