REA OBERG 1924-2016
Anyone who lived in Wewak in the late 40s, Lae in the early 50s -70s or Port Moresby in the 70s may have heard the name Walter Rea Oberg who preferred to be known as Rea.
After a long, rewarding and fruitful life, Rea passed away at the age of 91 on 5th Jan in a nursing home at Oakey where he had been cared for during the last 3 weeks of his eventful life. He left behind his wife of 67 years, Lois and his two daughters Kerry and Cheryl (Tiggy ) and Granddaughter Tahnee.
Rea was born in Hurstville, NSW on two planks resting on trestles. From this very humble beginning he fashioned a rich life filled with many outstanding achievements. After Rea was born, his family moved to Kiama where his Mum gave birth to a daughter Shirley who died shortly after her birth. In 1930, Rea’s brother Barry was born and then the family moved to Wollongong where Rea attended the public school then Wollongong Technical College. Little did he realise then but technical education was to play a major role in his adult life. Stories of his youth are filled with thrift and ingenuity – his mother Muriel transforming discarded fruit and discounted groceries into meals for two hungry boys who grew up during some of the hardest years in Australia’s history.
This spirit of determination became a part of Rea and remained with him throughout his entire life.
After finishing college, Rea began an apprenticeship at the Wollongong Steelworks as a Pattern Maker. His work colleagues convinced him to join the Port Kembla Rover Scouts. This would be a fortuitous decision – the Scouts becoming some of Rea and Lois’ most treasured memories and the setting for some of the happiest stories he would tell his family regarding his youth. The Scouts would also be where he crossed paths with a 17 year old lady Cub Master named Lois.
Lois was told she would never catch that Rover from Port Kembla because Rea and his friends were confirmed bachelors. But with her own agenda in mind she did catch him! Their courtship would last four years during which time Rea applied and was accepted for a position in Port Moresby. Rea’s first job was making coffins and later the chairs and tables for the new Parliament in Port Moresby. He also coached indigenous children – the beginning of a very long career in technical education in PNG.
He returned to Wollongong in 1948 and proposed to Lois and they married in a quiet service in Sydney as Lois’ mother was gravely ill. Together they returned to Wewak where Rea built their first home. He was also directed by headquarters to build a school in Wewak which he did with help from the local people. They had a daughter, Karen in 1951.
In 1953 the Education Department gave Rea a promotion to Trades Instructor at Iduabada Technical College in Port Moresby but he did not share the enthusiasm of his seniors at the thought of this appointment and they knew it. The next morning, Horace Niall, the District Commissioner, summoned Rea to a meeting. He was told that the appointment to Iduabada had been cancelled and that his next job would be in Lae. Mr Niall told Rea he wanted him to build a technical college in Lae!! He gave Rea a considerable amount of funds for the task and married accommodation was supplied in Lae for his family.
This excerpt was written by his colleague, Aub Shulstaad:
This was an enormous challenge but Rea was an exceptional man who dedicated most of his working life to education in PNG and was very important in the development of a skilled workforce in that country. Rea had been asked to design and build a Technical School to a western culture standard with mainly local unskilled labour and then to become its Principal and be responsible for all of the education programmes offered and the welfare of all the students enrolled. During his term at Lae Technical School (College) he saw the institution grow from humble beginnings in 1955 to a fully-fledged Technical College offering courses in Secretarial Studies, Clerical Studies, Carpentry, Joinery, Fitting and Machining, Sheet Metal, Automotive Engineering and General Studies. Students from all over PNG and the surrounding islands attended the College.
During the 1970s the College upgraded to include a range of para-professional courses (Certificate Level) which included Commerce, Civil Engineering, Hospitality and Catering Studies.
Rea was such an exceptional organiser and outstanding educationalist that in 1974 he was invited to become Superintendent of Operations of the Technical Division where he became responsible for the building of new Colleges and the equipping of new and existing Colleges. Rea was an outstanding leader of young men and women. Rea was Lae Technical College.”
Whilst completing this building task for the Education Department, Rea and Lois enjoyed the happiest years of their married life. Kerry was born in 1953 and sadly, a year and a half later they lost their eldest daughter Karen, leaving both parents devastated. It would be over three years before their third daughter, Tiggy arrived in 1957. This completed their family. Rea and Lois raised their daughters on the grounds of the Technical College. Kerry and Tiggy can recount endless stories of camping, boating, swimming in rivers and riding on the back of their father’s motorbike on his rounds of the College. Rea continued his education studying both Building and Teaching passing with Distinctions in all disciplines.
Rea and Lois also played a major role in the Boy Scout movement in the town – Rea assisting in the building of the Scout Hall where many evenings were spent singing around camp fires.
Rea was also a member of Rotary in Lae and his College made numerous contributions to community projects which Rea regarded as practical experience for his students.
In 1973 the family moved to Port Moresby reluctantly because Rea had accepted his promotion to Headquarters outlined above.
Rea and Lois returned to Australia is 1976 building a house overlooking the sea in Austinmer while their daughters remained in PNG. Rea took a part-time job at Wollongong Technical College in the Store. It did not take long for his colleagues and teachers to realise his hidden talents and Rea was engaged to do ‘foreign jobs’ for various members of staff. Rea loved technical education and was happy to assist.
In 1985 Rea and Lois moved to Country Qld to be closer to their daughters who had both married Queenslanders they met in Port Moresby. Rea loved roses and cultivated a beautiful garden. He had a workshop the envy of any handyman. Five years ago Rea lost his leg to an infection complicated by undiagnosed diabetes. He faced this challenge in the same way as all his challenges – with dignity and a fierce grace that was inspirational to his family and friends. His family miss him terribly and we are all grateful for the indelible mark he made on all our lives.v