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Marj Walker, respected Sogeri teacher, dies at 84

Marj Walker
Marj Walker and students pose outside the Sogeri High School Museum

KEITH JACKSON

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.”

Marj & Sana  2007
Marj and Sana Balai, 2007. Marj's outfit was screenprinted by Sogeri Fabric

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.”

Sogeri-graduation-2012
Marj photographed Sogeri students gathering for graduation on a visit in 2012

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:

Wati KuiWati Kui by Powesiu Lawes (1978)

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.

TairuTairu - compiled by Barry Ison (1975)

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.

Taim BipoThe 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.

Comments

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Barry Ison

Very sad to hear of Marj's passing. She was the head of the Expressive Art's Department in Sogeri, of which I was a member. Although the boss, Marj had a special gift for encouraging her colleagues to use their talents, abilities and interests to foster a programme that gave the students a very wide range of exciting activities. As an administrator she was excellent. We were a very special team. And she had a great heart. I had been a teacher for only five years when I joined Sogeri, and I think that the next three years working with Marj were the most significant in growing my skills and broadening my experiences which became a mainstay for all the subsequent teaching and project work that followed. The privileged opportunity to take part in the PNG Independence Day celebrations was amazing; never to be forgotten.
Marj will be missed. My sincere condolences to Alfred.

Hazel Kutkue

I wish I had an art teacher like her in high school!
On another note, are the three books in the story still in print?

Fred Ovia

In our time (1980-81) we were taught by many but few touched and impacted our lives. Ms Walker was one of the few.

Ms Walker's name will be synonymous when we talk about our days at Sogeri. Thank you of what you did for PNG.

Peter Bridger | Sogeri teacher (science/social science) 1978-80

A truly unique and charismatic Sogeri icon for the arts. I have everlasting memories of Marj stumping through the mud in her Wellington boots during the wet season.

My condolences to Alfred. As a couple they epitomized what was best about the Sogeri community in those days.

Michael Dom

"Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing."

Vale, Marj Walker

Richard Jones

I was posted to Sogeri in 1966 but don't believe Marj Walker was up the road at Sogeri National High School at that time.

Two schoolmasters from that institution I do recall are John Warnock and American Byron Masters.

We used to "snake down that Sogeri Road" on Friday nights to visit the Rouna Pub.

The owner was a very charismatic older lady who took no nonsense from anybody. Can't recall her name. Other readers might remember.

1966 was memorable because Noumea, New Caledonia hosted the second-ever South Pacific Games (now known simply as the Pacific Games) that year.

I'm pretty sure Warnock joined Moresby entrepreneur Col Buscombe and I around the dinner table at the hotel we were staying at after an evening's set of competitions.

Julia Tubang

She is truly a gem! Rest in peace beautiful soul

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