Australia’s own history of apartheid in PNG
The inappropriate cultural appropriation of the PNG bilum

My Story: Those halcyon Papua New Guinea years

Ed_Brumby19 - ED BRUMBY

IN 1950, when I was five years old, my family escaped the bleak prospects of post-war England and emigrated to Australia, setting up home in the distinctively parochial and conservative city of Townsville in north Queensland.

My father, a gifted pianist who had left school at 14, took a sales job with a chain of music retailers where he parlayed a highly successful career selling pianos, organs, sheet music and records.

Until my brother came along in 1953, my mother worked as a cook at the local migrant hostel to help make ends meet.

While both of my parents had left school at 14, they were avid readers and interested in the world of ideas so our dinnertime conversations and debates ranged across politics, current affairs and music and the arts. (Unlike me, my father was no fan of contemporary or country and western music, or sport.)

This instilled within me an abiding interest in these matters, a spirit of inquiry and non-conformity, and respect for alternative lifestyles and beliefs.

Thanks to their example and encouragement, my voracious appetite for reading, and learning began before I started school.

During my primary and high school years I read two or more books a week, mostly about history: the ancient civilisations, the British empire and America, early Australian explorers, World War II and, especially, the war in the Pacific – which was how my interest in Papua New Guinea and a desire to explore the world at large was first piqued.

Playing basketball was my major preoccupation during my high school years, along with a sustained interest in the science of the weather – from which I decided to become a meteorologist and, hopefully, spend time as a researcher in Antarctica.

Regrettably (at the time) but fortuitously (in the longer term), despite a grade average of A throughout high school, I failed the matriculation physics exam.

My meteorological dream dashed, I remained determined to leave the parochial atmosphere of Townsville and accepted the offer of an education cadetship at the Australian School of Pacific Administration.

Fortunately I had applied for the teacher training course as a fallback position prior to the matriculation exams.

Two marvellous years later, in that heady idealistic era of change in the mid-1960s, I arrived - a naïve, skinny 20 year old - at my first posting, Angoram.

Despite two years of specialist training, I was still affronted by the realities of small settlement life in 1960s PNG.

The segregation (black from white, white public servants from white private enterprise operators); the overt racism (no Papua New Guineans were allowed membership of the Angoram Club (schoolboys were allowed to cut, but not play on, the grass of the club’s tennis court – until I banned that practice), and the all-pervading pressure to conform to the colonial norms.

And did I mention the mosquitoes?

A further shock came when the newly-appointed head teacher resigned rather than accept a transfer to Angoram – such was the reputation of the place. So I was left, with five Papua New Guinean teachers, to manage a school of 300 children in seven grades, with four of us teachers fresh out of college.

For the first two months we muddled on, with me teaching more than 50 children in Standard 6 in the mornings and another 50 or more Standard 5 children in the afternoon.

At the same time, I was learning the ropes of school administration without mentoring or support – and losing a stone in weight as a consequence

Relief came when the Sepik River flooded Moim school, up river at from us, and the teachers and many of the children relocated to Angoram, providing the school with a full complement of staff and me with an experienced mentor and lifelong friend, Michael Hatch.

Following an incident involving the head teacher’s wife at Maprik in mid-1966, I was posted, in a three-way transfer, to idyllic Passam where I had the best of both worlds: the working week in the quiet of the bush and weekends in the social, sporting and surfing whirl of Wewak – where, at last, I had the opportunity to socialise with and get to know Papua New Guineans.

At the end of 1968, having honed my teaching and administrative skills and completed one-third of a University of Queensland education degree in the light of a Tilley lamp and on a battered portable Olivetti typewriter, I was transferred to the Publications and Broadcasts Branch at Konedobu to take over Keith Jackson’s role as editor of school publications and custodian of Yokomo.

With two other writer-editors and four graphic artists we produced each year for the next five years, ten editions of two 16-page supplementary reading magazines (Garamut and Kundu) and a social studies magazine (Our World) which were distributed to over 150,000 primary school children every month.

These were the halcyon years.

I immersed myself in Port Moresby basketball: playing, refereeing, administering and writing twice-weekly reports for the Post Courier and the ABC.

At the same time, I built a coterie of friendships with Papua New Guineans – and fell in love with a fellow educator from Hula.

I also completed a BA in English and Linguistics at UPNG, inspired by the likes of Ulli Beier, Elton Brash, John Lynch and Nigel Krauth, and rubbed shoulders with future Papua New Guinean leaders and intellectuals - John Waiko, John Kasapwailova, Renagi Renagi Lohia among them.

After a year of graduate school at Edinburgh – the subject of a previous PNG Attitude article, I returned to Moresby in late 1973 where, as part of Ken McKinnon’s innovative policies, I was assigned a very smart young Tubuseranian as my associate and understudy.

He soon took over my role, more or less completely, and I was left with little of consequence to do and with no indication from the bosses that they wanted to exploit the fruits of my Edinburgh studies and other experience.

I realised it was time to seek other opportunities.

With great (and continuing) regret I left PNG in mid-1974 and began a second career in higher education: lecturing in linguistics, editing distance learning materials and producing educational films and videos for an Aboriginal education program at a Perth College of Advanced Education.

Later there were 23 years at Deakin University where I ended up as Director of Learning Resources Services – and added a master’s degree in education technology and communications to my repertoire.

In between, there was a two year secondment as an education technologist at a Hong Kong university, several research/teaching assignments at Shiga University, Japan, and an extended research fellowship the Japanese National Institute of Multimedia Education.

