Castro, Cuba, the world and Papua New Guinea

Those true Australians maintaining bonds with a flawed nation

The Chuave library 1FRANCIS NII

BACK then I could never have known that the creator of the splendid building standing conspicuously on a hill in Chuave would one day be my friend and escort me on my first visit to Australia.

In 1979, when I enrolled in Grade 7 at Chuave Provincial High School, I observed on a prominent hill a monumental structure with a very different architecture from anything I had ever seen.

By the time I arrived, the building – once a library – was derelict, the walls riddled with holes. It was human vandalism that had done this but the structure remained solid as if it was defying human vileness.

I came to know that this elegant A-frame library had been constructed in 1968-69 and I was still at school in Chuave when eventually it was demolished in 1980.

Just two months ago, in September, I was able to make my first visit to Australia on a study tour funded by a McKinnon-Paga Hill fellowship.

While in Brisbane for the annual writers’ festival, I met Murray Bladwell, a retired educationist and a long-serving member of Toowong Rotary Club.

Under the auspices of the club, Murray had arranged for me to get a new wheelchair and a replacement for my stolen notebook computer. The wheelchair was being assembled in Ipswich, near Brisbane, and he wanted me to test it. Together we drove to Ipswich.

On the way, Murray shared fond memories of his life in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s. Somehow the conversation got around to that unusual building I had admired nearly 40 years ago.

The Chuave libraryIt dawned on me that I was in the company of the brain and sinew behind that unforgettable structure.

Murray told me the building was a library and that he, as headmaster of Chuave Primary School, had been instrumental in its concept, design and construction.

My heart cried as the image of the building was rekindled in my mind. It had been a solid structure which, had it been looked after, could have stood to this day and continued as a reservoir of knowledge.

That library was yet another hallmark of the work of Australian civil servants, missionaries and entrepreneurs who came to our shores in those pre-independence years. It was through the careless attitude of too many of our own people that such gifts vanished over time.

Let me tell you the story of Murray Bladwell.

After working as a health inspector in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Murray accepted an offer to train as a school teacher in PNG, travelling to Rabaul to undertake a six-month course at Malaguna Teachers' College.

After he graduated in October 1963, Murray was posted to Goroka where – with the school year nearly over - he did temporary work at the District Education Office.

Here he met Keith Jackson who, after two years teacher training at the Australian School of Pacific Administration in Sydney, had just arrived in PNG and was also awaiting a posting to a school.

Murray told me that this was the start of a lifelong friendship with the PNG Attitude editor and another patriot and true man of Papua New Guinea.

Election patrol, 1964In 1964 Murray was first assigned to Siokiei Primary T School, out of Goroka along the Bena road. He had no sooner arrived than he found himself in the middle of PNG’s first national election for the House of Assembly.

Murray told me he was privileged to act as an assistant returning officer under the watchful eye of esteemed kiap Colin Campbell who, with his team of polling officials, trekked through villages in the Henganofi open electorate on a five week patrol.

Later in 1964, Murray was posted to Gon Primary T School, now known as Gon Kambua Primary School, in Kundiawa in the Simbu Province. There he served under Ray Andersen, a dynamic educator and prominent contributor to PNG’s education development.

Through 1964 and 1985, both Murray and Keith taught in Kundiawa and collaborated in publishing the Kundiawa News, a small newspaper with a circulation of about 200.

Joan Bladwell, 1966During leave in Australia at the beginning of 1966, Murray married Joan, also a teacher. Joan is such a beautiful woman and I had the pleasure of meeting her during my trip to Brisbane. She treasured the bilum I gave her. The next day I saw Joan carrying it on a boat ride on the Brisbane River, which made me feel so happy.

On return from leave in early 1966, Murray and Joan were posted to Chuave Primary T School, as it was known back then: Murray as headmaster and Joan as kindergarten teacher. Murray told me that he and Joan had a wonderful three years working with a highly supportive local community in developing the school facilities, including the famous library.

In 1970 they were posted to Port Moresby where Murray worked in the Publications Branch of the Education Department and Joan was posted to Hohola Demonstration School and was later seconded to the Department of Health to develop a health curriculum and jointly author health teaching guides for PNG schools.

In 1971 Murray joined Wal Capper and Fay Goodman on the much loved radio program, Teachers' Teatime, a joint initiative between the ABC (now NBC) and Education Department.

This program was aimed at teachers throughout PNG and was broadcast at morning tea time so that all teachers could gather in their staff rooms to listen to it and discuss the issues raised. Teachers' Teatime enabled Murray to travel widely throughout PNG interviewing teachers and educationists.

At about the same time Joan was appointed a lecturer at Port Moresby Teachers College, later lecturing in early childhood learning at Port Moresby Medical College.

Murray Bladwell, Francis Nii & friends in BrisbaneIn 1972-74, Murray was seconded to Education headquarters in Konedobu where, prior to independence, he was executive officer of the National Education Board.

Upon his return to Australia in late 1974, Murray joined the Queensland Department of Education. He later earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Alberta in Canada and had an impressive career in Queensland education, retiring as Assistant Director of Planning and Policy in 1999.

Murray then spent nine years working as a consultant in his best friend Keith Jackson's public relations company, Jackson Wells Morris.

Murray and Joan told me they have very fond memories of their years in PNG and in particular the warm-hearted village people, parents and inquisitive children who made teaching such an enjoyable and inspiring experience.

Murray and Joan still feel a strong attachment to PNG and the recent Simbu schools book project for that Murray initiated was another clear manifestation of this bond.

There are many Australians like Murray and Joan who are true friends of PNG and who spent much of their life serving PNG and its people, sometimes in the most difficult conditions.

Although most left PNG around 40 years ago, they still have special attachment to our country, As the late David Wall said, “You can take the man out of PNG but you can’t take PNG out of the man”.

Murray Bladwell, Jimmy Drekore, Keith Jackson & Kundiawa NewsToday, when these men and women see PNG driven into poverty and riddled with extreme corruption and malpractice by the current brand of leaders and public servants, they feel the same pain and anger as we PNG’s common citizens.

This is evident in the writings of Keith Jackson, Phil Fitzpatrick, Chris Overland, Paul Oates, Peter Kranz, Barbara Short, Bernard Corden, Lindsay Bond, Robin Lillicrap to name just a few.

Sometimes they say openly, bugger it, I am done with that shithole. But you will find that they do not give up.

The bond between them and the shithole continues, and even strengthens, and this makes them true men and women of Papua New Guinea.

Murray Bladwell is one such person.


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Francis Nii

A good illustration on the positive side of that allusion, Robin.

Robin Lillicrapp

Well said, Francis. Possibly some of the best work done by the many you eulogise is now happening in spite of the apparent dysfunction of the nation.

Your allusions to manure remind me of my childhood memories of the farm. For some years, the pasture harrow was the practical method of breaking up the "patties" left by the cattle.

Left undisturbed, the grass would become rank and somewhat distasteful. In the dairy yards, the accumulation would create large heaps needful of dispersion.

Eventually the invention of the manure spreader allowed the collection and management process to result in a liquid solution able to be sprayed on pasture to promote a more rapid growth and replacement of green feed.

So you see, the green feed being the means (true men and women of PNG) by which the good milk is produced is often the better for having first been immersed in effluvium; in this case, the catalyst (cattle-ist, ha!) for greater production.

Barbara Short

Wonderful! You certainly captured the story - how more Aussies fell in love with the Fuzzy-Wuzzies!

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