Past times: E Course Feed

Kokoda: Angels & Diggers begat bureaucrats

William Dargie  Stretcher bearers in the Owen Stanleys  1943  oil on canvas
Stretcher bearers in the Owen Stanleys (William Dargie, oil on canvas, 1943). That their legacy is bogged down in bureaucracy dishonours them

| Kokoda Treks | Edited

SYDNEY – In 1990, on the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign in World War I, Australian prime minister Bob Hawke allocated $10 million so a group of 52 veterans and their carers could visit Anzac Cove in Turkey to commemorate the occasion.

25 years later, prime minister Tony Abbott allocated $100 million to establish the Sir John Monash Centre at Villiers-Bretonneux to honour the centenary of the Anzacs landing on the shores of Gallipoli.

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Chalkies of 5th E-Course to hold half century reunion


E Course teachers at MalagunaPARTICIPANTS IN THE 5th E Course, conducted in Rabaul in 1963, will be holding a reunion in Brisbane in mid-November this year. The exact dates will be determined soon.

The E (for Emergency) teacher training program was initiated to plug a large gap in the expatriate teacher workforce in colonial Papua New Guinea.

The courses recruited mostly mature age trainees who undertook a six-month program at Malaguna in Rabaul before being assigned to their schools, often in remote parts of PNG.

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The marriage bureau that helped build a nation


E Course teachers at MalagunaAUSTRALIAN TERRITORIES MINISTER Paul Hasluck commented ruefully in the 1960s that, as far as Papua New Guinea Administration employees went, it was if he ran a Marriage Bureau.

It was so true. It was the 20th century version of the 19th century ‘fishing fleet’ that carried boatloads of spinsters to the bachelors in India. And the many well-paid young bachelors in the then Territory seeking a spouse were a pretty good catch.

The E Course – the six-month ‘emergency’ teacher training program launched in PNG in 1960 - has been justifiably lauded as delivering great educational outcomes.

The program recruited mature men and some women who had already established careers and transformed them into a potent teaching force, with the men often being despatched to the toughest and most remote locations.

E Course teachers, and E Course lecturers for that matter, married adventurous young women who either worked for the Administration or the missions.  Some of the women were themselves teachers.

In a number of cases, E Course graduates, on completion of the course, immediately returned to Australia, married their sweethearts and promptly returned to PNG as they now had a regular income and there were jobs for Australian women in the Territory.

First E Course, 1960-61But at the time we didn’t know that Hasluck had made his sardonic comment, so the bachelor kiaps, didimen and chalkies couldn’t thank him and the Department of Territories for the blessing of being able to marry a young woman bold enough to seek a life on a new frontier.

Or, for that matter, an equally adventurous, possibly opportunistic but courageous indigenous lass, who then faced the difficulties of integration into the expatriate community.

Life was not always sweet. When we left the Territory, we frequently left behind a trace of tragedy. Our own lay in a small grave at Koroba. A miscarriage had delivered a tiny infant and it was buried in the garden at Koroba together with an identification bracelet bearing my name, date of birth and blood group.

Women experiencing difficulties in pregnancy would move to the maternity ward of the nearest hospital – in our case Goroka - weeks before the baby was due to be born.

Then there were the frantic midnight drives in a four wheel drive along stony mountain roads to the nearest hospital where a baby might be born within minutes of the mother’s arrival in the labour ward.

So all was not a bed of roses.

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Revisiting the E-Course troubles of ‘63

While the E Course – the 6-month ‘emergency’ teacher training program launched in PNG in the early sixties - has been justifiably lauded as delivering great educational outcomes for the then Territory, at the time it was regarded with suspicion by expatriates, the South Pacific Post editorial writer and even by some people within the Education establishment.

Things settled down, however, and graduating E-Course teachers went on to serve with distinction alongside their two-year trained counterparts as part of the Australian Administration’s Herculean effort to prepare PNG’s 800 tribes for nationhood.

But by 1963 other storm clouds loomed over the E-Course. As senior education official Don Owner later wrote to the Public Service Commissioner: “It was evident upon the arrival of recruits for the Sixth 'E' Course, that applicants had misconceptions regarding the conditions of service. These caused several immediately to return to Australia, and it is feared that others who might have burned their bridges, are simply waiting for a propitious moment to do likewise.”

Owner’s response was to propose that future recruits be provided with a summary of conditions before their selection interview. It seems the points he listed were those that had caused such consternation in the 6th intake. They were:

§          No permanent appointment – six to fifteen year terms of service.

§          No superannuation.

§          Successful graduation does not confer eligibility for employment in an Australian State Department of Education.

§          You may be supervised by an indigenous officer.

§          You are charged £7/7/0 per week for board and lodging whilst at college.

Loch Blatchford, from whose files this intriguing documentation has been drawn, comments: “The prospect of indigenous supervision seems a funny one to put in. Perhaps Owner felt he had to mention it because of the push for indigenous executive development. I can't imagine the trainees being concerned at the prospect.”

