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Br John & Br Paul - memories of my schooling come back to life

George Kuias &  Br John CurryGEORGE KUIAS

An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism

BROTHER John Curry was serious, tough and would scold at boys when angry. He was one of the two expatriate Marist brothers that taught us at St Xavier’s provincial high school on Kairiru Island in East Sepik Province.

Br John (pictured with me at right) was also a humble man who strictly apportioned the hours given to him; one would not see him wasting time on unnecessary things. He taught us religious education while the other expatriate, Br Paul Johnson, an engineer by profession, taught practical skills.

Br Paul was a slim and hairy head of computing; a proud man who would joke around with us boys when in a good mood.

The two brothers owned a rusty old jeep formerly used by Japanese soldiers in World War II. It had been left behind in a cave near the school. One day on work parade, Br Paul organised his students to pull the jeep from the cave. After two days it was on the road.

The school also owned a boat named Tau-K to transport half a tonne of students, supplies and food rations each trip to and from Kairiru.

The two brothers left the island in 1997. After their departure the local teachers took control of school management. Now there is no jeep on the road or a school boat motoring to and fro. The good old days have vanished.

The once boys-only school is now enrolling girls as well. Home brew and drug consumption is on the rise. Destroying school property and graffiti are of major concern to the authorities.

After 10 years, one afternoon I accidently met Brother John Curry at Divine Word University. I was busy treating patients when he walked in to have an infected sore on his leg dressed.

Just looking at his face and the way he smiled made me recognise him. “Are you Brother John Curry?” I asked.

“Yes, don’t tell me that you’re one of my former students,” he replied.

We hugged each other and started telling the good old days stories.

I asked him about Brother Paul Johnson. “Brother Paul is no longer a Marist Brother. He’s currently managing his own business in Australia. The program ‘Crime Scene’ that comes on EM TV is his program,” Br John replied.

Unfortunately we were disturbed by patients and could continue no further. But, as you see, we did manage a photo.


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Barbara Short

Thanks Austin for your memories of St Xavier's, Kairiru.
I have placed your story on the Sepik Region Development Discussion Forum on Facebook. I'm sure it will be enjoyed by many of our 5000 members!

Austin Kipan | Ex St Xavier's 1987-90

On a winter’s night here in Queensland, Australia, I couldn't go to sleep, its going towards early morning, hence the time stamp on this posting.

I am at my study desk on my computer and decided to google my much loved school, St Xavier’s High school, Kairiru Island Wewak PNG. In the order of many results of the search, two got my attention.

The first one was ‘St Xavier’s – Adventure High School – Angelfire’ the author is pen name Bob, a Canadian volunteer with CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas) who was a handy man ‘Jack of all trades’ living and working to help the students.

His story is very interesting regarding the life of St Xavier’s from 1975 up to early 80s. Stories that will bring back memories, stories of joys and happiness to sadness, stories including a bomb that was discovered when building the library and how it was detonated. Fascinating!

The second one is this one by George Kuias regarding Br John & Br Paul. I remember Br John as the engineer of everything and Br John as a funny bloke who is loud and happily comes to the hall for discos as well.

Good to see comments from our ‘best school captain ever’ John Sliviak. Thank you my brothers George and John for your posts. John brata blo mi, even before going to the end of your comments, just on the second paragraph and I knew the author of the comments would be none other than John Sliviak. Most of us during your time as school captain, knew you were an excellent leader and represented us well.

What I remember is admiring your maturity in handling complains, discussion and general matters during our student forums at the hall.

Like you, I also have fond and wonderful memories of my time at St Xavier’s from 1987-1990. Spending time at my Passam bush camp with the boys from my area, going up the stream during weekends or even up the high peak to the lake and on long weekends off to Victoria Bay.

What can we do during long weekends in the ‘Marist Prison Camp’(lol!)? We were on an island unlike those high school students on the mainland. Adventure, that’s what we do. And its all worth it. And if I have a digital camera or a camcorder at the time, I would have taken the best shots. But these shots are now stuck in my memory for ever.
There are fun times when we eat sticky rice and there are happy times when we eat ‘special meals’ other than just ‘rais na tinpis’. There are more fun times, when you turn up late for lunch or dinner and all good tinpis mix with aibika are all gone and you’re left with just the can of fish. Hhahah!

There is no can-opener so learn to open the can with a spoon. Where did I learn how to open a can using a spoon? St Xavier’s of course... that’s what I tell my children when we go camping.

And we bet our lunch and dinner over football games. If my team wins, you give me your lunch or dinner plate. What a fun place!