After Deakin, I worked for 12 years with the ANZ Institute of Insurance and Finance where I designed, developed and sold accredited and specialist risk and insurance education programs to companies in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia – accruing nearly two million frequent flyer points in the process.

As Trevor Shearston has written, PNG leaves something in the blood and I’m delighted that, in retirement, I’m back there in spirit through the great privilege of collaborating with people like Baka Bina, Marlene Potoura and Busa Wenogo in their contributions to PNG literature.

As Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) said: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”


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Michael Dom

Now that's a fantastic life story, Ed.

I'm a bit late to get to it, but better late than never.

I think I was distracted by the lovely image in the article above yours.

There's something to be said about Hula frangipani's in bloom...

teasing aromas
adorning a young girls hair –
swaying moonlit palms

Baka, Marlene and Busa are fortunate to have collaborated with you - your vast and in depth experience from your halcyon days in PNG is, in my mind, still very relevant today.

You made do with what you had. You made things work.

If Pngians could embrace their history better, we would welcome such stories more broadly and learn some great lessons that might help us to move forward confidently.

Many thanks for your contributions to PNG's past and present.

Daniel Kumbon

Thanks Keith, I remember the name Wal Kapper. Such rich voices echoing down memory lane.

Daniel Kumbon

Keith, When I started work with the NBC, I met Peter Trist and John Billi Tokome who had acted out in role plays for school broadcasts. Can you name some others? I was told a lady had taken on the role of Peter in that famous radio drama 'Peter and Kinabo' Is that correct? And who was the narrator in the Standard Six drama series 'What can they do? And who acted out Yokomo?

I know both Peter and (the late) John Bili. In fact I gave JB his first role in radio (in a schools broadcast as it happened). Fay Goodman played many kids' parts including the one you mention. The Std 6 drama was initially narrated by John Rudd and, in my time, by Wal Kapper. Great people all and the very mention of their names brings back rich memories - KJ

Ed Brumby

No, Daniel, I would not claim to have initiated shift teaching. I daresay many of us had to do it. While my professional initiation was challenging, it was no where near as tough as it was for, say, some E Course graduates who had to literally go out and build their schools. And, unlike many of our colleagues, I could also enjoy the relative luxuries of electricity for a few hours every day, access to trade stores, a pub and a (segregated) social club. I had it easy, by comparison, even if it didn't appear so at the time.

The matter which riled me most was when I was refused a Higher Duties Allowance (for acting above my Education Officer 1 grade as head teacher of a Grade 5 school) in my first year of teaching because I was deemed to have insufficient experience - even though, for all intents and purposes, I was fulfilling the requirements of the position. There again, I probably wasn't alone in that regard.

Nevertheless, we all did what we had to do, regardless of the circumstances, because that was why we were there. And didn't we love it!!!

Ed Brumby

Thank you, Daniel. However, I need to point out that, regrettably, I was not involved in the production of schools broadcasts back then. The credit is due entirely to Keith and his ABC/NBC colleagues. Like you, I do remember the challenges of radio reception and flat batteries and the like during my days at Angoram and Passam.

Ed Brumby

Thank you, Barbara. Please tell Alois that I do remember him, and that Mike knew back then that Alois was destined to do well, despite his occasional cheekiness. I would be delighted to hear directly from Alois and to fill him in on what happened to Mike. I can be reached at

Daniel Doyle

So, Ed, you were the initiator of 'shift teaching' in PNG while at Angoram!? I thought the kudos for that went much later to Kokopo high post volcanic eruption.

You and your colleagues at the Publications and Broadcasts Branch produced great material punctually and consistently.

Daniel Kumbon

Peter and Kinabo, What can they do?,Yokomo, Word Games, Current Affair programs etc influenced my early learning. I looked forward to the broadcasts and monthly school newspaper.

Thank you Ed. I now see that you and Keith Jackson were behind those popular school broadcasts. You certainly played a part in influencing our early learning through the school brodcasts and publication.

The only problem was that we Standard 4, 5 and 6 shared the same radio set which went from class to class. The batteries went flat often in the middle of a program.

Barbara Short

Alois Jerewai also added.. I'd dearly love to know where Michael Hatch is now! I and all his class had known that one of his kidneys was removed and he was living with only one!

Last I saw him was when he visited me at the UPNG in 1973.

If anyone has information you can let me know on

Mike died in the early 2000s, I think it was. He was an ASOPA colleague of mine in 1962-63. Mike had many friends who respected him greatly and who still miss him - KJ

Barbara Short

I placed this article on the Sepik Forum Facebook Discussion page.. which is a private page and had these comments from Alois Jerewai (now a noted lawyer)

I remember Ed Brumby quite well! When he taught at Passam Primary " T " School, between 1966 and 1968 he frequently visited Michael Hatch who at that time was the Headmaster at the Kreer Primary " T " School and my class patron. About being skinny, yes Mr. Brumby was! Such that I recited for his and Mr. Hatch's hearing the Rhyme : Fatty and Skinny went to war and fatty got shot by an apple shot.
I was punished for it by hand pumping water from the tank to the roof tank! Ha great memories!

Let him know also that my father had about the same time served as a teacher also at Kreer primary school. I was in grade 5 going onto Grade 6. And that every time he walked from Passam to Wewak, there being no road at that time, his socks collected so much grass and I was the kid who mostly removed the grass in return for a bar of cheese which I called "eating soap" at the time. Hahaha!

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