IN A week's time, on Anzac Day to be precise, Dr Ken McKinnon AO, a distinguished Australian and alumnus of Papua New Guinea, will make what he is calling his “last sentimental visit” to a country to which he made such a great contribution.
After attending Adelaide and Queensland universities and teaching in remote South Australia for two years, Ken decided to pursue a career in PNG.
He then undertook a four-month program at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) before arriving in Port Moresby in May 1954. “My Sydney sojourn came after Oodnadatta,” he told me, “so was mostly a time for savouring the offerings of the city - not neglecting ASOPA luminaries such as James McAuley and Camilla Wedgewood.”
After completing a doctorate at Harvard University, he was appointed Director of Education in 1966, occupying the position until 1973. These were the years of great reform and rapid expansion of education in the then Territory as it prepared for Independence in 1975.
Ken left PNG to become the first Chairman of the Australian Schools Commission (1973-81), which had been set up by the Whitlam Government. In 1981 he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Wollongong University, a position he held until 1995. He was credited with transforming the university into one of Australia’s leading campuses.
During this period (1984-88), I served with him on the Australian National Commission for UNESCO when he was Chairman. He went on to become a highly regarded educational consultant and Chairman of the Australian Press Council.
Ken will arrive in Port Moresby next Monday, fly to Daru four days later, spend another four days in Moresby and a couple of days in Lae before returning to Sydney.
I’ve been working with some friends in Port Moresby to organise some meetings where people in politics, the media, education and literature will be able sit down and talk with Ken, who has lots of stories to share of his time in PNG – including refusing to let Vincent Eri return to duty at the Education Department until he had finished the final chapter of his pioneering novel, The Crocodile.
In 1966, Ken made the terrible error of transferring me from my school in the bush to edit the Papua New Guinea School Papers. We all know where that ended up.
I hope many of you will see fit to honour this great Australian and significant contributor to PNG by taking some time to be with him during his visit.
Dame Carol Kidu and Jean Kekedo are already organising a small function but there are still opportunities for others to do likewise.
If you can, let me know through the Comments link below.