Namau Primary T School by Len Smith (PNG KUNDU March 2021)
At the start of 1963 I was transferred to Namau Primary T School. It was only three years old and consisted of a bush material classroom, three concrete and fibro classrooms, a single European teacher’s house and several native teachers’ houses.
Before the year’s end we had added another double classroom block and a European married teacher’s quarters.
My house was the same as the one at Talidig, with the exception being that this one was not painted internally. The front of the house looked onto a coconut plantation that was less than seven years old as the palms had not begun to bear fruit yet. A small native material house for my house boy completed the buildings. My toilet was a bush structure down the hill through the trees about fifty metres from the house and had no seating arrangements—just a hole in the floor. A huge, and I mean huge, dead tree stood just behind the toilet and I was sure it would come crashing down on me while I was inside.
Namau School was set out on the side of a hill about thirty metres above the road that circled the island. The villages from which most of the students came were higher up the sides of the volcanic crater that is Karkar Island. The mountain villages were Marup, Kevasob, Wakon and Liloi and the coastal villages of Mangar and Kurum completed my area. The school had 143 pupils in 1963 with two Standard 2 classes, one Standard 1 and a kindergarten. I started the year teaching a Standard 2 class in the morning and a new kindergarten in the afternoon until the arrival of a third native teacher.
Namau was to turn out to be a completely different experience to my previous year at Talidig. There I had had no real contact with the native population as it was a boarding school, and the boys’ parents lived a long way away. I now found myself having to deal with villagers, mothers, fathers, big brothers and sisters and local government councillors just to name a few. I also had to learn to speak Pidgin although I did have my native teachers to fall back on here when the speaker was speaking too fast, or I could not fully understand the conversation. Unlike some of the other teachers I had never learnt a foreign language and I struggled with more than basic things. One aspect of Pidgin speaking that I was to find difficult to come to terms with was the constant repeating of the same things in different ways, even though I had indicated that I understood what they were telling me the first time.
Teaching smaller children was also a challenge in itself. I think, looking back, that I was more suited to the teaching of older classes like those at Talidig. One important part of teaching the young is the use of songs and here I failed, for I was, and still am, tone deaf and cannot sing in tune. Kindergarten teaching relies a lot on song, and teaching English as a foreign language uses song to help. I got around this problem by swapping with my native teachers for singing lessons and activities while I took their classes for English. Songs like ‘Incy, Wincy Spider’ and ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ with the words changed to ‘Kulkul tractors broken down’ (Kulkul was a plantation further around the island) were most popular with the younger children. The Standard 2 children preferred an American depression song which went, ‘Hallelujah I’m a bum, hallelujah bum again’. I don’t know why, but this was very popular everywhere I went. Another popular one was a Tolai song about a rooster (below).
The pupils in my Year Two class were great but, like schools anywhere, there were the very bright, who quickly grasped the subject matter, and then there were the opposite, to whom everything was difficult. I spent more time with them than I really should have. I should add here that these classes, unlike at Talidig, were made up of both sexes as it had been in practice teaching in Rabaul. It was lovely to have little girls who thought I was nice, or at least I think they did. I did have problems with one little boy in the new kindergarten class who cried at the sight of me every day for many, many weeks.
There was one thing that took a lot of getting used to and that was having an audience every morning while teaching. The school classrooms had no windows, only walls about a metre high and the mothers and sisters of the pupils would lean against the outside of these walls to watch. In doing so they must have been hurting their breasts so imagine my shock when they removed their blouses and began hanging their naked breasts inside the classroom walls. I was a young and inexperienced twenty-five-year-old who had only seen female breasts in magazines before. I was never sure which way to look as they were on both sides of the room. Even the school parents and citizens meetings could be a problem. The five- and six-year-old children lifted up their mothers’ blouses and took a drink while we discussed school improvements.
The school was in a jungle clearing, which meant that it would get very hot and humid by mid-afternoon. I would break from the formal lessons and take the whole school down to the sea for a swim, which the pupils enjoyed immensely. To reach the sea we had to pass through an area of partly-cleared land on the other side of the road from the school and, on inquiring from the parents, I found that this, too, was school land. I persuaded the P&C to clear and flatten it to make a playing field as opposed to the undulating nature of the school area.
The creation of this playing field then led to a soccer match between Namau and Dangsai schools. Bill White, the head teacher at Dangsai, was a keen soccer player and he spent a lot of time and effort in teaching his boys how to play properly. They learnt how to dribble and pass, how to head the ball and how to tackle the opposing players. I was not as clued up as Bill, and I just let my boys kick the ball around amongst each other in their morning and lunch breaks.
The day of the big match arrived and both schools and all the parents gathered on our new playing field. The Marup village people dressed up in all their sing-sing finery and put on a display for us to dedicate the new field. When the game at last got under way it was the Namau boys who ran away with the game winning six goals to nil. Who would have thought it possible? I was the most surprised as I had watched Dangsai training on after-school visits to Bill’s house. I was to learn later that the Dangsai parents claimed that I was a sorcerer who had painted the goal posts with magic so that the Dangsai ball would not go through. I never knew I was that clever. The day ended happily with a feast and more singing and dancing.
