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A boys school in the sixties – a Bugandi story


Bugandi class 1968 with Denis Murrell I WAS SENT to teach at Bugandi High School in January 1968 and saw it for the first time from the back seat of the Principal’s Mercedes-Benz.

It was a neat set of single and double-storey buildings situated in lush green, well-tended parkland and sports ovals bordered with red canna lilies, crotons and painted white stones.

There were three new arrivals on that day, John Budby, John Jensen and me, and we joined a number of other new staff-members that year. Initially, all the staff were male but that was to change during the year when three female staff members were appointed and later, there were more.

Bugandi was built on the site of a former swamp, a place where people said it would be impossible to build anything. In 1959, ten acres were cleared of rainforest and two classrooms, a dormitory, two houses and a mess were built. Amazingly, classes began soon after in January, 1960.

The school was called Bugandi Upper Primary School and there were 78 students in Standards 7, 8 and 9 and three teachers, two from overseas and one Papua New Guinean. By 1962, the name had been changed to Bugandi Junior High School and Jack Amesbury was appointed as Principal.

He worked successive groups of students hard over the years, to reclaim land from the water, fell trees, clear undergrowth, build roads, plant lawns and gardens, and construct playing fields and livestock pastures. I could see the results of this hard work as I travelled down the drive in his Mercedes.

Bugandi Aerial 1970 When I arrived, Jack was trying to develop another oval to accommodate all the rugby league teams, but the trees were full of shrapnel. The area closer to the Markham River had been a battleground between Australian and Japanese troops in World War II and students often found bits and pieces of Japanese war materiel and occasionally unexploded bombs.

Jack Amesbury - a stocky, sandy-haired man with a demanding expression and occasional wry smile - was a former Royal Australian Navy man who had been present on an Australian vessel at Wewak for the Japanese surrender.

Her ran the school like a naval vessel, always referred to his students as ‘men’. His first words at every Assembly were, ‘Right Men! On deck!’

The students were up at dawn to shower. They ate a breakfast of wheatmeal cakes, jam and hot tea and listened to the morning news on 9LA as they prepared for lessons. Some boys were rostered each day to keep the area around their dormitories clean.

They wore government-issued white cotton drill shirts and navy or khaki shorts. Assembly was at seven sharp and no-one was ever late.

After assembly, English master, Charles Cazabon, and his staff would take all Form 1 for 20 minutes of English language drills, while the other students went straight to class. Students were punished for speaking their own village languages [tokples] and Tok Pisin. They were required to speak English at all times and were reported to the Principal by the prefects if they did not.

During lessons, Jack Amesbury would often suddenly appear at a classroom window and take all the boys and the teacher, out to work on the school farm - to harvest peanuts, soybeans or pineapples, to carry rocks, to get wandering pigs back into their pen, to collect eggs, or perhaps push the tractor out of some mud.

Teachers didn’t always manage to complete what they had planned to teach and what they thought was going to be a relatively easy day in the classroom would turn out to be hot and tiring, but no-one complained.

Classrooms had usually 25 double-desks accommodating up to 50 students per class. Sometimes there was a cupboard and for the teacher, and a table - but no chair. Jack Amesbury didn’t like his teachers to sit down during lessons.

Some teachers would sit on a desk but would always keep a wary eye out for the Principal. If you were caught sitting during a lesson, you could expect to be scolded in a way that only Jack could manage, and in front of your students too.

Lessons finished at 1pm followed by lunch, usually consisting of kaukau, other vegetables and soup. Boys rostered to mess duty helped the cooks serve and clean up. The school was divided into to four houses and one house had to do work parade one day a week until about 4.30.

Some boys worked on the farm or caring for the flower gardens, some cut grass with their serifs, while others cleaned the ablution blocks. There were special projects like the new swimming pool, fish ponds, chapel/assembly hall and the tractor shed. Others ran the school tuckshop operated by the Bantin Cooperative Society, whose president was Utula Samana. Selected boys helped Charles Cazabon in the library and others helped me to print tee-shirts in the art room.

After work parade, the students could relax until dinner and perhaps do their laundry. Dinner consisted of rice, instead of kaukau, and some green vegetables like aibika or spinach with some bully-beef or tinned mackerel.

Immediately after that, from 7 until 9, boys went for night study in their classrooms, supervised by duty teachers. No-one could be late or absent without a good reason and the duty teacher would count the students present in each room. Following that, students were then free for an hour but had to be in bed by 10pm lights-out.

They could go into Lae with permission on Saturdays and Sundays but had to be back in their dormitories by midnight on Saturdays and 10pm on Sundays and the duty teacher and prefects would be waiting to catch those who might be late. There was usually a small group of boys up for punishment on Monday mornings.

During that first year and the three further years I taught at the school, I cannot remember any boy not working hard to prepare for his future. In the late sixties, it was not easy for a boy to go to high school and those who were selected used their chance wisely.

They knew that any boy who didn’t follow the Bugandi way of doing things could be dismissed and sent back to his village. Under Jack Amesbury’s guidance, Bugandi became a great and famous school, producing many students who went on to become academic, political and business leaders in PNG.

Photos: Denis Murrell and class; Bugandi High School from the air [Denis Murrell]


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P..N Zuks

Bugandi remained an all-boys school until 1987 when girls were enrolled for the first time. Our group was the second last to graduate as all boys in 1988. Still have great memories of my time at Bugandi.

Samantha K Henry

I am writing on behalf of my father, John Henry, who used to teach with Grant Hamilton at Bugandi High School around 1968.

Would you be able to pass on his contact details, please? My dad would be delighted to get in touch with him again.

Perhaps you may know these other teachers:

Munro Mortimer
Steve Mack
David Gould
John Budby
John Geary
Albert Dakin

Thank you so much for your time.

[email protected]

Maisen Hungito | Lae City

Hi, my name is Maisen Hungito and I am an ex Bugandi student from 2002-05.

I am very much interested in some of the photographs of the time when the school was built.

Also I would like to know the names of the people or the construction company who built the school.

And the bee that is used in the logo, why is it used?

The signboard at the gate is still there. Who put it up? I'd like some photographs of that too.

Thanks. I really enjoyed my stay while a student there.

A Kema

Ex BCB nau mi stap Brisbane Qld. Stap wantaim yu.

Noel McFayden

Hullo Dennis - I too taught at Bugandi in1961 and 1962 as a NSW teacher on secondment. And I loved it.

I wonder how much is left of what my assistants and I did - gardens, a sign for Bugandi made from aeroplane aluminium...

I still have the Bugandi "representative" bee we used for sport representatives,

I have photos of most of our pupils and remember them well. Some notables include Horrie Niall's houseboy's goes on and on.

I would like to send my original photo album to the school as I am sure there would be many success stories amoongst the boys.

Your meals sound a little more sophisticated than in my day.
I acted as Principal for a time (being only three years out of college). Tennyson Lau and Joyce Lightbody were my two assistants.

Tennyson was replaced in 1962 by Eric Johns and we shared the two man donga on the road. Later Des Peisker and then Brian Gesling came as Principals, but none was like your boss.

If you know the current Principal I could offer him some old history.

[email protected]
38 Janet Street Merewether, NSW, 2291

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