Such a moving story; cut and past from The National Weekender.
Keravat must regain former glory
*ROBERT A. CREELMAN, who taught at Keravat High School in the 60s, remembers the people and events that made it a fine school*
AS I write I am flooded by memories. Even today in Sydney after a summer afternoon thunderstorm I refresh in the cool and wait to hear the beat of Kokomo wings as they used to pass over the school following the afternoon rain and as the sun is setting. I do not hear them here in Australia and feel a sense that something is missing. I miss waking up to the swish of grass knives on the oval as the boys cut the grass to prepare it for a sports day or a football match. The choir singing Our land is the Land of the High Mountain, of sunlit palms and coral seas. Papua New Guinea, Papua New Guinea our motherland. Recently I was at a business meeting attended by Papua New Guinea managers and we sang this song together. I was close to tears. I realise that there is much of me still in the land of the high mountain, the sunlit palm and coral seas.
I remember the movie nights we had. In 1965 these were outdoors, but from 1966 they were often indoors in the mess hall. John Bowden recalled that in 1965 the school collected 1 shilling to view the movie, and when collected in the dark the collection included a wonderful selection of Japanese Yen and washers. One night in 1967 we had a movie about the Coastwatchers. There was a scene where a Japanese Officer cornered an Australian Coastwatcher and his New Guinean Policeman. The Japanese enticed the Policeman to leave the Australian and come over to him. The policeman shuffled over to stand beside the Japanese. The theatre was firstly very quiet and then began a number of quiet hisses from the audience. The Japanese Officer raises his rifle to shoot the Australian, a long pause inducing even more agitation in the audience, then with a quick and sure stroke the policeman chops at the Japanese with his bush knife killing him. There was a roar from all the students, shouting and cheering; the policeman was the hero. This reaction was better than anything I had heard from kids at a good western when I grew up.
We had a school truck driver at that time called Piga. Piga was a wonderful person and a real character. He took a great interest in the boys and was very well respected. He was helpful, cheerful and intelligent. The whole school, staff and students, was dependent on supplies from Rabaul. Stores had to be picked up, mail had to be collected and sent, contact had to be made with the Education Office and shopping had to be done. With the drivers before Piga it had been necessary for someone to take time off to get these tasks done. Piga was capable of doing them on his own. John Bowden reports that once he even matched and purchased some sewing cotton for the wife of an Australian teacher. Helen and I have a permanent legacy from Piga. If a pedestrian strayed onto the road he would lean out and shout Hey you want die Huh We still do that in similar situations, totally confusing Sydneysiders, but they listen and jump.
I also have some bad memories. One time in 1966 we had a scabies scare that proved to be much exaggerated. It was decreed that the students bed mats were to be burnt. Everyone brought out their mats to put on the fire. Some were beautifully decorated, obviously a treasured gift from family. I was at boarding school myself and know well that the little bits of home that we can carry with us into the sometimes frightening and strange world of the boarding school bring comfort when things are bad, and the world crushes in on us. I watched as the older boys with patience and love encouraged the smaller ones to give up their treasure, the tangible link with family, a link that is really intimate because each night you could be at home as you lie down to go to sleep. I have never in my life felt more ashamed than at that moment. I should have spoken out and did not, and as I now think about the scene that is stamped into my memory, I am reminded of the verses in the Bible that say evil flourishes when good men will not speak out. I failed to speak out and I regret this. To those who were there I offer a heartfelt apology. We did the wrong thing.
The care the older boys showed for the younger was to me exemplary. I take comfort in the thought that perhaps this bonded the students together, even if it was against us the teachers. The mature behaviour of all students was evident, and gave great confidence to me for the future of PNG.
In the last few months I have been renewing my PNG links. The process began as a friend Barbara Short who was at one stage headmistress of Keravat contacted me as she writes her book on the history of the school. What a proud history this school has! What quality people it has produced! The school is now in a crisis because it needs repair. In my mind it is still the new school with all necessary facilities. I did return for a short afternoon visit in 1992, and although it was a bit worn it was still serviceable. It is encouraging to hear very recently that the repairs are now in progress.
The reason Keravat was established as a selected school was to put together students from all over the country. This is a step towards nation building. At the time I was at Keravat it was also in part selective academically. All countries need a selected school system to advance the brightest of the youth. In Australia the States all have such schools entry to which is competitive. This is not the same as private schools that often have selective entry, but rather are established for other reasons. The reasons are diverse; sometimes religious, sometimes based on educational philosophies, sometimes of a basic industry such as agriculture.
PNG has changed dramatically in the now 42 years since I left. The mining sector is viable, both metals and energy projects flourish. Mining can sometimes do political and social damage to a country as well as environmental, but PNG is feeling its way to the ultimate goal which is ensuring the generated wealth benefits all the people, not just a select few. Forestry is now an important industry with its sometimes mixed blessings, and there is a small but viable manufacturing sector. The need for education, the very best education, is far more important than it ever was. The country, if fact no country, can afford to neglect its youth. Health, education and economy are the basic pillars of all nations. They interlink; without health education is futile, without education economy is impossible, and a fair and participatory economy should be the birthright of the people, providing the means to maintain the first two. PNG is now showing all the signs of being able to advance into the future controlling for benefit the diverse forces that buffet a resource-rich country.
We who are old Keravat people urge the government to seriously considering making Keravat one of the chosen few to be both selective in terms of intake diversity, but also academically. It did this job once, and could well do it again.