After the PNG 'sturm und drang' … art
Niu Ailan bilas piles mi lukim iu gen

Old PNG friendships still relevant today

Ken McKinnon

Ken McKinnon 4


I was around New Guinea for 20 years. I know it’s only half the time of many of you but I was there long enough to get to know a few Papua New Guineans.

I would like to thank Duncan Kerr [Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs] for the renewed interest that the Government shows in PNG. If you did even one thing, avoid getting Michael Somare to take his shoes off as he comes into the country, you’d do a lot for relationships between PNG and Australia.

More than that, if you go through with this program you’ve outlined, I think relationships PNG will be a lot closer than sometimes that they’ve been in the past.

There is still in PNG the last of the group most of you would know. Two of my colleagues are still there. The Governor-General, Paulias Matane, was a young teacher on our staff and Michael Somare himself, as he reminded me recently, thought I wasn’t a very good boss when he was a teacher.

He was very friendly and regarded the expatriates in Papua New Guinea at that time as friends as well as mentors or Kiaps or kuskus or whatever. We’ve got to remember that, and I urge the Government to remember that. Because I’m sure, frankly, that a lot of the aid that goes to PNG is more helpful to the contractors than it is to PNG.

The important thing for the Government is to make more use of the stored expatriate knowledge that exists in Australia. Last year in November, at Keith [Jackson’s] urging, I went to Brisbane to talk to a lot of old teachers from New Guinea, Cadets and E-Course people, and it’s absolutely clear that the peak experience of their lives was working in PNG and they have friends all over the country.

All of you, I haven’t any doubt, have the same. Some of you are a bit lapun to go back again and some of you are not but the Government should make use of this resource that we have in Australia because, at the end of the day, Government relationships will be one thing but the friendships with people will be another entirely.

Source: Extract from Ken McKinnon’s remarks to the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia, 7 December 2008. Photo: Ingrid Jackson


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John Leah

I don't recall ever meeting Ken McKinnon, but how well I remember the innovative curriculum he introduced, or allowed to be introduced (in my principal discipline of science especially).

This allowed teachers to stray well away from conventional approaches and I was able to do things with the PNG kids such as raising chooks as part of the curriculum. At Kila Kila we grew food for the chooks, divided them into groups, fed them differently, weighed them regularly, plotted their weights and compared the effect of different diets. Lots of excursions into the geologically-rich surroundings...

Acids and bases were approached through trying to find local plants that would act as acidic or alkaline indicators. We dissected hibiscus flowers, peering at them under the microscope.

All well away from the somewhat staid NSW text book which was all we had for reference. Don't know about the kids, but I had fun!

And at Kila Kila, we made our own low-fired bricks and built a kiln to achieve higher temperatures as part of a study of the states of matter.

All a bit of an empirical experiment I suppose, and there were plenty of voices bagging the curriculum for straying too far from convention, but to me, it's what the world needs - excitement in the science classroom.

And Dr McKinnon made that possible, so for both our sakes, I hope it paid off by inspiring some PNG kids to take up serious scientific careers...

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