NOOSA - Marjorie (Marj) Walker, a highly respected teacher at Sogeri national high school, died at Mount Waverley in Victoria on 31 December aged 84.
Marj was the head of expressive arts at Sogeri from 1972-85 and made a number of return visits to Papua New Guinea over the years including one in 2013 to meet former students.
A compassionate, creative and creative woman, Marj led Sogeri’s substantial contribution to PNG’s independence celebrations in September 1975.
She later said: “We had two months to prepare for our part in these independence celebrations since the time our expressive arts staff – Jean Holtham, Barry Ison and I – were invited to a meeting of the Independence Celebrations Committee. On looking back I find it hard to believe how we did it.”
At Sir Hubert Murray Stadium on independence eve, a group of 40 Sogeri students with Marj and another teacher were tasked to usher and welcome guests to witness the lowering of the Australian flag for the last time.
For Independence day, Tuesday 16 September, the whole school boarded 10 new buses from Moresby Bus Company.
The convoy snaked down the Sogeri road to the newly formed Independence Hill at Waigani to welcome important guests to the ceremony to raise a huge new PNG flag.
Marj later wrote:
“The flag was unwrapped and carried with a slow march up to the summit, held at four corners by representatives of the Services – Army, Navy, Police and Corrections.
“Brightly clad Sogeri cultural aides formed a guard of honour between which the flag was carried along the newly-tarred road to the summit of Independence Hill.
“The swearing-in of the new parliamentary members with prime minister Michael Somare as leader of the Pangu Party then took place. Michael Somare had studied at Sogeri.
“Visiting heads of state came forward to receive gifts to commemorate independence and the Sogeri students escorted the dignitaries and helped them carry the items given to their country.”
On the following evening of Wednesday 17 September, again at Hubert Murray Stadium, Sogeri students performed a tableau in 20 stages depicting the history of PNG from the pre-colonial era to independence day.
To conclude their contribution to independence, Marj and the students were at the airport to say goodbye to official guests.
“The independence celebrations were held during school holidays and Mr Somare was so impressed with the job our students did he gave them the following week off classes,” she wrote.
In addition to bringing her vast talents to PNG, after she returned to Australia in 1985, Marj took every opportunity to introduce Australians to PNG culture and arts.
A centrepiece of one of her talks was three books published by her Sogeri expressive arts department in the 1970s and 1980s.
She provided a synopsis of each of these books:
The title of this book is the expression used by young Manus Island males when they realise they have reached manhood.
Powesiu Lawes was a competent artist at school but then used his spare time at medical school to continue his drawing. He approached his old school to publish his work in 1978. Ink pen on drawing paper was the medium.
The book consisted of 22 art works on separate pages of heavy card each preceded by a sheet of airmail paper printed with the description of the art work. As Powesiu's medical career continued he was to become PNG’s first national gynaecologist.
A book featuring design work and ceremonial descriptions from all 20 provinces presented to all overseas heads of state attending PNG independence in September 1975.
Taim Bipo - compiled by Lance Taylor (1974)
A collection of 144 drawings printed on light card back to back featuring settings related to village life. The drawings were part of oral history classes in which senior high school students researched and recalled their village background.
The book was printed in PNG and launched at the Waverley City Gallery in Melbourne by Clemence Runewary, a senior official in the PNG education department who was doing a further degree at Monash University.
In a prospectus for a conference, Critical Reflections of Cultural Decolonisation and Nationalism, at the University of Sydney in 2002, Marj wrote on PNG visual and performing arts:
“Using Pidgin and building on traditional cultural forms, drama was arguably the widest-reaching of all art forms during decolonisation and independence.
“Broadcasts on the NBC and live performance by many theatre companies throughout the country meant that drama was a key element in the discussion of social and cultural identities.
“Though music did not play as prominent a role during the decolonisation period as [did] drama, it has grown to be a commercially popular and viable field of cultural production. In fact, music - whether traditional, or church choir, or rock band - has probably the broadest audience of any cultural form in Papua New Guinea today.”
Pursuing her wide range of interests back in Australia, Marj staged exhibition of drawings from Sogeri and frequently gave lectures on talks on PNG issues, especially related to the arts. She did this as recently as 2019.
Marj also took an active interest in Australia’s Indigenous people and was a member of the Monash Reconciliation Group formed in 2009 which organised public meetings and events in Monash, an eastern suburb of Melbourne.
“Australia is the only Commonwealth country never to make a treaty with its Indigenous peoples,” Marj noted.
Papua New Guinea has lost a good friend with the death of Marj Walker. She is survived by her partner, Alfred Kruijshoop.