It’s 1966. I’m
at Gagl Primary T School somewhere in the middle of New Guinea
Don Owner is Acting Director of Education. Les Johnson has departed for the greener and elevated pastures of Assistant Administrator of TPNG. An up-and-comer named Ken McKinnon is cutting a swathe through the educational bureaucracy.
But in the bush, we barely know these names. Moresby is far away and the only man to be taken seriously is the District Inspector who, once a year, visits briefly, sniffs the air and tells you where you’re going wrong.
In the bush, the matter of who will run the education system in a territory hurtling towards independence is of no consequence. We worry mainly about how to keep the beer cold and the meat frozen. But in Moresby, and to the developing nation, educational leadership is of vital importance.
And in the bureaucracy of Konedobu, where politics play out just as hard as in the House of Assembly down the road past Sir Hubert Murray Stadium and Hal Holman's unfinished ferro-cement catamaran, the matter of who runs Education burns with fierce intensity.
Educational historian Loch Blatchford records a conversation he had with Les Johnson in April 1982, long after the events in question took place: events that eventually led to the appointment of PNG’s fourth Director of Education.
“McKinnon was the obvious successor, of course. Owner was the senior departmental officer but would have been a most unsuitable head. We set up a selection committee which consisted of [Territories Secretary, George] Warwick Smith and one other. We interviewed a short list of candidates.
“There were a couple of Australians – academics and inspectors of schools, there was Owner, and there was McKinnon. It was crystal clear that McKinnon was so far ahead of the others that it would be ludicrous to consider anybody else. So the committee unanimously agreed to appoint McKinnon.
“Warwick Smith held it up for a year just because he did not like McKinnon. We were stymied for a year with Owner vegetating in the job and this committee had unanimously recommended McKinnon.”
– and all the other significant educational events of 1966 - is chronicled in The Blatchford Collection for 1966, now
on site in Attitude Extra.
This conversation – and all the other significant educational events of 1966 - is chronicled in The Blatchford Collection for 1966, now on site in Attitude Extra.