YUNGABURRA, QLD - My mate Peter Bridger (3 March 1951 – 26 June 2021) has sadly passed on to that classroom in the sky.
He had retired to Deal in Kent in the United Kingdom in November after 42 years in Papua New Guinea.
In 1978 Peter John Bridger responded to an advertisement in an English newspaper calling for people to teach in Papua New Guinea.
He had studied at Bristol University and taught for five years in England before taking up the contract with the PNG Teaching Service Commission.
With a keen sense of adventure, he flew from England and began duties at Sogeri National High School in Central Province.
Little did he know what the next 42 years of life had in store for him in the Land of the Unexpected.
Peter taught science at Sogeri and in 1980 became Head of Social Science, teaching Geography to Grade 12 and Politics, History and Economics to Grade 11.
He also coached school hockey teams and assisted in the productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and His Technicolour Dreamcoat at the UPNG Open Air Theatre and he also looked after the Central group at the annual Sogeri singsings at the Konedobu Cultural Centre.
In 1981, he moved to Education headquarters in Port Moresby as a member of the Measurement Services Unit setting external examinations for Grade 12.
In 1989 he was appointed head of the MSU, directing the team setting examinations for PNG primary and secondary students.
He loved this job and fought tooth and nail to ensure education standards were maintained.
Over time, printing and maintaining the security of exam papers became increasingly difficult and Peter had to move the printing offshore as there was continual theft of papers when it was done in PNG.
The MSU building at Education headquarters next to the Wards Strip In-service College was funded by Australian aid and Peter had a large input into the design and construction of the building.
Later in his career with Education Department, he argued against the introduction of Outcomes Based Education, saying this system could only work with very highly skilled teachers in small classes of 20-25 students with lots of teaching resources.
There were very few schools in the public system in PNG that could successfully implement the system but Peter’s reasoning fell on deaf ears and the Australian funded consultants forced OBE down PNG’s throat.
Twenty years later, Peter was proved correct when Outcomes Based Education was declared a failure and abandoned.
Peter was one of the last expatriates in the Education Department and when his salary was not paid for several months he decided to resign and was engaged by the Porgera Landowners Association Education Fund to be principal of the International Primary and Secondary school at Paiam in Enga Province.
He moved back to Port Moresby in 2010 when was offered a short term contract to resolve issues at Measurement Services Unit he had previously headed.
I had first met Peter in Port Moresby in 1981 and we became best friends. We lost touch for a number of years but, when I was looking for a principal at Bialla International School in West New Britain, I found him unloading a shipping container of education materials outside the MSU office in Port Moresby and offered him the job.
Under Peter’s management the school went from 90 to over 200 students with classes from pre-school to Grade 12.
Bialla students regularly topped the Grade 8 examinations in West New Britain and usually won the sports carnivals against Kimbe schools.
With so many students, the company management agreed to fund the construction of a new school in 2019 and classes commenced there in May this year.
Peter was a very proud Englishman and his politics were well to the right of centre. He loved Margaret Thatcher and was a strong supporter of Brexit. That said, one of his old Port Moresby friends described him as “the last of the great socialist Poms always defending the underdogs”. But I doubt he ever voted in an election.
Peter unknowingly contracted tuberculosis, probably in Port Moresby, and in 2016 he spent five months in hospital in Cairns.
Fortunately it was not the multi-drug resistant strain and Peter recovered but with severely damaged lungs. He never touched a cigarette again.
Peter retired as principal of Bialla International School in November last year and returned to England.
He really wanted to enjoy retirement with walks along the seafront in Deal, Kent, followed by a pint or two in the local pub.
Covid put a stop to social activities and you could only have a pint outside, which was far too cold for Peter. But he had his Covid vaccination and was beginning to enjoy retirement.
Peter was renowned for his Facebook posts with photos of sunsets and we talked regularly on Whatsapp over the last few months.
Sadly, after an operation for bladder cancer and chemotherapy, his immune system was destroyed. He got an infection in his lungs which he could not fight off.
About three weeks ago his communications stopped as he was on oxygen and could not go out of the house without an oxygen cylinder. Three days ago he was back in hospital.
Two days ago he sent a message saying, “Not sure I can make it guys”.
Later that day he typed out his last words, “Bye guys”.
His lungs were so badly damaged he could not get oxygen into his bloodstream.
The doctors turned off the oxygen and Peter left us.
Peter was a devoted father and is survived by his four children, Felicity, Richard, Nicholas and Melissa. He was a generous and loving father. His children and friends will all miss him very much.
Peter lived a positive and full life, contributed a great deal to his spiritual home of Papua New Guinea and was supportive to all around him. Vale Peter.