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WHAT YOU WERE TRAINED FOR: CLASSROOM CAPERS

Allan Jones says Ian ‘Pagan’ Page became Central District’s resident expert on new math. “He visited my school at Hula to pass on his knowledge and was immediately infatuated by the slashing young lady Prep teacher, often making nocturnal visits to the village during his week’s stay.” Allan says the conscientious Pagan included in his final report the comment, “Took Prep teacher for extra instruction after hours”.

On one of Dave Argent’s infrequent teaching days at Wapenamanda, he encountered a most obnoxious smell, a teaching hazard never mentioned by Harry Peake. He set about finding the person responsible. “Was it you, Yeusef?” “No, not me. It was him” (pointing to Wakup). “Was it you, Wakup?” “No, not me, him" (pointing to Bambi). So it went on right round the whole 30 of them until one bright lad called Joseph came up with the solution, “I know,” says he, “smell their arses”.

At Namau Col Booth experienced his only serious brush with religion. “One of the smarter local teachers was a bit tardy with that wonderful work of creative writing, The Daily Program. Even under my simplified system of copying chapter headings, I still got, “The rain has spoilt it, the rats have eaten it, the wind has spread it all about etc”. After several weeks, when requests turned to demand, he told me the bible says all men are equal, so if I showed him my program, he’d show me his. I had to explain that, whilst his belief in the bible was commendable, it was unfortunate the DEO didn't see it that way and had placed me on a different level of grace.”

Bill Bergen recalls the melancholy that crept into life in PNG, telling me of the father who wrote a letter asking why his son had not been selected for high school. “He’d supported the child at school and noted in detail how many shillings he’d contributed to his education. He could see no future at Torokina and didn’t think it fair his child did not have a chance”.

John Hayes was a little E-Course fellow with a bad stutter. He was so small he did all his shopping in the boys’ department at David Jones. ‘Twas music for the ears to hear his students do Language Drills – “Th-th-th there’s a b-b-b book on the t-t-t table”.

Dave Argent remembers those exotic names. Umpit, Redcross, Tinmeat, Elbo, Want, Yokomo. “At Hagen Primary T, an expat teacher renamed his entire class and the names stuck - Burt Lancaster, Mick Foley, Tony Curtis etc.”

At Hohola Henry Bodman was doing a demonstration lesson for Moresby Teachers College students with a DI in attendance. “Six lucky Grade 6’ers came up front to tell their news. All went well until a well-proportioned 16-year old female decided to tell us of ‘My trip home from school yesterday’ in which she’d collaborated with a group of young fellers checking out the bloke-bird dichotomy. When she got to the knickers part, I sideslipped with a, “This sounds like a long story –save the rest for another day”. One of my prouder moments.”

Bill Welbourne offers a game to while away those boring conversations. He’d cruelly challenge his class for early marks if they could beat him, the unofficial co-world Matchsticks champion (a title Bill tells me he shares with Bill Bergen). Let B1 explain: “The game is played with four rows of matchsticks arranged 7, 5, 3 and 1 thus:
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Taking turns, you remove one or more sticks from one row only. The person with the last stick is the loser. “Kids would jump over each other to have a go, “ says Bill, “even after the bell had gone - causing me to be late for morning tea. Bill Bergen and I knew all the winning combinations. I’d give them the choice of who went first, or even have my starting go and then their own. The result was always the same” These men have a lot to answer for.