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Always go back: a return to Karkar

Hilary Langford

At_karkar_08 From 1969, David Keating spent three idyllic years on Karkar Island. It was his first posting as headmaster and he’d started the high school. It had been a very productive time in his life.

Now it was April 2008. The ship had anchored off Karkar and David and I were first to clamber down the steps to the waiting Zodiac. On the beach, planters Paul and Barbara Goodyear waited to take us to the high school. David asked to go via the now little used airstrip, where, before the South Pacific Games, he used to train for the 800 and 1,500 metres.

Then to the school. We were escorted to the Library where the Board of Governors was waiting. Ken Fairweather MHA, Member for Sumkar, made a welcome speech. The school had experienced some very tough years, he said. Things had been bad. “The school cannot get any lower than it has been in the last few years. We are determined to turn things around! But enough of this! This is not my day. Today is David Keating’s day!”

Principal, Ben Tamilong, also welcomed us. He was an ex-student of the school, and in his speech he announced the new library was to be named ‘The David Keating Library’.

In response, David reminded the Board of his early history on Karkar. Together with the villagers, he spent two months building the first bush materials school. “Difficult times create strength,” he said, “there are benefits from having to overcome adversity”.

Meanwhile, the school had assembled on the front lawn. Clothes, all colours of the rainbow, greeted us. A stage with intricately carved posts had been decorated with palms and flowers. The 620 students sang the national anthemand pledged themselves to PNG.

After speeches by Ben Tamilong and Ken Fairweather, a representative from David’s first class, Kubul Kakema, spoke. He’s now a teacher at a Kudoka Primary School. He described how frightened of David the students were. “He was the best Headmaster of this school,” he said.

David said how pleased he was to be visiting the school he started in 1969. He was delighted the school logo and motto were the same. He reminded them why the motto was selected. ‘Bares Dabai’ [‘Strength in Unity’] triggered an eruption of delighted laughter from the students.

As we walked towards the sports field with another of David’s legacies, the athletic track, we passed the Manual Arts Block. Outside was a huge sign: ‘Ba Dave Keating. Welcome to Karkar Island. Pioneer Headmaster of Karkar High School’. ‘Ba’ means ‘Father’, a traditional honorific for someone of distinction. Another surprise on a day of surprises!

That evening, back on board ship, we were asked to talk to the other passengers about our day. They were interested, amazed and probably a little envious. Many expressed an interest to assist with donations of books for the Library. Exhausted, but too excited to sleep, we tried to unwind. We finally retired after midnight!

You can read the full report of David Keating and Hilary Langford’s return to Karkar here...  Download always_go_back.pdf 


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Bruce Marshall

I was one of four teachers who started the High School on Karkar Island in 1969 (David Keating, his wife Laura, Simon van der Valk and myself, Bruce Marshall). We arrived to find four unfinished bush material huts and kunai grass 6 feet tall. We spent the first 3 weeks helping the villagers finish off the buildings and cut the grass.

I was also a surveyor and I marked out the centre line of the access road and pegged out the positions of the school buildings prior to them being built.

It was also my job to drive the Government vehicle around the island every Saturday, calling in at all the local markets to buy food for the school.

They were great days and I loved Karkar.

Triscilla Waikasi

I'm a former student of Karkar Secondary School. I graduated last year 2012. And I'm now studying in Divine Word university. I was there when David Keating came to our school last year. Thank God for this man who founded this school.

Triscilla Waikasi

Hi my name is Trisha. I come from the Island of no return. Despite what people say about that island it is still my island.I come from a mixed parentage of the Trobriand island in the Miline Bay province and Karkar Island, Madang.But I always say that I'm from Karkar eventhough I do not have the features of Karkar Islanders. This is our (my family and I)8th year living in Karkar and I tell you its the most amazing place to be.

Well, you may think this is not so, because of the rape case of the American woman. I just want to clarify something here. The men who raped the American woman come from a village on the island that is known to be the most peaceful village. I don't know why they did this inhumane thing. But please stop stereotyping that the people of Karkar are bad people because not all of them are, it is just the minority. When others say bad things about my people its like a slap in my face. It honestly cuts through my bone murrows.

I know for sure that such things happen so that we must know that our society needs change.