Work day at the school for the parents was an eye opener for me and it also applied to government work days as well. We had one day a fortnight when the parents would visit the school and cut the grass and trim the hedges and generally fill in or repair areas of the playgrounds that needed work.
Both the mothers and the fathers would come, but it was only the mothers who worked; the men would just lie about under a tree and smoke and talk for most of the day. The only time I saw the men do anything was when we had to dig some foundations for a new classroom block and the old bush material classroom had to be moved. The men actually got up and helped on that occasion. Everyone, that is, except for the father who was head of the parents and citizens group. He only ever acted as an overseer and I never ever saw him do any physical work. I spoke to him about this once, but he just gave a shrug of his shoulders and carried on as before.
Moving the classroom was something I had not seen or heard of until they did it. They first cleared an area of land for the building. They then erected six new support posts and built two catwalks and ramps about 1.2 m above the ground on the inside. They also built similar catwalks and ramps inside the old structure. With this work done about fifty people—men and women, mostly women—now turned up and they formed themselves into two columns and mounted the catwalks in the old building.
When the boss boy gave the order, they lifted the roof structure complete with its thatching off its old columns and walked it down and across the playground to its new location (opposite). It was then up onto the catwalks again where they proceeded to put the roof down again on its new supports. I had heard Europeans doubt the locals’ ability to plan or do anything properly. Well, they proved themselves to me to be very smart that day. I had thought they were just going to pull it all to pieces and then rebuild it, silly me. This building was then used by the parents as the school kitchen where they could shelter and prepare the children’s lunches. Lunch was either kaukau (sweet potato) or taro cooked in the ashes of a fire.
I had three native teachers at Namau and their names were Robert, Moe and Tawia Wia. Robert was a very good teacher and he came from Bogia further up the Madang coast and was an A-grade teacher. Native teachers up until 1961 had been graded A, B and C depending on their level of education and this also affected their wage scale. Moe, my second teacher, was a new class of teacher, who had completed high school and a two-year long teachers’ college course and so was paid at a higher scale again than A, B and C teachers. There was some trouble with these teachers later on as they felt that they should receive the same pay as Australian trained teachers but the government felt that they should only be paid what an independent PNG could afford. Moe was from Papua and had brought his eight-year-old nephew with him.
My third teacher, Tawia Wia, had been at Raburua School in Rabaul when I did my practice teaching. He was a nice chap but with limited ability. I think he was a B-grade teacher. While I didn’t have a C-grade teacher I believe they were only paid a small salary and got the rest of their pay in the form of food and clothing.
If it was a wet day then nobody would come to school. The first time it happened I had risen as normal and prepared for school to start at 8.00 am only to find no one there. After that if it was raining when I woke, I would just roll over and go back to sleep for another hour or two. These were good days to catch up on paperwork and lesson programs. In 1963 the Administration had, for the first time, produced a new school syllabus especially for PNG schools, complete with new reading books about life in PNG. The old books had been written for schools in Africa.
When discussing other people and places the concept of cold (i.e. snow and ice) was another problem which I solved by marching my class down to my house and opening the refrigerator door and letting each pupil touch the box, which was thick with white frost.
The previous teacher in charge had had school uniforms made for the girls in the form of pinafore skirts with a front chest-high panel and crossed shoulder straps while the boys all had shorts. Last thing every Friday they would wash their school clothes and at that time I would have a school full of naked children running around. Now, nearly sixty years later, I cannot recall who made them and whether I issued the kindergarten pupils with new dresses and shorts, but I suppose I must have.
At Namau we shared the work of sick parade. Aspirin and quinine were given for those with malaria, which occasionally struck a child down. There was one bad accident. A boy cut the front of his big toe almost off. I bandaged it up and put him on my scooter and rushed him down to the mission hospital where Ned Tscharke stitched it back on successfully.
Tuberculosis was also a common illness amongst the native population and one day I received instructions from the Health Department to take the Year Two children down to the mission hospital to have a chest x-ray. The x-rays led to the Health Department issuing the school with a large tin of Cod Liver Oil, which was to be given to every pupil each day, a teaspoonful at a time. It was amazing to see the results of this. The children’s noses dried up, their skin took on a gleam and I’ll swear they started to shoot up before our eyes.
I enjoyed my life as a teacher at Namau and would have stayed longer if I had not become ill in 1963. I was continuously feeling unwell for no apparent reason, so much so that I spent three days in the Lutheran Hospital of Madang having all sorts of tests, only to be told that they could find nothing wrong with me. By the end of 1963 I was forced to leave on the grounds of continuing ill health. It was to take me another three years before I found the reason—I have an allergy to eggs. So, in 1964, I returned to Australia and my previous working life as an engineering draftsman.