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James Sinclair - Last word on a land he loved

The wild Hagara Irishman with a seeming dislike of cowboys

An outdoor assembly at Hagara Primary School
An outdoor assembly at Hagara primary school in more recent and peaceful times


SYDNEY - During my teaching years in Papua New Guinea, I worked with a variety of headmasters, but one in particular stands out.

His name was Fred Briggs and he was from Ireland. We worked together at Hagara Primary School in Port Moresby.

Fred was a reasonable enough bloke but had a violent, explosive temper, what is quaintly referred to as having a “short fuse”. In fact Fred had no fuse at all. His outbursts of temper were pretty much instantaneous.

Fred was also something of an odd ball. He would only eat sausages. On the plus side, he also liked a beer.

During recess break he would amble around the perimeter of the playground, dressed in khakis, military-style boots and a huge hat.

The students had a nickname for him but, due to his fearsome temper, none would dare utter it within his hearing.

I was surprised one day when on playground duty to find a star pupil - the quiet, intelligent and industrious Tarata - huddled in a corner, tears running down his face.

He looked most disconsolate and unhappy, apparently the result of a confrontation with the headmaster.

Between sobs he told me what happened. Apparently, as Fred was loping past Tarata with his peculiar bouncing style of walking, Tarata, for some reason known only to himself, called out loudly; “Hullo Cowboy!”

What induced this normally well behaved student to commit such an act of self-destruction is difficult to comprehend.

Fred’s reaction was predictable, hence Tarata’s discomfort.

One thing was for sure, no student at Hagara ever tried such a stunt again.

The ‘Hullo Cowboy’ nickname remained securely in the saddlebag.


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