Steve Gallagher

Why they are doing this, are they longlong, do they don't have monters, siters, or ol mas animals na ol rapim turangu meri America ya. Mi sori tru taim me redim news olsem ol lain wantok lo Karkar Island wokim displa pasin nogut. Tru tumas mi kros nogut tru.

These drug addicts must be hang to death because if we keep on ignoring the existing death penalty law, there will be more rape and inhuman act committed.

The law is there, but why it was not implemented and if not now, when are we going to do it?

Karkar Island is a peaceful place and people are peace loving and careing, only a handful of drug addicts that take adventage of their masculinaty to rape women and I dont want this to be tolerated.

Please hang those guys because its not fair and just to let them go free or put them in prison coz it cost government money to feed those idiots, animals, uncivilized crooks.

Alphonse K. Bannick

My name is Alphonse Kapuma Bannick from Bangame village. I was one of Mr. David Keating's 106 pioneering student 1969-72 at Kar Kar High School.

I am now the Chief Agricultural Quarantine Officer - Operations with the National Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Authority(NAQIA) of PNG.

Let me say that he was truly a tough cookie. I am thankful for his discipline and guidance which is still my "yardstick" to this day.

I remember in his English class in Form 1A, he gave me a "nice sweet slap" on my left cheek for not writing a mock letter properly (not the way he taught us) to my father.

I was just a runt in those days and I cleaned the boys' toilet for three years every time my House (Baigia) came on duty.

The first year, 1969, was pretty tough because we used to carry buckets full of water for about 500 metres to wash the bloody pit toilet.

David Keating was a godsend to Kar Kar High School 1969-71. He was the best. Thank you Mr. Keating

I would like to get in touch with Mr Keating if that is possible.

Alphonse, you can drop him an email at dak99@bigpond.net.au - KJ

Nathan Munog Wakon

I am from Wakon village and attended KarKar High School from 1975 to 1978 and I am an architect by profession.

I would like to contribute back to the school through architectural means.

Steve Gallagher Darong

We the people of Sumkar must be proud that our MP, Ken Fairweather, Minister for Housing and Urbanisation, has been given a ministry in the new government.

Ken Fairweather has done a lot during the last years. All the feeder roads from Karkar and North Coast have been up and graded, new permanent market houses have been built, and he has given lots of money to schools. The most important thing he has done was setting up internet in schools.

He has a better plan for us so we must all stand behind him and support him. Ken is our true leader. Minister Ken we salute you for your efficient service delivery and we hope one day you will give free education to us.

Ken for Life.

Steve Gallagher Darong

We are now in political crisis and some people are using Ramu Nico and PMIZ to criticise our son, brother and father, Sir Arnold Amet.

We must always have in mind that these are just politics.

There are some of his rivals who are, with the NGOs, misleading the people for their personal interest.

So I am calling to all the people of Karkar and Madang to stand behind Sir Arnold Amet.

Ramu Nico and PMIZ are major foreign investments which will bring job opportunities and money into our province.

The people of Rai Coast have been in the dark (gut nait Raicoast) for years and today is the time for Rai Coast so we must be happy for that.

Yes, it is true that there will be some social problems; we need to talk and find means and ways to address these rather than trying to stop the mine. We want development.

PMIZ is a million dollar project and we should be happy about it. We the people of Sumkar and Madang should be careful about some people who are misleading us.

Some of these people are like cockatoos (koki), they don't understand what they are saying.

To all the fellow KRX islanders, we must stand behind Sir Arnold Amet; he is a man of high moral values. Truly saying, I do admire the content of his character.

Bai for all.

Steve Gallagher Darong

The people of Karkar Island really need a commercial centre. At least build a supermarket so that people can do their shopping instead of going to town which will cost them extra money for transport.

The money people earn from cocoa, copra, bettle nuts and daka is not circulating on the island, that is the reason why the economic activity on the island is not that big.

The services that are in town should be on the island to so that people can have access to these services. Many people have lost their love ones due to boat accidents. These people are in search for goods and services which are not provided on the island.

There must be an Island Planning Committe set up the the appropriate authorities to plan the island. We must do something extra ordinary so that our needs and wants is satisfied.

