After 4 decades, it was a great re-uniting
Kuru pioneer Gajdusek dies at 85

Meeting Bill Groves, PNG educn pioneer

Reginald Thomson

Port Moresby, early August 1949. My first port of call was the Department of Education where, among those to greet me, was my wife-to-be, who worked in the office of the Administrative Officer, a weaselish man, with a tic, giving one the impression he was winking at you.

Then I met the Director, Bill Groves, who ran his Department from a modest office in a long shed with paper walls. This was the HQ of the department. Bill was a short, cherubic man who went to New Guinea in 1922 as the first European teacher at Kokopo (near Rabaul). He had served in the First World War and spent a long time as a POW in Germany. He majored in Anthropology at Melbourne University, from which he held an Honours Degree and a teaching Diploma.

His book [Native Education and Culture Contact in New Guinea – A Scientific Approach] was critical of any hint of elitism and advocated a system aimed at meeting the everyday needs of the villager. Unfortunately, in practice, this meant an exaggerated emphasis on ancillary processes to the detriment of basic educational skills. His educational philosophy caused a great deal of anguish both within and outside the Department. He resisted all attempts to expand secondary and further education, bringing down the ire of the Minister, Paul Hasluck, an academic, journalist and politician who, despite his many achievements, was never at the coal face like Groves.

Paul Hasluck, whom I came to like and respect, had little patience with those who disagreed with his Olympian pronouncements on all subjects. He was noted for his attention to detail, including the perusal of unimportant files, such as those concerned with the recruitment of base-grade clerks.

His [views] on Groves reflect his unfamiliarity with a discipline in which his only experience was a brief stint as a University lecturer… He was unashamedly centralist as far as politics in New Guinea were concerned, giving little support to those trying to establish a form of local government… In the end, Hasluck got his way by refusing to renew Bill’s contract and he left the country in 1958 embittered, but still certain his policies were right…

In 1949 all these things were in the future. I found Bill Groves kind and helpful but without any idea of my future path. He had surrounded himself with a strange mixture of enthusiasts, amateurs, and some downright no-hopers.

Extract from ‘Looking for a good book’ by Reginald Thomson, Chapter 9 - Journey without maps. You can order a copy [hardcover, 152 pp, $20 including postage] by contacting Mark Thomson here. Mark will tell you about payment details.


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