The ASOPA Story Toktok Gris
The Mail Piksa Bilong Yum
The ASOPA Files Archives
Home Contact Keith International Training Institute

ON THE JOB IN THE TERRITORY

Marie Burns says. “We were dispersed to PNG and NT – energetic and with a missionary zeal to make a difference. But the real difference was to us – to be part of a community most of us had never imagined. Our agendas and motivations challenged by locals and long term expats with personal agendas and colonial traditions. Like it or lump it, was the ultimatum. Some of us stayed, others left, but we were all changed forever. The colonial system of obligatory servants allowed time for extensive leisure and grogging on - the ethics muted by personal benefit”.

Helene East has happy recollections of PNG and people she knew. “For the most part it was an irreplaceable adventure, although I was pleased to leave when we did with all the security problems after Independence. I’d like to visit but would be shattered to have my memories of that beautiful country spoilt”.

Dick Jones, Allan recalls, was uncommonly anxious to find out the meaning of ‘Kerema tourniquet’. “What’s the caper? What’s the caper?”

Sonia Grainger’s letters are full of nostalgia and yarns embedded in warm words and good wishes. Sonia’s most recent letter included a small photograph of the whole of Wau Primary A School posing on the steep front steps around 1950-51. Sonia’s caption reads: “Little Sonia Grainger with bow in very blonde hair. Little Maxine Grainger with dark hair and adorable smile. Little Joey Crainean wearing overalls.” Yep, they were schoolmates

 “At Wapenamanda,” recalls Dave Argent, “our freezer came from BPs in Lae on a DC3. It was No 1 priority and class was abandoned until it was packed away in the kerosene fridge. What would we have done without this amazing sometimes smoking contraption.”

Sonia Grainger is nostalgic. “The sound of the DC3 flying in essential supplies every Thursday (to this day I rush out and gaze skyward). The smell of freezer when the kero fridge has given up. An assault on the nose at 100 paces”.

People complain that youngsters today don’t understand the Territory experience. The ‘freezer’ thawing beside the airstrip because no one gave a stuff about the outposted teacher. The food order arriving with a set of teeth marks in the cheese and a bite impression at the end of the salami stick. The guy dressed as a slave arriving at a fancy dress ball and stopped at the RSL door with a, “Piss off, Buka”.

Pat Dwyer was in the Kundiawa pub in ’63 when a bloke at the next bar stool gossiped about a student absconding with a kiap who was then pressured from above to send her back to ASOPA. The bloke turned out to be an ASOPA lecturer, the student Margaret (McKenna) Dwyer and the kiap the good Pat Dwyer. “I introduced myself and suggested he save his bullshit for ASOPA,” says Pat. “Ruined his story”.

Col ‘Masta’ Booth remembers that one of the first side trips after arrival in Rabaul for prac was organised by Norm Donnison. “We canoed to Matupit and climbed the volcano. The really enthusiastic ones, me included, then climbed down inside to the crater floor. Clever chappies.”

I’m told Henry Bodman is still irate that Col and Wendy Booth got to serve the educational cause on the splendid Duke of York Islands all those years ago. “People would have given the left one for that posting,” says Henry nuttily.

Hen has slides of a visit to the island group during Rabaul prac. They show a workboat ploughing through a moderate swell with Colin Huggins on the prow asserting sovereignty over each island passed.

Bill Wilson worked on Karkar with a TB control team. The white population was mainly young, single, male and thirsty. A favourite Sunday pursuit was roaring around the island on motor bikes blowing up dunnies. “I was introduced to the pastime and given the honour of carrying explosives and detonators while riding pillion behind a plantation assistant on a big AJC bike.” How did we Asopians survive such high spirited capers?

