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Ken McKinnon plans last sentimental visit to old stamping ground

Ken addresses the PNGAA, December 2008KEITH JACKSON

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.”

Ken in front of a Balimo long house, 1957Ken was posted first to Daru and then, at the beginning of 1955, to Samarai as Area Education Officer, the beginning of a stellar career in educational administration.

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.

Ken chairs a senior education officers meeting, Madang, 1968I’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.


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Laurent Daloz

I am not sure whether this will reach you or not. Let's see.

As an American doctoral student out of Harvard, I worked closely with Ken McKinnon and his staff from 1969-72 to develop a system for identifying, assessing, training, and placing Niuginian headmasters.

I had great admiration for him and wonder if he is still alive. I have not found indication that he is not. Is it possible for you to send me contact information?

I've put Larry in touch with Ken - KJ

Ed Brumby

Alas, I have no recollection of your sartorial mimicry, Richard - although I do remember Tom Stanley and his kiap-like rig and the quiet jeering it elicited. That said, there'd be few, if any, who would dispute that you were the doyen of Port Moresby chalkie fashion - right down to the open weave slip-ons that, you advised, were made in Croatia.

Richard Jones

I do recall old Central District Education Officer Tom Stanley referring to his boss, the then Director of Education Kenny McKinnon as the 'boy wonder'.

Not all that fondly, if I recall correctly.

Old Tom, a large lad with a bristly moustache, favoured a sort-of-kiap costume. He was regularly outfitted in a pale khaki/brown ensemble --- shirt with epaulettes and the mandatory same-coloured tie, long-ish shorts and khaki socks teamed with keenly polished brown shoes.

All these accoutrements when he was a DEO, not an assistant District Commissioner, or similar!

There was an unsubstantiated rumour hurtling around Moresby at the time that I dressed in similar attire to Tom when he came to visit me in the mid-60s at the Sogeri T-school.

It was in the days just before I ditched the chalkboard for an industrial training officer job with the Dep.
of Labour.

KJ, Edwin Brumbleberry and Co. will no doubt assert that the same-coloured clothing myth continues but personally I have no memory of it.

Convenient memory, we used to call it, Ryycharrrde - KJ

Gordon Barry Shirley | E Course 1964

Keith, Dr Mckinnon was also the Vice Chancellor of Charles Darwin University here in the Northern Territory. It was he who recommended the change in name from the NTU to CDU. It was a very significant name change and a very appropriate one.

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