Peter Bridger, PNG educator for 42 years, dies at 70
29 June 2021
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.
Thank you for this wonderful story of a great person who committed his life to PNG.
Does anyone know Wayne Bailey who was headmaster at Hoskins High School, West New Britain in the 1980s?
I am a former student of his and would love to catch up with him if he is living in Australia.
Posted by: Kindin Ongugo | 17 August 2021 at 11:42 PM
From the Staff & Students, Hargy International School
Some of us may not have known Peter for the 42 years that he spent in PNG but we did get to know him in the last 10 years he spent in Bialla, West New Britain Province, as the Principal of Hargy International School, formerly known as Bialla International Primary School.
The saying 'out of sight, out of mind' might ring true to those we say goodbye to and who move on. And yes, occasionally their memories would pop up and we would sit down and reminisce about the times we spent together with these individuals.
But, for Peter’s sake, it’s a bit difficult. He is not just a memory but a living memory. It’s hard not to move around in Bialla, especially in Area 7 and not be constantly reminded of him.
The two houses he lived in, drinking gin and tonic on the verandah with Roland Allbrook talking of God knows what; the car he drove; the club of which he was the secretary, contributing immensely to its development of; the school of which he was Principal and built up to what it is today; the daily sunsets he was fond of, always first to take a beautiful photo; the books that continue to arrive daily at the school – he was always first to open a box and start a lecture about their authors and histories before they were sorted and packed and he dropped off at local schools around the area. He loved doing all that!
Peter was a walking, talking encyclopedia and the most important memories are what we learnt from his informal lectures. This knowledge has become part of us. These are the lessons we learnt from him alongside our own students.
He was a visionary who knew what he wanted and went above and beyond to ensure these were achieved. Our new high school building has been a testimony of his work.
He had a way of identifying people who could rally behind him and make them see and share his vision and work with him towards his goals.
He was a humble man and would be the first to throw in a towel if there was an argument and he could never hold a grudge.
Peter saw in us what we could not see in ourselves. He saw our potential and pushed us to reach these potentials with him nurturing us along.
I tell you, we did work our butts off to make sure it was always our best work, from performances to everyday classroom work and if he was not happy we sure did hear of it. We may not have reached this yet but we will continue to do so, Peter.
He had a big heart and was always helping a staff member who was in need in every little way he could. He went to the extreme to turn up at our bedside at the hospital for a surprise visit and it meant a lot to us.
We appreciated his trust in us in all that we did… even to the point of sending his son Nicholas with a staff member on a 3-4 hour boat ride across rough open seas in a banana boat.
He stood by us and defended us with whatever leadership power he had. It pained him to issue us warning letters because we gave him no choice. He showed pride in our work and would even introduce nearly everyone, from teachers to cleaners, to whoever was visiting the school and wanted to have a look around.
To us, this was his way of appreciating and valuing those of us who worked under his leadership.
Peter had a great sense of humour and it made working with him fun. We spent the days cracking jokes. And last but not the least, Peter was our leader, our rock, our friend and our family.
He kept us anchored as a school team, as a group of friends and most importantly as a family unit.
You will be forever in our hearts Peter. Rest now…. dear friend….for your journey has been long but successful. Until we meet again!
With lots of love
Staff & Students
Hargy International School
Posted by: Graham King | 20 July 2021 at 06:07 PM
Thank you, Graham, for the excellent mini biography of Peter's life in PNG and back in UK.
In the early to mid 90s I had numerous interactions with him from my positions as a Principal Curriculum Officer and, subsequently, as Director of Policy.
I witnessed at first hand the strenuous efforts he made to preserve the integrity of the country's examination system from the writing of the exam papers through the printing, distribution, invigilation, marking and certificating.
Eventually, the challenges of corruption at the government printer, at the school level, and even within some of his own staff, caused him to throw in the towel. But, even then, as you have recorded, he was not lost to education in PNG.
Rest in peace, Peter.
Posted by: Daniel Doyle | 14 July 2021 at 08:46 AM
I was so sorry to hear about Peter's recent health problems and his untimely death.
I only got back in touch with him a couple of years ago via Facebook after nearly 50 years. I enjoyed seeing the beautiful photos that he regularly posted of volcanoes and sunsets from his home in PNG.
He seemed to be really enjoying being back in his native Kent after his retirement and photographing wherever he went. I was so much looking forward to a re-union with him when lockdown was over. Alas, that's not to be.
We were together and good fiends at Hiatt Baker Hall at the University of Bristol for two years from 1969 to 1971. We then shared a flat in St Ronan's Avenue in Cotham for a further two years.
Memories of that enjoyable time are now flooding back. That will continue when I catch up with our other flatmates, Pete Bull, Mike Gibbons and others. We both used our fourth year at Bristol for teacher training.
I did visit Peter once when he had a very interesting early teaching post on the historical ship, the Arethusa, which was moored on the Medway near Rochester in Kent. This was for one of the country's oldest children's charities.