After getting her Dip TESL from UPNG, Helene East went to Kerema to run a course for headmasters. “What an experience, staying at the Kerema Pub. Pat, the publican’s wife, ran against Keith Tetley in the election, but didn't get in. She was a tough, likeable woman and, after she got over her initial dislike of the female lecturer from Port Moresby, we got on well during the month I was there. The pub bartender seduced the girls on the course and the publican did his best to seduce me, coming into my bedroom one night and pretending to be Rod, my husband to be, who came for a weekend to keep me company. I was horrified to wake up to find this bristly-headed man trying to kiss me. Pat was most amused when I told her and said, “Oh, don't take any notice of him, he wouldn't hurt a fly”.

Dave Argent was posted to Keltiga. “Wife Kerry and two kids and not another white face for miles. To make matters worse we had no transport and I started to read the works of Robert Ruark (Uhuru) well into the night. Hair raising stuff and I was quick to buy a car. I became A liklik kiap with the local community, having to adjudicate all sorts of problems. I had a lot of respect for the bush kanaka and I got on very well with the local MP, Pena Ou, who would share the odd beer with me and let me prattle on in awful Pidgin and reply in very acceptable English.”

Helene (Thomson) East recalls taking Madang Teachers College students to Goroka where they did prac teaching in villages against a colourful background of pigs, sing-sings and payback killings. “I stayed at Goroka Teachers College with no hot showers and got heartily fed up with the mess breakfast of taro and kaukau. But the students enjoyed it and wrote great illustrated reports at the end of their adventure”.

“Word went out in Rabaul, following a decent guria, that a tidal wave was approaching the harbour,” writes Col Booth. “Two clever people, Wendy and I, raced to Matupit Point in the trusty Morris Minor 1000 to watch the tsunami arrive. Thankfully, nothing happened, but I remember being quite disappointed at the time.”

Bill Wilson discovered his six months at ASOPA were not wasted. In July ’62 he went back to his former job in TPNG as a medical assistant having decided primary teaching was not what he wanted. “On my return, I was posted to Kokoda where I found the educational principles picked up at ASOPA could be usefully adapted to community health problems. That started a new approach to my work which eventually led to me going to London for a year to study at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine”.

“As a liklik kiap on New Britain,” says Col Booth, “I lived in a tar paper shack at Cape Hoskins patrol post. It couldn't be secured, so I got two snakes and put each in a bottle of metho. Every time I went away, I put a bottle on the front and back steps and everything was fine on my return.”

Dave Argent tells how he and Rory ‘Scobie’ O’Brien taught an in-service course at Utu near Kavieng. “Our house was split-level, the kitchen daunbelo complete with fuel stove and gaping holes punched through the bottom of the wall. We soon discovered the reason for the holes. It poured and we were up to our knees in water. The holes were to let it out”.

Col Booth is reminded of the building of Talasea airstrip. “Manfred Behr was paying the male labourers 6 bob a day to carry baskets of soil, coolie fashion, while the local women were regularly banking 22/- a day after working through the night”.

At Kundiawa A, I taught 12 kids in 7 classes in the Chimbu Club until the expat community built a school house under the well known code of constructive misappropriation. The gas whistling into the keg behind a shuttered bar at 10 each morning signalled that Cec Schultz, nambawan mekanik, had popped in for a heart starter and that I should begin seven levels of arithmetic. The only problem occurred if Cec convinced other station reprobates to join him. If so, by 11, the uproar behind the bar became very distracting.

Barry ‘Cenz’ Vincent reminds me of the ‘66 census in which many of us took part. I did a patrol in the Chimbu. Only time I got to be a kiap. Was given my own policeman. Felt very much in control sitting on the patrol box at the end of the day, drinking rum and rainwater and smoking oily tobacco leaf in a cheap pipe purchased from the local trade store.

Bill Wilson recalls he met up with a few of the ASOPA mob, including Jeff ‘Chappo’ Chapman, in Moresby in ‘64 and invited them to his base at Tapini in the Goilala for a weekend. “I also met with one of the girls from the course when she played the organ at my wedding at St John’s in 1965”. Could that be the late Helen (Jacob) Chikritzhs?

Before his death Justine Finter’s 84-year old father lamented that during colonial days there was better law and order and life seemed more predictable. Having PNG leaders did not necessarily mean more stability. In his view, the country was worse off.