These committes should plan the island, make karkar islnad become selfreliant and sustainable in the long run. We must act now, plan our islands future. Create job opportunity for the bulk of youths roaming the island.

From what I've observed is that, the money is coming into the island but went out again, this is because we do not have a commercial centre where goods and services are well provided. We should think big.

There are some people in villages are struggling to do their small busineess but there is lack of government support. Is there a community development officer on Karkar Island? If they are there, then what are they doing? For years, I never seen them.

I love my Island and my people. I don't want to be a millionare, all I want is to see that all my people are having access to basic services. If nothing happens, the youths will one day burnt donwn Kinim station, looth all these Chinese shops and stop politican to enter our island.

Steve Gallagher Darong

Karkar is a beautiful island with beautiful beaches. The Bagiai volcano is a beautiful caldera which will attract many local and itnernational tourist. We have many unique cultures that can attract tourists but there is not much done to promote these.

There is something needs to be done, we can make karkar island a destiny for tourists, however, there must be a support from the government to make all these become a reality.

I believe that Karkar islanders can make income apart from coconut, cocoa, betulnut.

Also we need to get back our identity, our traditional values are now fading away silencely. It is wise to open up for changes but we must keep our values because they are our guiding principles for our forfathers.

I am concern that that some visitors from others places are now saying that Karkar island is no longer deserves to be called the island of no return.

Something for us Karkar islanders to think about

Bai for all.

Steve Gallagher Darong

I am very sorry to hear that the district administrator of Karkar, Lili Chapau, has died in a boat accident.

On behalf of the Karkar students at DWU, and especially my family (Gallagher, Darong), I would like to pass on my condolence message to his family.

Chepau was a great man and his death is a great loss to the people of Karkar.

Rest In Peace

Steve Gallagher Darong

Cocoa and copra are the cash crops that my people rely on. People are really struggling to get these crops ready for sale and the price is to low and the money not sufficient to meet all their needs.

Also to get this crops ready for sale is not an easy job, it needs many hands. So in order for people to get their job done, they need to provide food or sometimes cash for the people to help them.

Life is not easy on my island, for the hard work my people get little money. Can our MP help subsidise cocoa and coconut so that people can get a good amount of money to meet their demand?

I love my people, and will always love them. No matter where I stay, I will always stand as a Karkar islander because this is my place; where I was born and grew up and it is my duty to wake up Karkar.

Every Karkar islander has a duty in life and that is to help contribute to the development of our beautiful island. No matter what family background you came from, we all in any way can help contribute for the development of our island.

At least we can do simple things like, respect and love others in your community, nearby communities and all the people regardless of their income, status in life.

God Bless my people.

Steve Gallagher Darong


Island, island. Oh my beautiful island
You look like a seagull sitting on a log
drifting away towards the sunrise

Children are born, people are dying
Days are gone, months are passing by
and years are coming towards us

I can go anywhere but I will never forget
about you my beautiful KRX island
The island of no return

Steve Gallagher

Karkar is a small island with high population density. I am always dreaming of where my people, especially the young male population, will go and live because all the arable land has been used up by fathers and their elder sons (matu).

If anyone sets foot on Karkar, you will see lots of young people wandering the streets. Not enough land to be shared between families, only a few have and the rest have not.

I believe that this problem can be solved if the leaders invest in human resources. No land means no money for our necessities. Provide free education for all the Karkar islanders.

Steve Gallagher Darong

Karkar Island is highly populated, almost half the total population of over 50,000 is youths.

I have a great fear of what might happen in future if the two politicians, Sir Arnold Amet and Ken Fairweather, keep on playing dirty politics and ignoring issues affecting my people.

The issues include marijuanna consumption by most secondary and high school drop-outs and even small primary school children. There's also an increase in population due to unwanted pregnancy and sorcery and the list goes on.

Do we have approprate policies for these issues? And, if so, why keep on talking politics instead of implementing these policies.

By the way, the ring road on Karkar is deteriorating. The feeder roads that link the local communities, which have been upgraded recently, are also at the same stage. Quality service lasts long while low quality service only serves for a short period.

Steve Gallagher

I wish to go back home and teach at my former school after completing my degree programme at DWU.