I am now, for the first time, reading with great interest about Peter's very successful and interesting career in PNG. What a great guy and a wonderful life. I am privileged to have known him.
Posted by: Michael Samson | 14 July 2021 at 04:58 AM
Graham - Thanks so much for posting this eulogy of Peter's life.
My husband Greg and I worked with Peter at Sogeri for several years with Herb Golightly (who kindly forwarded your words) and Norman Vaughton as well as others.
Peter worked with vigour on the two school musicals, "Jesus Christ Super Star" and "Joseph's Technicolour Dream Coat" which were a roaring success. The whole school was involved and as staff we all had interesting roles. I think Peter was in fact the Stage Manager as my husband remembers.
Peter, as said by several people, was one of those really kind-hearted Englishmen, the best of the Empire, and someone for whom "the glass was always half full".
I am amazed at what he achieved in 42 years in PNG and think his story is worthy of a book.
I am glad he did get to return to England and am saddened that he realised he had so little time left. May he rest in peace.
Posted by: Rosemary Freda Pashley | 10 July 2021 at 12:00 PM
Sorry to hear of Pete’s passing. Fond memories of Peter - squash and beers in POM, now 30 years ago.
Though we had not met since I left PNG, I was aware of his activities through mutual friends and his fight with tuberculosis and Cairns quarantine. RIP Pete.
Posted by: Derek Ratcliff | 05 July 2021 at 11:21 PM
Thank you for posting this Graham. Very informative background about Peter and his work in many aspects of the PNG education system. Great and positive contributions. Deep condolences to his family.
At Mahonia Na Dari Research and Conservation Centre, Kimbe Bay, West New Britain Province, I always appreciated his wisdom in our conversations regarding marine conservation education at the centre and Hargy Oil Palm Limited's support for the organisation.
He is greatly missed here in West New Britain Province PNG.
Posted by: Cecilie Benjamin | 30 June 2021 at 10:00 AM
RIP my mate Pete. We shared a flat for a while when we were students in Bristol.
So many happy memories of many things including many drunken nights with our other flatmates Sam, Nick and another Pete.
Pete Bridger was my best man in 1974. We kept in touch for many years but sadly lost touch latterly. I will always remember our time in that flat and all the good times we had when we were young, broke and carefree.
I and my wife Jane send our sincere condolences to his family.
Posted by: Mike Gibbons | 30 June 2021 at 06:45 AM
Thanks for posting this Graham.
I first met Peter in 1983 when I moved into a house in Tokarara in POM - Peter's house backed on to ours.
We played in the same squash team for one season, but Peter was much better than me and moved up to B2 or B1 while I stayed in CI.
We became good friends and spent many happy hours in each other's company - despite the political differences between us - he was not just right of centre, but somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan!
Peter was always up for a challenge and, despite never having heard of it before, at my urging made a very creditable black bun (a traditional Scottish cake) for a New Year Party at his house in either '83 or '84.
We both enjoyed cooking and after we'd both moved away from Tokarara, Peter to Boroko and me to Koki, used to cook for each other regularly.
Typically I would make a curry and he would make cottage pie on a Thursday night - washed down with plenty of SP and finishing with half a bottle of Baileys on ice each.
It was so good that he and Anna got together again after so many years and a desperate pity that their time together was so short.
I met them both for a day in London when he was home for his final leave from PNG a couple of years ago. We hadn't seen each other for about 10 years, but it felt as if it had just been the previous week. It was a lovely day - curry, beer, G & T and prodigious laughter. He and Anna were great together.
He will be missed by many.
Posted by: Tom Russell | 29 June 2021 at 11:57 PM
Oh my God, Peter! May your soul rest in perfect peace.
I remember you strongly advised in many ways, especially concerning my kids education.
Posted by: Moshe Dayan Ochoumare | 29 June 2021 at 11:45 PM
Thanks for posting, Graham.
A good man gone. RIEP Peter.
Posted by: Tony Carbry | 29 June 2021 at 02:56 PM
I also met Peter - and Graham - in the early 1980's. It was always a pleasure to socialise with him over the ensuing years.
I last saw him in Bialla at the school and you could see that was happy in life. So sad to hear of his late issues.
Posted by: Peter Rhodes | 29 June 2021 at 02:08 PM
A leader in living, a true marker of measurement, as adept in the educational ideal as in thwarting 'theft of papers'.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 29 June 2021 at 08:40 AM
Graham - Thank you for posting this and providing more details related to Peter's passing.
I was shocked when I saw his Facebook post as I was unaware of all the medical issues aside from the TB.
I first met Peter in the early 1980s in the game of squash, a sport he was quite good at, and we were good friends right through my time in PNG until my departure at the end of 1994.
I recall many an evening at his residence discussing sport and politics over dinner and several beers. He will be greatly missed.
Posted by: Leonard Rodwell | 29 June 2021 at 08:38 AM