Trobriand Islands, Wednesday – After spending yesterday in Deboyne Lagoon in the Louisiade Archipelago (mostly on deserted Nivani Island variously sea kayaking, roaming around a long abandoned and overgrown coconut plantation and snorkelling above a ditched WW2 Zero), at seven this morning Orion anchored off Kitava Island in the Trobriands.
Seventy passengers and crew boarded seven Zodiacs which, en masse, as local custom dictates, headed for shore and a traditional dance welcome from the Kitava islanders, including a group of pubescent boys who were clearly embarrassed by the whole thing and fled into the bush the moment their dance concluded.
Ingrid and I then went on an hour’s walk into the hills to pretty Kumwagea village – clean, neat and with scores of blossoming frangipanis forming an avenue through its centre. At the entrance to the village was Kitava Primary School, established in 1962 and with the original head teacher’s quarters rather decrepit but still in use.
It was here that John Peter, a man from nearby Lalele village, befriended me. We got talking about the school, which he had attended in the late 1960s. “It’s not the same now,” he complained, “they don’t teach in English anymore. The kids don’t learn it and they get pushed out before high school”. “Who taught you?” I asked. “At first an Australian,” he replied. “What was his name?” “Mr White.” “Mr Brian White?” John Peter looked at me surprised. “Yes, he said, “that was his name.” When I mentioned that I knew Brian well and that he had died just a few months ago, a single fat tear rolled down John Peter’s cheek.
Brian (BP) White was an esteemed and much loved colleague on the ASOPA Class of 1962-63. He and I taught together briefly at Mandi in the Sepik before he was posted to Milne Bay. He was assigned to Kitava Primary T in the mid sixties a couple of years after.
It was on Kitava, as I understand the story, that Brian met his wife Nammie who continues to live in the family home at Meringandan outside Toowoomba. It is on Kitava that a yam house still stands. A yam house holding Brian’s gift of the prized local product given when he wed Nammie and which he never bothered to collect.
I paused for some minutes at the school, standing silently beside Brian’s bungalow perched on a small rise at one corner. The scene is peaceful and picturesque: classrooms on two sides; teachers’ houses on two sides; a lush soccer field between; large shade trees around the perimeter, bare patches beneath scuffed clean by generations of resting students; a school bell rendered from an old gas container. I struck it three times and called assembly. “That’s for you, BP,” I said.
Photos by Ingrid Jackson: Kumwagea village; Kitava School sign; John Peter near Brian White's bungalow and empty yam house.