World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


Pacific Paper Founded With No Press 'But Tons of Vision'

Iconic Pacific Paper Founded With No Press, No Journalism, No Office 'But Tons of Vision'

By Henry Yamo
July 29, 2011

AUCKLAND (Pacific Scoop/Pacific Media Watch) Papua New Guinea’s weekly Tok Pisin newspaper Wantok has been described as the longest surviving vernacular publishing icon in the South Pacific since its humble beginnings in 1969.

Although not the first to be published in Tok Pisin, this newspaper has stood the test of time and is now the only pidgin paper in circulation today.

Dr Philip Cass highlighted this in a seminar at AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre last night attended by several Papua New Guinean students and the public.

Born and bred in PNG and now postgraduate programmme leader of communication studies at Unitec in Auckland, Dr Cass said the newspaper was the result of tireless efforts by Fr Frank Mihalic, whose name was commonly associated with the newspaper.

Fr Mihalic started the paper with literally nothing – no printing press, no journalistic experience, no office, no funds – but tons of vision, commitment, drive and enthusiasm,” he said.

“Without Fr Mihalic, there would be no Wantok newspaper in Papua New Guinea today. Although the idea of a newspaper was not his, Fr Mihalic created Wantok.”

His work was supported by then Vicar Apostolic of Central New Guinea, Bishop Leo Arkfeld, who was equally committed and visionary in wanting to see the newspaper come into being and serve the needs of the ordinary people – reading and writing in Tok Pisin.

Fr Mihalic’s drive
Giving an account of an interview on Kairuru Island, East Sepik province, in early 1992 with Fr Mihalic – who was almost a jack of all trades – Dr Cass said it was Mihalic’s drive coupled with his belief in what he did that kept him pushing during the early years of the paper.

Fr Mihalic believed in the purpose of the paper – to educate.

This was appreciated by Papua New Guinean students in Auckland who acknowledged how Wantok became a force that enabled many people to be Tok Pisin savvy by reading the paper.

The newspaper has played a significant role in the spread of a common Tok Pisin vocabulary and way of speaking the language and boosting development through common communication in a society where Tok Pisin differed greatly from region to region.

Wantok was targeted at the grassroots people and during its early years it devoted a great deal of attention explaining the changing political scene and basic concepts in a language that was gradually becoming common to the readership, Dr Cass said.

Fr Mihalic started work on Wantok in 1967, a time when 24 other Tok Pisin publications – either from the churches or the government – were already in circulation in Papua New Guinea. To date none have survived – but Wantok did.

With all work done for the first issue of Wantok rolled out of the Wiriu printing press in Wewak on 5 October 1970, after then Speaker of the House of Assembly, the late Sir John Guise, pressed the button to start the press rolling.

‘Read - then smoke it’
The paper which in the early days carried the slogan “Read it before you smoke it”, is truly a remarkable newspaper that is older than the nation it serves today.

It brings weekly news and information to the bulk of present day Tok Pisin readers in the country.

Pacific Media Centre director associate professor David Robie also praised Fr Mihalic’s “extraordinary contribution to the cultural and media life” of a dynamic developing nation.

Apart from creating Wantok, Fr Mihalic wrote the Tok Pisin dictionary for Papua New Guinea and translated the PNG Constitution into Tok Pisin, wrote 30 books and educated some of the top journalists in the country today.

Although he died in 2001, he will still be remembered as long as Wantok lives – and well beyond.


Henry Yamo from the Southern Highlands is a postgraduate communication studies student at AUT University.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Assange's Hearing: Latest Observations From Court

Despite severe restrictions on observers, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is the only NGO that has gained access to the hearing, and we’ve managed to monitor proceedings on most days. We will continue to do so whenever possible. Yesterday I was in court ... More>>

Climate Change: Record Northern Heat, Fuels Concerns Over US Wildfire Destruction

More than 78,000 acres of forest in the Sierra mountains in California has been lost due to wildfires. Photo: San Francisco Fire Department The northern hemisphere experienced its warmest August ever, the World Meteorological Organization ( WMO ... More>>

ILO: Impact On Workers Of COVID-19 Is ‘catastrophic’

COVID-19 has had a “catastrophic” impact on workers, the head of the International Labour Organization ( ILO ) said on Wednesday, with lost working hours higher than originally forecast, and equivalent to 495 million full-time jobs globally in the ... More>>

UN: WHO Warns Against Potential Ebola Spread In DR Congo And Beyond

Ebola is spreading in a western province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), raising fears that the disease could reach neighbouring Republic of Congo and even the capital, Kinshasa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday. ... More>>