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Know him? I can barely digest him!

Loch Blatchford’s summary of the 1951 documents in The Blatchford Collection again provides a fascinating insight into the pressures and issues surrounding the fledgling PNG Education Department and the two-year old ASOPA as, monumentally under-resourced, they wrestled to establish a schooling system in the Territory. In 1949 ASOPA had narrowly avoided premature demise and in 1950 its affairs were stabilising under Charles Rowley’s principalship but by 1951 the Liberal Government - Bob Menzies at the helm - was doing what all new governments do: applying a budget squeeze. And in Moresby and at Middle Head, the pips were squeaking.

Loch’s 1951 summary can be found under ASOPA PEOPLE EXTRA at left, and there are many highlights. But this note reflects on just one: an address by JT Bensted to the Pacific Islands Society in December 1950. It was an intriguing and humorous presentation entitled ‘Sir Hubert Murray as I Knew Him and Papua as I Knew It’. Bensted had gone to Papua in 1899 as a government official. His speech records impressions that are well worth repeating here:

Bensted on sport. “In the earliest days there was no organised sport but later we had cricket and drinking for the men and tennis and quarrelling for the women.”

Bensted on intimate relationships: “A native, when asked if he knew a particular man, replied ‘Knew him, I knew him well, I ate him.’”

Sir_hubert_murray Bensted on Sir Hubert Murray I: “Sir Hubert was a bad writer, and actually used both hands to guide the pen, and his writing was very difficult to decipher at times. A very fine linguist and I would not like to say in how many languages he was proficient. But rather strangely he did not speak to any native in any language other than English. Probably for the reason that the Government policy was to make English the language of Papua.”

Bensted on Sir Hubert Murray II: “A man of great learning and intellectual superiority. One could not help feeling amused to see (Sir Hubert) on a hot night in the lounge of Government House, crouched reading in a chair with heavy walking boots on, socks pulled up over his trousers (and it was said that he wore two pairs at times); coat collar turned up to protect his ears and neck; and an old felt hat on his bald head. And all the time feeding small chips to a stinking sandalwood fire in a dish beside him.”

Photo: Sir Hubert Murray (National Library of Australia)


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