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The marriage bureau that helped build a nation

BERNARD HOUSTON

E Course teachers at MalagunaAUSTRALIAN TERRITORIES MINISTER Paul Hasluck commented ruefully in the 1960s that, as far as Papua New Guinea Administration employees went, it was if he ran a Marriage Bureau.

It was so true. It was the 20th century version of the 19th century ‘fishing fleet’ that carried boatloads of spinsters to the bachelors in India. And the many well-paid young bachelors in the then Territory seeking a spouse were a pretty good catch.

The E Course – the six-month ‘emergency’ teacher training program launched in PNG in 1960 - has been justifiably lauded as delivering great educational outcomes.

The program recruited mature men and some women who had already established careers and transformed them into a potent teaching force, with the men often being despatched to the toughest and most remote locations.

E Course teachers, and E Course lecturers for that matter, married adventurous young women who either worked for the Administration or the missions.  Some of the women were themselves teachers.

In a number of cases, E Course graduates, on completion of the course, immediately returned to Australia, married their sweethearts and promptly returned to PNG as they now had a regular income and there were jobs for Australian women in the Territory.

First E Course, 1960-61But at the time we didn’t know that Hasluck had made his sardonic comment, so the bachelor kiaps, didimen and chalkies couldn’t thank him and the Department of Territories for the blessing of being able to marry a young woman bold enough to seek a life on a new frontier.

Or, for that matter, an equally adventurous, possibly opportunistic but courageous indigenous lass, who then faced the difficulties of integration into the expatriate community.

Life was not always sweet. When we left the Territory, we frequently left behind a trace of tragedy. Our own lay in a small grave at Koroba. A miscarriage had delivered a tiny infant and it was buried in the garden at Koroba together with an identification bracelet bearing my name, date of birth and blood group.

Women experiencing difficulties in pregnancy would move to the maternity ward of the nearest hospital – in our case Goroka - weeks before the baby was due to be born.

Then there were the frantic midnight drives in a four wheel drive along stony mountain roads to the nearest hospital where a baby might be born within minutes of the mother’s arrival in the labour ward.

So all was not a bed of roses.

Belatedly, I thank Paul Hasluck, Jim Kernan, Mal McCrae, John Schofield, Father Walker, Fred Ebbeck, Dave Pitt and Albert Baglee whose efforts enabled me to be in the right place at the right time to meet the young woman who was right for me and, furthermore, to spend the next 34 years doing work I enjoyed.

Those men and women who, having undertaken training and gone “into the field” as we sued to say, found their expectations met as they performed these practical and necessary services for the Territory community. It was also good to have our abilities challenged.

We fulfilled our obligations to the people and government of Australia the Territory of Papua and New Guinea and, in the process, entered professions that enabled us to advance ourselves and later move on to other, possibly, more satisfying occupations.

Eventually these memories will yield to inexorable time because those who remember those years will have died.

Contemporary educators coming from a more privileged background and a different philosophy, may look at the work of the E Course men and women and criticise or ridicule their efforts and form of teaching, but they will never have the experiences we had.

The work gave satisfaction to the lives of all those people associated with the E Courses and gave true worth to their lives and those of the many children – now middle-aged adults - whom they taught in the years they remained in TPNG.

Their work may seem trivial and the time span short, even meaningless in the stream of history

But the graduates and stayers found the realities that lay beyond the mountain range and have lived with the results since – good or bad.

Jim Kernan’s words at the conclusion of his lectures are still apt, so for now, “I’ll leave it with you.” (RIP, Jim.)

Em inap, em tasol.

Comments

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Yolanda Garcia

I am a teacher, and I am not yet married, but who knows one day I can also meet a fellow educator that can be my future partner in life. But in some cases there are educators especially woman who prefer to be single forever and choose to marry her profession as a teacher.

Paul Donnell / 7th E-Course

We were probably underpaid considering the hours we worked. Being on call for medical emergencies etc.

Our supplies not getting through due to road washaways made life interesting and exciting. What a great time to be in PNG.

Spiro Lilley

My parents are educators too! They met also while in the profession. There, they started their love story until they got married.

Now, two of their children are teachers too. They follow the steps in the field of education.

Long live educators!

B.W.Houston

Phil - "Well paid' was not in the original text.

I could not have cared less about my pay. It was sufficient for a single man.

Going by memory the E Course Teacher's salary was marginally less than my pay as a Prison Officer in South Australia. In 1964 I was where I wanted to be.
____________

Comparing like with like, Australians in TPNG were considerably better paid than their Australian counterparts. Entry level teachers, for example, were at least 50% better off. We earned it, too: worked hard, played hard - KJ

Richard Clarke

Well said, Bernie! My wife (a former indigenous lass!) and I have been together for 46 years and obviously we have not regretted the decisions we made all those years ago.

It was difficult at times but we had many good friends who stood by us! Nice to hear from you Bernie!

Phil Fitzpatrick

I would take issue with one point Bernard. That is that the "young bachelors" were well paid. Maybe chalkies made more money than kiaps.

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