The Chalkies: Educating an Army for Independence by Darryl R Dymock, Australian Scholarly Publishing, $35.00, paperback, ISBN: 9781925333770. Available here from Avid Reader
THE shared history of our two nations – Papua New Guinea and Australia - is a wonderful thing, especially when it is positive and two cultures meet with satisfactory outcomes for both.
This wonderful event should be celebrated and embraced by everyone but unfortunately few people from either culture know the story and the benefits that were derived.
It came about during the Vietnam War period. A ballot was held on 10 March 1965 to select Australian 20 year old males as conscripts to boost Australian Forces at home and overseas.
Of the thousands of young men drafted into the Army each quarter over a the seven years from 1965-1972, a significant number were well educated tradesmen, academics and professionals whose skills were wasted due to the desire of the military to turn each and every one into an infantryman par excellence.
Some also found themselves in Artillery and Engineers and many others filled support roles in Ordnance, Transport, Medical, Catering and various smaller entities.
One such ‘micro corps’ with personnel numbering less than a dozen Australia wide was the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps (RAAEC).
Conscripted teachers were numbered in the hundreds in each year’s intake and many were sent for officer training in the infantry or as junior NCOs in technical arms of the service. Some peeled potatoes or pushed pens for their two-year stint.
A momentous meeting took place in PNG, probably at Goldie River, in April 1966.
The hierarchy from Murray Barracks PNG Command and the Australian Defence Force in Canberra discussed the under-utilisation of teachers entering military service.
The Commanding Officer of Goldie River Recruit Training Depot near Port Moresby requested half a dozen teachers to enhance the educational standing of recruits and improve their English language skills.
The PNG Commander at that time, Brigadier Ian Hunter, decided that all battalions in the then Territory should have six trained teachers each.
As Australian Forces in Vietnam were engaging in the Battle of Long Tan in mid-August 1966, 30 educational instructors with the rank of sergeant arrived in Port Moresby to complete their two years of conscripted service as part of the Pacific Islands Regiments.
For the next six years, 50 new ‘chalkie’ instructors arrived annually to continue the PIR’s education in English, maths, science, social studies and civics in preparation for the eventual independence of PNG.
That 300 strong group of teachers collectively contributed greatly to PNG society through teaching, sport, administration, cultural exchange, civic action patrols, lecturing at Idubada Technical College and assisting in the workings of the newly established University of PNG.
Many of these chalkies have kept an active interest in PNG, returning to work after their Army service in schools, administration and police positions while others undertook anthropological studies and engaged in humanitarian work.
Many of the now grey and ageing teachers have returned as tourists, along with their friends.
The writer, Sgt Dr Darryl R Dymock (Ret), formerly of 1PIR at Taurama Barracks, has relied on his own experiences and the recollections of the 300 colleagues from those times.
Terry Edwinsmith was a member of the RAAEC attached to 1PIR from 1967-68