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I’m grateful I went to the School of PNG


TUMBY BAY - When I finished high school in 1965 Robert Menzies was Australian prime minister. He had been in office for over 16 years and wouldn’t retire until the following year.

While my matriculation results were good enough to get me into university, I had little hope of going there. In those days tertiary education was almost exclusively reserved for the children of the rich.

Keeping university fees high was one of the ways the wealthy used to keep working class riffraff out of positions of power. The only way people like me could get into university was to score a Commonwealth scholarship.

Of the few that were available the most commonly taken up were bonded scholarships for would-be high school teachers. Many of the people who took them up got their degree, served out their three-year bond and then looked for the sort of work they really wanted to do.

I didn’t want to do that. I would have made a terrible teacher. My other options included a trade apprenticeship, which didn’t appeal to me either, or some sort of white collar job in retail or banking. I wanted to do something interesting with my life and as the career options rolled through my mind, they all seemed dispiriting and depressing. 

Then along came the chance to be a kiap in Papua New Guinea.

I was languishing in an excruciatingly boring job in a bank when I saw the recruitment advertisement in a newspaper. This was the kind of job I’d been thinking about since high school and I grabbed the chance with both hands.

Looking back on that time and the subsequent opportunities that arose out of it reminds me of how lucky I was to have scored that job and spent time in PNG.

Being a kiap was a unique experience, not only for me but for hundreds of other young working class men. By and large those men were intelligent and resourceful. Many went on to worthwhile careers after they left PNG. Many also went on to gain the tertiary qualification that was out of reach when they left school.

In short, they achieved the potential that had been denied them by the class-ridden system that existed in Australia at the time.

The kiaps, of course, weren’t the only ones who benefited from the opportunities offered in pre-independent PNG but, as a group, they stand out as very successful.

So, when people ask me about my education and working life, I make sure to mention that I went to the school of Papua New Guinea.


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BW Houston | Mendi, Lake Kutubu, Mendi, Tari, Koroba, Wabag

Very interesting, but E Course teachers were offered and accepted similar experiences until almost summarily terminated in 1974.

However, the Australian government offered them the NEATS scheme in 1975/76 and quite a number benefited from the opportunities the scheme provided.

The late AP (Albert) Baglee was the subject of many criticisms, but he gave raw graduates the opportunity and responsibility to practice and master what they had been taught at Rabaul/Malaguna.

I experienced 22 years of employment as a result of NEATS and an external degree.

TPNG was an unforgettable experience and enabled many E Course teachers opportunities not available to them in Australia.

Now 90+, I have never regretted the impulse that caused me to apply to be interviewed for the E Course.

Leonard John (Len) Price

It is certainly difficult to argue about the value of the 'school of PNG' you describe.

I spent seven years in the Morobe District after my boarding school stint at Ipswich Grammar. It is difficult to remember all the details of those times as I am now 80 and live in Canada though I am still a born in Ipswich citizen of Australia.

As we age we get flashbacks of 'how did I get through that crisis' or 'thank God I took that fork in the road' - and most times PNG enters the old brain and memories of firm common sense basics come to mind, mostly developed in your School of PNG. It springboarded me to a successful business life in the electrical business (thanks Bulolo Gold Dredging and in particular Stan Barnes also CNGT, South Pacific Timbers and the rest).

Such wonderful years with great people of all. races . Please never forget paradise itself - the country.

I hope and pray the ship of my beloved PNG can be righted, as failure is not an option. I am forever indebted to you PNG as you taught me that not only can you stand on your own two feet but you must contribute to society to remain upright.

I will never forget and can never repay the islands for those great years.

Paul Oates

I agree with you Phil and I echo your sentiments Chris. I too returned to Australia with a undiagnosed PTSD as a result of Ian Rowles' plane crash and what I saw and had to do at the site and afterwards. It dogged me for many years.

Naturally, there was no one to pick up the pieces when we returned to the country of our birth and found ourselves like a fish out of water. Our government didn't want to know us and we had no Department or organisation already set up to look after our future.

We privileged few however, have the rewards of knowing what it was like to be able to achieve what was thought by most to be impossible. We will forever live with the memory that we also have a unshakeable bond with PNG and her people that will never and can never be replicated or repeated.

Bernard Corden

Experiential learning is far more beneficial than talk and chalk indoctrination.

Chips Mackellar

I agree with Phil and Chris. The School of PNG made us what we are today.

I went there straight from high school, and it was my first and only job for the next 30 years.

It was not only the people and the place and the pace of life in PNG but also our conditions of employment which contributed to our overall PNG experience.

For example what daily commuter travel in Sydney to the same office for the next 30 years would generate the same thrill of travel we experienced when rafting down the Fly River or flying from Goroka to Madang?

And what doleful conversations between commuter passengers would compare with the yodeling Melpa warriors of Mount Hagen or kids singing songs in Motu to give us such a flair for languages?

And what other job would have given us an urge to study more than a year at ASOPA? Or given us enough long service leave for a year at university? And another year on full pay to complete a degree?

That is how I obtained my first degree, a BA and the inspiration to continue further studies to obtain an MA and years later a PhD. And I owe it all to where it all began, in the School of PNG.

Chris Overland

As a graduate and now 'Old Boy' of the School of Papua New Guinea, I can only concur with Phil's comments.

I think there would be a decent PhD thesis in studying what happened to former kiaps upon their return to Australia.

My suspicion is that their rates of success in life, however measured, would turn out to be much higher than for a similar group of young men who did not go to PNG.

PNG taught me many lessons about the importance of qualities like self-discipline, self-confidence, risk assessment, clear thinking and resilience in the face of adversity that stood me in very good stead in my future life.

I have previously expressed that I have a benign form of post-traumatic stress disorder arising from my time in PNG.

Like some war veterans, I view my service in PNG as being both the best of times and, in a few instances, the worst of times and, like them, the memories of those times remain vivid even today.

Whether this analysis is right or not I cannot say but what is indisputably the case is that my time in PNG formed me into the person I became in my adult life.

I would guess that the School of PNG had a similar effect on the other 'students'. For that, we should all be grateful.

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