Now it was April 2008. The ship had anchored off Karkar and David and I were first to clamber down the steps to the waiting Zodiac. On the beach, planters Paul and Barbara Goodyear waited to take us to the high school. David asked to go via the now little used airstrip, where, before the South Pacific Games, he used to train for the 800 and 1,500 metres.
Then to the school. We were escorted to the Library where the Board of Governors was waiting. Ken Fairweather MHA, Member for Sumkar, made a welcome speech. The school had experienced some very tough years, he said. Things had been bad. “The school cannot get any lower than it has been in the last few years. We are determined to turn things around! But enough of this! This is not my day. Today is David Keating’s day!”
Principal, Ben Tamilong, also welcomed us. He was an ex-student of the school, and in his speech he announced the new library was to be named ‘The David Keating Library’.
In response, David reminded the Board of his early history on Karkar. Together with the villagers, he spent two months building the first bush materials school. “Difficult times create strength,” he said, “there are benefits from having to overcome adversity”.
Meanwhile, the school had assembled on the front lawn. Clothes, all colours of the rainbow, greeted us. A stage with intricately carved posts had been decorated with palms and flowers. The 620 students sang the national anthemand pledged themselves to PNG.
After speeches by Ben Tamilong and Ken Fairweather, a representative from David’s first class, Kubul Kakema, spoke. He’s now a teacher at a Kudoka Primary School. He described how frightened of David the students were. “He was the best Headmaster of this school,” he said.
David said how pleased he was to be visiting the school he started in 1969. He was delighted the school logo and motto were the same. He reminded them why the motto was selected. ‘Bares Dabai’ [‘Strength in Unity’] triggered an eruption of delighted laughter from the students.
As we walked towards the sports field with another of David’s legacies, the athletic track, we passed the Manual Arts Block. Outside was a huge sign: ‘Ba Dave Keating. Welcome to Karkar Island. Pioneer Headmaster of Karkar High School’. ‘Ba’ means ‘Father’, a traditional honorific for someone of distinction. Another surprise on a day of surprises!
That evening, back on board ship, we were asked to talk to the other passengers about our day. They were interested, amazed and probably a little envious. Many expressed an interest to assist with donations of books for the Library. Exhausted, but too excited to sleep, we tried to unwind. We finally retired after midnight!
You can read the full report of David Keating and Hilary Langford’s return to Karkar here... Download always_go_back.pdf