Teresa White

Below is a letter which my husband, Bill White, wrote to the headmaster of Kar Kar Secondary School in February 2009. Bill passed away on 4 February 2010, and so I am posting this in Bill's honour to set the facts straight about the building of Kar Kar Secondary School.

I know that what follows is the real story, because I was there with Bill at the time, as David would remember.

16 February 2009


Dear Headmaster,

I am writing to you to make sure that your school history about the initial building of the bush material school be accurately recorded.

I do this simply because I recently read a statement about David Keating’s return to Kar Kar Island and his visit to the High School. In it he states that when he came to the Island nothing was there at that time, and he had to build this bush material school himself.

Please let me tell you the exact truth. While I was on Kar Kar Island from 1962 to 1969 I had been Headmaster at Dangsai Primary School, Kavailo Primary School, and Taleng Primary School.

I had good relationships with the local people and councillors in both the Takia and Waskia areas. We were all keen that our Year 6 graduates from around the Island not attend High School in Madang but rather that they stay closer to home.

This had been discussed many times and it was very well supported and argued for by Nick Bricknell who was then the District Education Officer in charge of the Madang Province.

Mr Bricknell released me from Taleng Primary School after the Year 6 exams in late 1968 to negotiate with the councillors and the villagers in all areas to commence building of a bush material high school ready for the beginning of the 1969 school year.

This meant that my family and I were not able to have any holidays as this project was regarded as urgent.

From late 1968 I organised, co-ordinated and monitored the collection and movement of all the necessary bush materials to the site at Kinim. I liaised with parents and councillors regularly and spent the following months supervising the building of the classrooms, the student dormitories, the toilets and other ancillary buildings.

The people of Kar Kar Island deserve great praise for their enormous efforts in ensuring that this High School was able to be started in February 1969. It was wonderful for them to know that their children would now be able to continue their education so close to home.

I recently discussed this with Mr Bricknell to check the accuracy of my statements. He told me that he remembers the situation well and, like me, is unable to understand why David Keating made such a claim. He totally supported my version of the events that led to the building of the bush material high school.

I am sure that David Keating did many wonderful things for Kar Kar High School, but wish to set the record straight that he did NOT build the bush material high school.

Would you be kind enough to put a copy of this into your School History file. It is important that the history of the school is accurate.

My very best wishes to you, your staff and students and to all the Kar Kar community.

27 McIntyre Street
Gordon NSW 2072
Phone: 02 9498 2007

Steve Gallagher

The son of a peasant can become a Prime Minister throught education. This is the famous saying, but to get educated, we need money to get educated. It is the duty for all communities to help each other because we simple people can not afford to pay for our students in universities. Many bright student from Karkar Island are kicked out of universities coz of school fee problems. There is no one to answer our cry. It is time to work for common good. Steve Gallagher (son of a struggling peasent). Darong

Steve Gallagher, Bafor Village

I am Steve Gallagher, former head boy and student of Karkar High School, 2002-05. My congrats to former school for becoming a secondary. I'm now studying PNG Studies at Divine Word University. sgallagher@student.dwu.ac.pg

David Hewitt  (ex Karkar High School science teacher)

Just stumbled on this! I was a teacher (VSO) at Karkar High School from Jan 1975 until Dec 1976 so it was very interesting to get an idea of how the island has changed since then. I paid a return visit in 1978 while still in PNG but have not been back since. I still look back on it as a wonderful experience and certainly life-changing. I have a treasured collection of 35mm slides, 8mm films and audio recordings of that era which get pulled out from time to time.

Susan Cruttenden

11 pallets of books delivered by Aurora to delighted school staff April this year.(Most of the children were on holidays.) Amazing that the staff manage to do so much with so little.It was the same in all the island villages we visited.Many blame corrupt government for the fact that money is not being used for health and education. What do you think?

Chris Bone

Please subscribe me on email chris@oceanswatch.org
I tried your subscribe online option but there was no email suscription so it was of no use to me. I have been to Karkar in 2007 and 2008 and will be there again in 2009 doing marine conservation and aid work

Terry Schmidt

I was a teacher at Karkar High School in 1973 and 1974. I would like to get in touch with Mr. Keating.

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