A Chalkie (Pt 3) by Ben Scheelings

A Chalkie (Pt 3) by Ben Scheelings


A warrior named Apio confided in me that the meat of humans tastes like pig, gutpela kaikai tru but sori tumas nau emi tambu, like the playing of cards – thank you, Sinake Girigiri.

One fine day some students excitedly told me about the many bees in a tree in the school grounds and to come and have a look. Indeed, on arrival I noticed a huge swarm of bees hanging from the low branches of a casuarina tree. Having some knowledge of bees and their swarming habits, I quickly found a cardboard box, shook the branch and collected the swarm into the box. This was the start of our apiary project and although the bees were quite happy in their box, judging by the combs of honey created over time, I subsequently ordered an observation hive with glass panels, a smoker and other such things from a supplier in Australia and then enticed the bees into their new home. As an educational tool this was a real goer; example of community living, all working for a common goal, no fighting while at the same time being useful by pollinating coffee tree blossoms, etc. The collected honey (in combs) was distributed and eaten while the left over wax was collected (alright, spat out), heated in a tin and poured into bamboo tubes with wicks to produce candles. So here we had useful nature cum social studies lessons, honey to sweeten the tea and candles to brighten the night. I had no idea where the bees originated,  but as these were the same types as we have in Australia someone must have imported them at one stage. The highlands climate and the abundance of coffee tree blossoms were ideal for honey production. My ultimate aim was to teach the students and locals the apiary business so that it would develop into a viable cottage or local industry. Transfer time caught up with me but I have often wondered what happened to my bees and the honey production project after I had gone

While Asaro school had its honey production project, a fellow teacher based at Watabung (Geoff Gray?) had his duck project. Geoff imported baby ducklings from Australia, taught his students duck husbandry and, I presume, tried to establish a duck production cottage industry. His ducks were called ‘highland wonders’, probably because they wandered all over the place. What happened to that project I have no idea; it probably died when Geoff, like me, was transferred to yet another place.

Tennyson Lau of nearby Ufa-Ufa Primary School, having inherent entrepreneurial blood, included commercial activities in his curriculum and had a native materials trade store built next to his school. Students were taught to do market research, purchase trade store goods, set prices and profit margins and manage the store outside school hours under Tennyson’s supervision. Tennyson eventually left the teaching game and established his own successful business in Goroka.

Don’t get me wrong, we chalkies were not the only ones getting our hands dirty with extra curricula activities and trying to create commercial enterprises for our students, as we knew not everyone of our pupils would find employment out in the big world. Messrs Gerry Chan and Joe Nitsche, employed as DASF officers in Goroka, got into the act and were experimenting with cultivating mushrooms using coffee husks as a medium. They had a shed of native materials built, the use of his large coffee shed as a theatre and the back of a coffee truck as a podium to show movies every Saturday night at one shilling per entry. Cowboy movies proved very popular but Tarzan was the best, judging from the crowd’s reaction. In short, after some months we had ample money to cover the costs of having the new school building project started, ultimately completed and blessed with a mumu. Credit for the work goes to our Papuan carpenter who did an excellent job and did most of the work on his own, including the concreting of the floors, although with the help of students’ parents. In due course I was given the news that I was due to be transferred to Popondetta. I declined the kind offer and instead accepted an entrepreneurial position in Lae, leaving the movies and honey projects to my unknown successor.

With the demise of my beloved Marina in October 1972, I returned to the big umbrella and was recruited for the job of Localisation Officer (back in Port Moresby and back in Ranuguri hostel) – a job that did not exist until it dawned on the authorities that with looming independence expats would be leaving and the vacated jobs had to be filled with either trained local officers or other expats. Life as a localisation officer is another story.

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