BY KEITH JACKSON
He was a big man with big liquid eyes. He could sing in tune and play the piano with panache. He was as quick and good with an anecdote as he was quick and strong on the rugby field.
He was also a man of ideas, none of which provided much by way of material wealth. But his idea to marry Kerry was always a good one, and that gave him as much love and companionship as any man may have wished for. He also had mates - good mates - who loved him like a brother.
Dave was a cadet education officer at ASOPA in 1962-63. He was not what you would call an assiduous student. And nor was he a natural born teacher, or even one able to acquire skills. But he had a warm and conspiratorial, in the best sense, personality that allowed him to skate around problems, if not always with ease then usually with success.
Bob ‘Moose’ Davis dozed off in an Educational Philosophy lecture and Dave decided that a piece of grass thrust in a nostril would bring him to life. It did - with a massive grunt that served to draw a question on Aristotle from lecturer Norm Donnison, who knew better than to be disappointed at Bob’s response.
“To pass first year Physical Education, we male students had to complete a ropes course. When I arrived for my first PE event towards the end of term in a late attempt to qualify for a mark, I was offended when lecturer Les Peterkin asked who I was. It got worse because, having been advised, Les responded “Keh?” The great ropemeister had never in his life seen me before.”
Contempt for authority was always Dave’s Achilles heel.
“That and my IQ meant I didn't reach the dizzy heights. I knew my IQ and, not wanting the notables to know, I ripped up The Great ASOPA IQ Test bringing froth to (psychologist) Brian Ross’s lips and nearly a trip to principal CD Rowley for a quick exit. It was put around that the average IQ was 137. Just as well mine was not included. Needless to say I failed the final Educational Psychology exam.
“But my IQ wasn't the lowest at ASOPA. Phil Ralph and others of us were wont to duck lectures and go to Balgowlah Bowl where, as students, we received a discount. When he was challenged about his student status, Phil asked the proprietor to phone ASOPA and check it out.”
At ASOPA, Moose Davis owned a green ‘55 Morris Minor that totally outperformed Dave’s clapped out ‘47 Morris Ten.
“Moose would wait for me to depart up the ASOPA hill each evening and take delight in passing me, chuckling as he sped by. This finally got the better of me so I headed out to the Parramatta Road and bought a ‘58 Morris 1000 that took the beep-beep out of Moose for the next 18 months.”
Somehow Dave managed to graduate from ASOPA and his first temporary posting was with his great mate Rory O’Brien to Utu near Kavieng, to teach an in-service course.
“Our house was split-level, the kitchen daunbelo complete with fuel stove and gaping holes punched through the bottom of the wall. We soon discovered the reason for the holes. Whenever it poured, we were up to our knees in water. The holes were to let it out”.
His first permanent posting was to the Primary A School at Namatanai.
“I didn't have a clue and lasted about three months. The kids were all Chinese whose parents taught us the game of five card stud poker. Very grateful to them, too.”
He was soon after posted as head teacher of Wapenamanda Primary T School, 2½ hours out of Mt Hagen.
“Five thousand feet above sea level, beautiful days, very cold nights. In those days anyone with a hint of football prowess was highly sought after. So every Thursday the District Commissioner’s Landrover arrived to take me to Hagen for training, which then ran into the weekend of the match and more training on Tuesday. Back for one day at the school and repeat the process. Needless to say my first inspection report was not all that good.”
On one of Dave’s infrequent teaching days at Wapenamanda, he encountered a most obnoxious smell, a teaching hazard never mentioned at ASOPA. Dave set out to identify the person responsible.
“Was it you, Yeusef? ‘No, not me, him’ (pointing to Wakup). Was it you, Wakup? ‘No, not me, him’ (pointing to Bambi). So it went on right round the whole 30 of them until one bright lad called Joseph came up with a solution. ‘I know,’ says he, ‘smell their arses’.”
Dave remembered those exotic names. Umpit, Redcross, Tinmeat, Elbo, Want, Yokomo.
“At Hagen Primary T, an expat teacher renamed his entire class and the names stuck - Burt Lancaster, Mick Foley, Tony Curtis…”
Dave’s next assignment was a more serious bush posting at Keltiga.
“Kerry and two kids and not another white face for miles. To make matters worse we had no transport and I started to read the works of Robert Ruark (Uhuru) well into the night. Hair raising stuff and I was quick to buy a car.
“I became a liklik kiap with the local community, having to adjudicate all sorts of problems. I had a lot of respect for the bush kanaka and got on very well with the local MP, Pena Ou, who would share the odd beer with me and let me prattle on in awful Pidgin and reply in very acceptable English.
“Paias Wingti (in those days spelt Pius and pronounced ‘Puce’) was at my school at Keltiga. I never suspected he would become Prime Minister. Roman Catholics prevail around Hagen, thus Pius and they would tramp off to lotu on Sunday where the incumbent priest would revel in the full attendance at each Mass at 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 o’clock.
"The only thing the priest wasn’t aware of was that it was the same congregation that came out of 6 o’clock mass that went back in for 7 o’clock and so on.”
We are going to miss Dave ‘Kurt’ Argent – and we are going to miss his rich fund of wonderful stories.