The Hotel Hibiscus Booker Prize Coincidence

Spooky Booker Prize & NIDA Play Coincidence by Robert Cockburn

Here’s a spooky coincidence.

The 2022 Booker Prize winner The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka is a supernatural satire novel set amid a murderous Sri Lanka civil war. ‘A mix of satire, ghost story and whodunnit’ the titular hero is a war photographer who discovers he has died and sets out to find out who killed him – navigating an afterlife that is surprisingly bureaucratic.’ [Review ABC, BBC]

Meanwhile, in 1995, Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts [NIDA] produced a new play, The Hotel Hibiscus, a supernatural satire set amid a civil war over the Rio Tinto Zinc copper mine on Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville Island, where a young hotel bus driver discovers he has died and sets out to find out who killed him – navigating an afterlife that is also surprisingly bureaucratic. In this case, discovering that the Australian ‘peace negotiator’ he drives around is covertly running the dirty war against island rebels, and who has murdered him after witnessing a war crime – the shooting of a priest and six islanders. A press photographer gets the facts.

It starred the great indigenous actor Bob Maza.

I began writing The Hotel Hibiscus while reporting the civil war on Bougainville Island in 1990 - for BBC, The Times and Amnesty International. I was with Sarah Materiva when we e found the body of her brother Samson in the island morgue. The young civilian bus driver was shot in the heart by PNG soldiers. His case is in the 1990 Amnesty International Report.

Is it time to revive the NIDA production and, finally, its film adaptation after the Australian Film Commission funded my screenplay? No local producers would touch it.

See on a clip from a 2012 The Hotel Hibiscus production at Sydney’s Zenith Theatre.