PNG’s birthers: unrecognised & unresourced
A privileged life with adventures to be had

When the green eagle flew

Gagl Primary T School
Gagl Primary School in 1966 - playground, three classrooms, Wahgi Valley and Kubor Range

| From the Archive

NOOSA - My school teaching career lasted three years, entirely conducted in Papua New Guinea between the ages of 18 and 21.

It began late in 1963 with a memorable month-long fragment at Mandi in the Sepik, where at lunch a schoolboy would shinny up a tree with a machete, quickly extracting a choice coconut and then expertly slicing a penny-shaped drinking hole.

Unadapted and shocked by the overwhelming humidity, this was all I required for sustenance until lessons ended for the day. Wishing the workday was over, I consumed the milk lying across two desks in the open-sided classroom.

I recall much about that month, but nothing more searing than the Saturday morning I learned of the assassination of president John F Kennedy as I stood gossiping on the steps of the Wewak post office.

The flight to Goroka was in a DC-3 where passengers sat along each side of the cabin separated by a cargo of caged pigs and hens, boxes of tinmit and tinpis, and bound axes and other tools.

Then on to Kundiawa in a small Cessna which climbed and climbed until a gap in the mountains rose to greet it and I gazed up in awe at ridge-top villages.

My first assignment was as head (and only) teacher of Kundiawa A School - the A connoting that it taught by an Australian curriculum.

In this tiny, remote town in PNG’s central highlands it was a school for the children of expatriates, all 12 of them aged from six to 12.

It was located in the bar of the Chimbu Club where, after stacking their desks each afternoon, departing students would cross paths with arriving drinkers.

I had not signed up for teaching white kids Australian lessons but I could not have had a better introduction to the Territory.

Kundiawa was a crossroads and from the people based there and the many who passed through I learned much about life in this exotic country and, being a semi-matured 19, about  life itself.

At the beginning of 1966, I was transferred into the bush at Gagl Primary T School, 12 kilometers north of Kundiawa in a straight line, but there were few straight lines to traverse in the highlands.

This was the first year that Gagl had seen a Standard 6 come through. For most, that terminated their schooling. Next came a distant high school, but few of these students would get there.

As head teacher, I taught Standard 6. The oldest in the class was Imbo Mundua, aged 23. I was 21.

Ray Anderson, the senior educator in Chimbu at the time, decided there should be a district-wide school athletics carnival for all primary schools. The first one ever. It was both a sporting and a socialising event for children who hardly ever roamed beyond their clan lands.

Assembling the 160 Gagl students in the playground one crisp morning, the mist carpeting the valley below, I explained what an athletics carnival was, how Gagl would compete against other schools and how we would have our own races and jumping contests first to enable the selection of a team.

Then, determining there could by no team without a uniform, I found a source of cheap yellow tee shirts and purchased a bolt of dark green laplap.

These were more than adequate for the task of tailoring the uniform, which featured - in my mind anyway - a logo of a soaring eagle, for which I provided a rudimentary template.

And so was born the Gagl Eagles for which amateur  seamstresses recruited from nearby villages manufactured 30 sports uniforms.

Ahead of the big day, we hired a truck to pick us up at Mingende Mission, the nearest point on the Highlands Highway, a five kilometre walk.

The athletes assembled in the Gagl playground on the morning of the carnival, surrounded by scores of chattering and cooing villagers.

For the first time I saw the whole team in uniform. Not every eagle soared. Not every eagle was even recognisably avian.

But the squad looked to me like the most thoroughgoing professional outfit ever gathered in those parts.

Meg from girl flies at the athletics carnival
Meg from Gagl flies down Kundiawa airstrip at the Chimbu schools athletics carnival

The carnival was an outstanding success. The Gagl kids, many of whom had never been to town before, were pumping with excitement.

Little Meg convincingly put Gagl in front as she ran the final leg of the girls 4 x 100 metres relay for our first win.

And big Imbo Mundua slew all before him in the boys’ long jump for our second.

We all agreed it had been a great day.

I did not know it then, but it also marked the end of my teaching days. The educational chiefs in Port Moresby were about to start me as a full-time writer.


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