There are also fun times when we have ‘exchange visits’ from the girls in Yarapos coming for the weekend and some of our boys going across to the mainland to their school . There is always good kaikai and discos. We tried our very best to impress the girls, likewise I believe they do too for the boys.

The last exchange visit was 1989. It stopped because two silly girls game to our school during holidays and gravity all over the place. In return the boys (sorry! I was one of them) wrote all kinds of letters and send it to them which got the attention the principal there.

My regret... which I must laugh a bit before continuing... was to escape from school to attend a show weekend in Wewak by hiring a dingy down in Jem village and across to Gringrin mainland then PMV to Wewak. There were about 6 of us.

When we got back few days later, of course we were on punishment digging out elephant grass and huge tree stumps for the aibika garden down towards Brauniak village. Good that the bulldozer helped a bit.

My happy days are Tuesdays and Fridays because TAU K comes back with letters, bags & boxes. TAU K, the boat that can go anywhere. We all go crowded to see whose names are on the list of receiver’s.

If I am unlucky, maybe one my village boy will share what he got. Sunday is another happy day as the markets are open. Which reminds me of one of the boys in my class with nicknamed ‘Simply’made a poem that he read out in class regarding the Sunday morning market.

Another happy times are nearing end of term, there are chalk board gravities in all classroom with the acronym created only in St Xavier’s called ‘TIS’ for ‘Taim i Sot’. All the boys are anxious to head home for holidays.

My sad days are towards the end of the year. Firstly for Grade 8 students because we don’t know who is coming back for grade 9. Secondly the seniors or Grade 10 students seen as leaders are leaving and never coming back the following year.

After graduation, there are always big bush-camp parties and lots of tears as the Gr 10s are farewelled. Junior boys are heartbroken as the seniors are leaving. Boys who were enemies within the last four years, made up, shake hands, a brotherly hug to each other and wish each other the very best in the life ahead.

St Xavier’s has built us up. From our education to our character and I am proud to be a product of the ‘Marist Prison Camp’

Thanks George and John for sharing. Likewise, it brings back lots of memories and I will still visit the school one day.

George Kuias

Thank you brother for sharing your part of the story. Wonderful.

John Sliviak

I also have wonderful memories from my time at St Xavier's - 1985-1988.

I remember the first afternoon, Br Paul let me to drive the brown truck down to the school wharf to pick up cargo as Tau K had berthed from one of its twice weekly trips. (Tuesdays & Fridays)

The truck's gear was not floor mounted but on the steering column. I really wanted to prove to him that I was good. So when I struggled a bit with the gear, it got to me and I swore under my breath. S....! Br Paul in his always confident firm voice just said, John, what did you say.... I just kept driving.

For our Grade 10 picnic, he took the Tau K with us on to uninhibited Unai Island where we joked, played, swam, fished, feasted, overnighted.

I was looking back over documents I've stored away. There among my high school stuff were Br Kevin's signed, Leadership Certificate to me as School Captain 1988, Br Paul's signed School Reference Letter 1988, which portrays me as a saint, Br Paul's Report Cards for 10F Term 2 & of 1988, Br Chris's and Bill Brabar 9F for 1987, Mr Yria 8X for 1986, Mr Yahaipim for 1987. Also a letter note to my father from Br Paul, a reply to a letter from my father.

Br John arrived later than Br Paul. I remember him as a young tall Brother. He joined Br Kevin, Br Chris, Br Julian and Br Paul.

Br Paul was my year 10 Class teacher, year 9-10 Practical Skills teacher, year 9-10 School Workshop. Chief and Mentor.

I worked in the school workshop under him. Carrying out mechanical servicing, maintenance and repairs on everything. From outboard motors, the school generator, vehicles, and boats.

Old rusting cars and machineries were brought back to life by Br Paul. Like the army jeep, a tractor(old type that you start by turning a lever to spin the flywheel in front), a bull dozer(which would then be used to tow the school barge Tau K out of the sea and tow its trailer with it up to the school workshop)

The metal boat Machellin was overhauled for Fr Stan for the Wewak Island parishes.

The ex Australia Army school barge TAU K was overhauled with two brand new Volvo 290hp engines installed. A friend of Br Paul came up from Australia to assist with the electrical/ electronics.

The best part of all is I got to drive and operate all these cars and machines. Like driving the tractor with slasher to cut grass on the school grounds or with trailer with whatever cargo and filled with boys shouting/ cheering/ laughing their heads off meaninglessly. I remember shipping of a tractor with trailer on Tau K from Kairiru to Mushu so we can use it to load coconuts then back to Kairiru.

Many thanks to all of them. And thank you George for your story that brought it all back.

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