PNGAA Library

Tales out of school: David J Craig

In 1960 I was appointed Principal at Gon Primary (T) School on the outskirts of Kundiawa in the Eastern Highlands after twelve months at Henganofi.

Students came from all over the district and slept at school during the week only going home at the weekend. The few girls that attended school were day students. There were about 150 students attending each day but early in the year a new government carpenter was appointed to the Kundiawa station. His wife, Bettina, was a teacher and had been offered a position at Gon. This meant that a new class of five-year-olds needed to be enrolled. I approached the local government council at Wandi and arranged that they would communicate with the local villages and tell them that an enrolment day would be held at the Gon School. In the meantime, I asked the station administrators for advice. I was told by Jim Kent that I should expect many hundreds of young people to arrive at school. They would be aged between three and eighteen and would be accompanied by their parents and possibly their grandparents. I was offered four policebois to help control the expected crowd. Reluctantly I agreed but I couldn’t see why we needed police to enrol new students. The day dawned and I arrived at school about eight o’clock to make last minute preparations. I then saw the wisdom of the police bois as there was a huge crowd of people milling around the school yard. The police had arrived very early and had mounted guard at the entrance to school. As the families arrived they were asked to leave their bows and arrows, their spears, their axes and any other weapons outside the yard where they were piled in a large heap. Inside people were everywhere. The coastal New Guinean teachers were looking most uncomfortable and quite unsure of what might happen. Using a police boi as an interpreter I was able to separate the children from the adults and then lined them up in their village lines. This was to ensure that any one village did not get an unfair advantage.

The week previously a government dentist had visited Kundiawa and I had quizzed him about the teeth development of an average five year old as no-one was aware of their true age. On the day I proceeded to examine each child’s mouth and exclude those who appeared too young or too old. Some had beards so they were easy. Eventually the group was more manageable and thirty children were chosen to form a new class. There was much rejoicing among these children’s supporters although the children themselves looked quite frightened and bewildered. The others quietly left school looking very disappointed. Of course, choosing children for school in this manner was not at all scientific and we would have liked to have accepted them all. 

Fortunately, Chimbus were very supportive of each other and the rest of the school soon helped the young ones to settle down. On their first day they looked so woebegone in their village dress of small grass skirt or arse grass. We soon had them kitted up with new lap laps and a bright red cummerbund. Some of the new students were five miles from their home village and slept at school only going home at weekends. An incident one Wednesday brought home to me the adjustment needed by these very young pupils. Not long after the new class had started there was a series of loud coughs outside my classroom. This was the accepted way to announce yourself at the door. You did not knock as that was considered rude. When I went to the door there were three men and a very sad little boy waiting on the doorstep. It eventuated that the lad had been playing truant and the men had marched him to school. One of the men had a large stick and he thrust this into my hand and said, “dispela manki em i lusim skul nau yu pela mas paitim arse bilong im” (This boy has run away from school and you must smack him.) I thanked the men and promised to duly punish the lad but took him down to the school cook instead to get something to eat, have a bath and go to class.

Later in the year another incident occurred. A village about 10 km from Kundiawa had been promised a teacher if they built a school. The school was built very quickly but as there was a shortage of teachers no one was appointed. The villagers kept asking when a teacher was to be appointed. Three years after the school was built I received a radio telephone call from Goroka informing me that a teacher would be on the plane on Saturday and would I take him out to school and help him to choose his first group of students.

The teacher duly arrived on Saturday and we set off to the village. I took a policeboi along with me to act as an interpreter as well as having the law with me in case of problems. We found all the villagers with their children assembled in front of the school. I lined the children up and inspected their teeth so I had some idea of their age. I started to pick the children I felt would be the students. After picking about ten I noticed one old chap with his bow and arrows starting to look very agitated. I asked the policeboi what was wrong and he said that the old man was getting angry because he was the head man and I hadn’t picked his children. The policeboi pointed out the children concerned. Both of them were in their teens and one had the beginnings of a beard. I continued to choose children and the old man got very agitated and started to pull the kunai grass from the roof of the schoolroom. Again I questioned the policeboi and he said that the old man had supplied the grass for the roof and had helped put it on and if I wouldn’t pick his children he would take his grass back.

I thought fast and then threw the teacher’s bilum into the Landover and told the teacher and the policeboi to get in. The policeboi asked me what I was doing and I said that if the old man took the grass from the school roof I would take the teacher back to Kundiawa. The policeboi told the villagers what I had said and they got angry with the old man. I unloaded the teacher again and finished choosing the children for school.

As I was leaving, I called the teacher aside and told him that after I had left he was to take the headman’s two children as he wouldn’t get any cooperation from him if he didn’t take them. I also told the teacher to tell the headman that I had said he wasn’t to take them. In this way I was hoping he would get the cooperation necessary to make the school a success. It worked and the teacher settled down very well.

At the end of the year, I spent some time in the Goroka Education Office during the Christmas holidays and during this time Siwi, a community leader from near Kerowagi, came into the office and requested that a university be built on his land. It appears that Siwi had asked a visiting education officer what the best school was and had been told that it was a university.

Gordon McMeekin, the Education Officer, in Goroka had to explain to him that it was not possible to have a university but if Siwi wanted to build some school buildings he would be supplied with teachers to open a primary school. He was told that it had to be a proper building with a galvanized iron roof not a kunai grass roof.

Three weeks later, Siwi was back asking that ‘Rosco, the numba one man bilong education’ in Port Moresby should come and open the school now that it had been built. Gordon explained that Mr Rosco was ‘a lapun tru’ (an old man) and he couldn’t climb up the big hill to the school.

Two weeks later Siwi was back to inform Gordon that his village people had built a road so that Rosco could drive up the hill. Eventually Gordon McMeekin went out to Kerowagi and performed the opening himself.

After Siwi found that he could not have a university built at his village he asked that his son be allowed to go to Australia and attend university. His son was 18 and had had very little schooling. Gordon persuaded him to allow his son to go to teacher’s college which was one of the highest forms of education in Papua New Guinea at that time. Siwi agreed but insisted that his son attend the teacher’s college in Port Moresby as they spoke English there. Eventually it was agreed that he attend college in Lae but he only lasted a few weeks before he ran away.