Q & A with Mark Moran - Editor of Too Close to Ignore
"Writing for me is incremental, chaotic and often uncomfortable"
Less than five kilometres from Australia’s most northern islands in the Torres Strait lies the southern coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The people living along the South Fly coast live in abject poverty, with a near total absence of services and infrastructure. The border is the focus of a range of interventions by the Australian and Queensland governments. However, questions remain as to whether this focus is having unintended consequences, increasing the destitution and frustration on the PNG side, in turn exacerbating the security threat to Australia. And as the Australian border hardens, the Indonesian border beckons. Too Close to Ignore presents the results of three years of research into the unique social and political geography of this borderland.
Mark Moran leads the Development Effectiveness Group at the Institute for Social Science Research, University of Queensland. He has worked in a range of international and indigenous contexts, including Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, China, Bolivia and Lesotho, and remote Indigenous communities in Australia. His writing has appeared in the Griffith Review, the Conversation and the Australian newspaper. His book Serious Whitefella Stuff: When Solutions Became the Problem in Indigenous Affairs (MUP) was published in 2016.
Describe your new book in three words.
Unpredictable. Rigorous. Impactful.
What inspired you to write Too Close to Ignore?
Our northern borderland is a fascinating and strategically important place, but few Australians are even aware of its existence. Wedged between Indonesia and the Torres Strait, the South District of PNG experiences marked underdevelopment. Massive public resources are directed to border management and dealing with the effects of cross border movements. Ultimately, these efforts will not succeed unless the underdevelopment on the other side of the border is dealt with.
What has been the highlight for you in the process of writing this book?
Standout for me was the fieldwork with my fellow authors of the book, enjoying the goodwill and openness extended to us by the many people who accommodated us and gave us their time for the interviews in the villages we visited, and the adventures of travelling in small dinghies along the weather coast.
Tell us about your writing routine. Where do you like to write? When and how often?
Multiple authors contributed to this volume, but writing for me is incremental, chaotic and often uncomfortable. When it flows I go at it. When I struggle, I circle it. It’s only me and my screen, so it does not matter where I sit.
What are you currently reading?
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. A wonderful period piece set in Moscow, starting in 1922 after the Bolsheviks have ceased power, and what then plays out over the next 30 years. I love to learn something when I read.
What is in your to-be-read pile?
Killer of the Flower Moon: Oil Money Murder and the Birth of the FBI by Jon Krakauer. I’ve loved his previous nonfiction works into ill-fated wilderness adventures, including Into the Wild and Into thin Air. Stone Sky Gold Mountain by an author new to me, Mirandi Riwoe, highly recommended by a close colleague.
What message do you want to leave with readers of your book?
Border protection is so politicised in Australia that we can’t see things clearly. It is not in Australia's national security interest to have such a high level of underdevelopment on the PNG side of the border. Security on the PNG side of the border means security for the Australian side.