AUSTRALIAN TERRITORIES MINISTER Paul Hasluck commented ruefully in the 1960s that, as far as Papua New Guinea Administration employees went, it was if he ran a Marriage Bureau.
It was so true. It was the 20th century version of the 19th century ‘fishing fleet’ that carried boatloads of spinsters to the bachelors in India. And the many well-paid young bachelors in the then Territory seeking a spouse were a pretty good catch.
The E Course – the six-month ‘emergency’ teacher training program launched in PNG in 1960 - has been justifiably lauded as delivering great educational outcomes.
The program recruited mature men and some women who had already established careers and transformed them into a potent teaching force, with the men often being despatched to the toughest and most remote locations.
E Course teachers, and E Course lecturers for that matter, married adventurous young women who either worked for the Administration or the missions. Some of the women were themselves teachers.
In a number of cases, E Course graduates, on completion of the course, immediately returned to Australia, married their sweethearts and promptly returned to PNG as they now had a regular income and there were jobs for Australian women in the Territory.
But at the time we didn’t know that Hasluck had made his sardonic comment, so the bachelor kiaps, didimen and chalkies couldn’t thank him and the Department of Territories for the blessing of being able to marry a young woman bold enough to seek a life on a new frontier.
Or, for that matter, an equally adventurous, possibly opportunistic but courageous indigenous lass, who then faced the difficulties of integration into the expatriate community.
Life was not always sweet. When we left the Territory, we frequently left behind a trace of tragedy. Our own lay in a small grave at Koroba. A miscarriage had delivered a tiny infant and it was buried in the garden at Koroba together with an identification bracelet bearing my name, date of birth and blood group.
Women experiencing difficulties in pregnancy would move to the maternity ward of the nearest hospital – in our case Goroka - weeks before the baby was due to be born.
Then there were the frantic midnight drives in a four wheel drive along stony mountain roads to the nearest hospital where a baby might be born within minutes of the mother’s arrival in the labour ward.
So all was not a bed of roses.