MELBOURNE – I feel sure that Jim Humphreys would be horrified that anyone would recall his impact on more than a few Papua New Guinean and expatriate primary school teachers during the late 1960s.
For the most part, Jim was a private, reserved and self-contained chap, not given to Friday nights and weekends in pubs or clubs or parties.
Outside of working hours, he kept much to himself. He was, indeed, something of an enigma.
That said, he was, for a short few years, a valued colleague and mentor.
Jim achieved prominence in the PNG primary education sphere when he was anointed by Education Director, Ken McKinnon, to champion the implementation of the ‘new maths’ through the application of TEMLAB: the Territory Mathematics Laboratory.
Physically, TEMLAB was a boxed set of lesson plans and teaching apparatus comprising attribute blocks: a collection of wooden pieces in various shapes, sizes, colours and thickness which were designed (if I remember correctly) to provide a logical underpinning to the teaching and learning of mathematics.
In his role of maths champion, Jim conducted week-long in-service training in the principles and practices of TEMLAB throughout Papua New Guinea and it was at one of these – in Wewak in 1967 – that we first crossed paths.
Despite his prowess and affability as a teacher, it would be fair to say that the majority of chalkie participants ended the week as confused about new maths and TEMLAB as when we started.
Perhaps the confusion was tinged with a certain excitement at something new to try in the classroom. But it was still confusion.
I renewed my acquaintance with Jim two years later when I was appointed to Port Moresby as editor of the School Papers, in the process assuming responsibility from KJ for Yokomo’s welfare.
Jim was engaged in maths curriculum development in an office not far from mine and it was through our regular encounters and conversations that I learned something of his previous life.
He had been an officer (Major) in the Australian Army during the post-World War II occupation of Japan; a sprinter who represented Australia in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics; a graduate of the first E Course teacher training program in Rabaul; and he still held to a lifelong predilection for a punt on the Sydney races every Saturday.
His success as a punter was verified by others who had encountered him late on Saturday afternoons in the back bar of the Australia Hotel in Sydney (where PNG expats were sure to find others of their ilk while on leave).
He would be, as always, immaculately dressed, the pockets of his jacket, trousers and shirt bulging with the day’s winnings.
Jim had a two-pronged punting system: first, crunching the numbers and the odds in keeping with his mathematical pursuits, and, secondly, undertaking a mysterious phone call to someone in Sydney every Saturday morning.
Being the generous spirit he was, Jim invited me to share the benefits of his research. So, for the next year or so I would report to his house in Boroko on Saturday mornings where, over a few SPs, he would share his recommendations for the day’s Sydney races.
As a cautious and risk-averse punter, I restricted myself to his each-way bet recommendations only – laying them at the illegal bookies’ Besser brick shopfront (beer and sausage rolls supplied) around the corner from the Boroko Police Station.
That such clearly illegal activity could take place mere footsteps away from Police Headquarters was always something of a mystery – and the bookies’ impunity was confirmed one particular Saturday afternoon when an expatriate copper booked all the cars parked illegally in front of the bookmakers’ shop in full view of, and to jeers from, their patrons.
I made no fortune from Jim’s recommendations. But it was a rare Saturday that I ended the day with fewer dollars than I’d started.
Regrettably, I lost contact with Jim when I left PNG in 1974, but heard third-hand reports that he’d been seen at Randwick or Rosehill, with pockets still bulging.