Nor can I. But a number of the other points, especially as they learned about the service conditions of other expatriate teachers in PNG, probably would have struck the trainees as being quite discriminatory.

E Course teachers recalled with affection

Loch Blatchford

I always admired the contribution made by six-month trained E (Emergency) Course teachers. Those I met were of high quality, often working under difficult circumstances. Some continued their studies and went on to hold down top jobs.

Don Owner, at the time the Chief of Division, Teacher Training, was another to recognise their worth. In February 1963 he stated, “Graduates of the first and second ‘E’ Courses are displaying a remarkable degree of enthusiasm. All intend remaining in the Territory after the period of their bond expires. The quality of their work varies, but in every case they are attempting to do something positive. All are planning to improve their academic status by in-service training assignments; by Matriculation studies or by courses leading to a University degree.

“They can form a core of enthusiasts whose good example can spread to hundreds of other teachers. A continuous supply of ‘E’ Course graduates will ensure the Territory of a vastly improved system of primary education. There is no doubt in my mind that the training of this particular group of teacher who now occupy the vast majority of expatiate positions in Primary ‘T’ schools has been justified…

The Missions have expressed themselves almost without exception in favour of the continuation of the training of these people. The training of Teachers Grade I, has therefore my strongest recommendation.”

Maria von Trapp

The question has been asked: Was a member of the famous von Trapp ‘Sound of Music’ family on the E-Course teacher training program in Rabaul, New Guinea. The answer is ‘yes’ and here’s the story.

Maria_von_trapp Ingrid Jackson writes: Maria von Trapp, who completed the fourth E-Course, was the stepdaughter of the Maria of Sound of Music fame. Her autobiography ‘Maria’, which I bought in 1973 and still possess, includes two Papua New Guinea chapters - ‘A New Mission’ and ‘The Native Chant’ – together with a photo ‘Maria and native child’ [left].

In 1956 the Trapp Family Singers had toured Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Their Sydney host was Archbishop Carboni, the Vatican’s representative in this aprt of the world. The archbishop was reportedly “very much concerned about the great success Communist agents were having all over that vast territory” and the von Trapps promised him they would go to the islands and start lay missionary work.

In 1957 Maria von Trapp (the one depicted by Julie Andrews) toured PNG with her friend, Franz Wasner, to scope the project. Father Wasner and Maria had jointly started the Trapp Family Singers in 1936. Maria visited Budoya, or Bwaioia, on Fergusson Island, Rabaul, Wewak, the Sepik and the Highlands.

Stepdaughter Maria (b 1914) and children Rosemarie (b 1929) and Johannes (b 1939) had just arrived in PNG. Maria and Rosmarie taught "the little ones" and tended the sick in villages while, among other chores, Johannes built a church and two schoolhouses. He remained in PNG for four years, Rosmarie for five and Maria for a dedicated 30.

Maria now lives in Stowe, Vermont, in the USA. Rosemarie continues to travel extensively as a missionary. And Johannes runs the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.

Maria_f_von_trapp_accordian Noel Ryan posted this comment on ASOPA PEOPLE a couple of months back: Maria [seen on album cover with piano accordion], a Catholic missionary, was on our 4th E-Course. A book, ‘The Trapp Family on Wheels’, tells briefly of Maria, Rosmarie and Johannes joining the mission at Budoya (Bwaioia) on Fergusson Island.

Maria is now 92 and living at the Trapp family lodge in Vermont. I didn't know her background when I was on the E-Course, where she was a nice unassuming lady of 47. She kept mainly with the older folk; our interest was in getting down to the Cosmo and the Xavier dances. It wasn't until about 1966 when I saw ‘The Sound of Music’ that I realised who she was.

I wrote to Maria a few months ago and she replied saying she was thrilled to receive the first letter she'd ever got from a fellow E-Courser.


1stecourse Albert Mispel’s evocative website includes a number of contemporary pen pictures of the members of the First E Course in 1960-61. Tony Creighton [see story below], also known as ‘Dasher’, earned these remarks:

'CREIGHTON, Tony. 22. Sydney and Brisbane. Answers to The Dasher or just plain Dash. Authority on natural childbirth, psychiatry, surgery, diet, philosophy, war, foreign affairs and sport. You name it. Former enthusiastic schoolboy footballer. Now studying for his PhD. Might soon be lost to the Foreign Legion.'

Photo: Kevin Lock - Members of the Second E Course, 1961

E Course memorabilia

GRAEME O'Toole’s E Course website continues to expand and is a must see for people involved in teaching in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s.

Amongst other embellishments, Graeme has recently added to the site extracts from The Magnet, the magazine of the sixth E Course – in this case some delightfully candid pen portraits of the lecturing staff.

Former E Course personnel who have not yet been in touch with Graeme can contact him at this email address.