PNGAA 2009 Adelaide reunion: Graham Taylor and Jan Kleinig

The guest speaker at the annual Adelaide Reunion Luncheon, on Sunday 25 October 2009 at the Public Schools Club, was Peter Routley, Headmaster of Keravat Senior High School from 1975 to 1977. Guests were welcomed by the Master-of-Ceremonies, Graham Taylor, and a message from PNGAA President, Riley Warren, AM, was read out.

Peter was introduced by his long time friend and colleague Brian Petersen, former Headmaster of Malabunga High School, who detailed Peter’s involvement in secondary education in Papua New Guinea and his work in retirement with various aid organizations in Asia and Africa.

The title of Peter’s talk was An Island of Gold Floating in a Sea Of Oil. His theme, by analogy, was the multi-faceted development of schools and nations.

Peter spoke from his experience as the Head of three secondary boarding schools, one in Western Nigeria and the other two in PNG. The first was a community, grant-aided school in a populous but undeveloped part of the western region of Nigeria. Called the Ila Grammar School, he arrived there to take over a one-year-old school set-up in the best British mould with 30 first-year boys decked out in caps, blazers and ties. There were three classrooms and some staff-housing. Very quickly, 30 girls were selected to join the boys, and the British bric-a-brac abandoned.

The students were diligent, the curriculum was academic: good teaching staff was not hard to find, so the school reflected the 60s Nigerian attitude toward education: it mattered. On the other hand, less salubrious elements of Nigerian life loomed large: the ‘dash’ to lubricate the wheels of officialdom, the bitter fight for influence on the school’s Board, and the shameless lobbying for building contracts. On balance, the difficulties of governance out-weighed the pleasantness of the school so that after four years he refused a renewal of contract.

The two schools in PNG were a contrast. Kimbe was brand-new and equipped to the last test-tube and library-book. It had been long-awaited and was the educational focus of the new oil-palm area. Students came, not only from all parts of West New Britain, but from the exceptional families which had settled on the blocks. These people came from everywhere: the Sepik, Papua, the Highlands, Manus, East N.B. and New Ireland.  Whole hearted community support, an enthusiastic staff and able students made Peter’s four-year tenure at Kimbe High School a pleasure.

Keravat, on the other hand was, as Ivor Lopes said, ‘a challenge’. When he started there in 1975, it was Keravat’s first year as a Senior High School. There were no longer any junior classes. Students who had been top of the heap and outstanding at their previous schools found themselves among hundreds of equally talented young men and women. All, apart from a few Tolai, were far from clan and home-Province: local Keravat restraints would need to be firm for the benefit of the whole school. With 400 boarders, aged 17 years upwards it was obvious that general law and order to establish a routine was necessary with special sanctions against male/female sexual activity and the consumption of alcohol at the school.                                                        

The first offenders against rules imposed in the latter two areas, were expelled with such expedition that the remaining students clearly understood the message. Unfortunately a minority of the staff and some of the male students found Peter’s actions to be high-handed and any real unity of purpose at the school became very difficult to establish.

Despite the underlying murmur of discontent, the academic level was high, with much excellent teaching. Sporting triumphs were routine, and the girls knew that they had a safe haven.

Peter then enlarged the scope of his address by making an analogy between these three different schools with their different sets of circumstances, and the similar way in which nations grow according to their circumstances. He invited those at the lunch to consider such countries as Haiti, Fiji, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Iraq and even Australia in relation to the way in which they are developing as societies. Each country is a creature, perhaps even a victim, of its own circumstances.

Papua New Guinea is no exception. Its problems are numerous and needed no listing to the luncheon audience. Each problem has its own origins and its own resolution, but Peter’s conclusion was that PNG will be able to tackle problems using the skills and attitudes of an increasingly important indigenous intelligentsia. Younger PNG academics who have studied abroad see the world through twenty-first century eyes. They want their country to provide a good living for all of its people, not just those in their own clan or Province. Six Universities in PNG, many leading Provincial High schools with year 11 & 12 students, and a passing of the older generation of political leaders point to a PNG which won’t be perfect (what nation is?) but which will be led and administered by young men and women of vision: well educated, far-seeing and honest.

In moving a vote of thanks John Kleinig, a former teacher at Malaguna Technical College in Rabaul said Peter Routley’s address had highlighted the view that while there had been some disappointing aspects since Independence in 1975, there were a great many potentially positive and encouraging issues facing Papua New Guinea and its peoples. There was every reason, he said, for us to look to the future with growing confidence.


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