By MALUM NALU
WHEN Australian Richard Clarke first came to the beautiful and idyllic Hood Lagoon in Central in 1965 to teach at the local primary school, the 21-year-old was somewhat fazed.
He was wondering how he’d get on with his new students in the then Australian Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG) and teach them English.
“When I first went to Hood Lagoon in 1965, I was new to the country and had only been in the country six months,” Clarke remembers.
“It gave me a lot of worries when I first went into the classroom in 1965 because I was young, I was new and I had a few problems with them understanding my English.
“But we got around that in a couple of months.
“They finally tuned into my voice and my blackboard writing.
“At the beginning of the year, most of the children were not able to put many words into sentences.
“By the end of 1965, the majority of children in that class were able to write a small story of four to five sentences, which was a requirement of the syllabus.
“I stayed at Hood Lagoon for three years at that stage.
“I took the same class in ‘67.
“A much different class.
“They knew my voice, they knew English and it was quite an honor to achieve the results we did in 1967 in the final primary school examination.
“Very, very good results.
“Most of them took off to high school and that was it.”
Last Wednesday Clarke had an emotional reunion with Keapara Primary School Standard 6 Class of ’67 students in Port Moresby.
Among these was Personnel Management Secretary and PNG High Commissioner to Australia designate John Kali.
Kali’s Keapara village in Hood Lagoon is where Clarke made his date with destiny.
It was also there that he met a beautiful young Keapara woman, Numa, whom he married and has been with all these years.
Kali and classmates Kamara Gia, Loi Ila, well-known former journalist Numa Alu and Marele Au had lunch with their former teacher.
Kali said it was their way of saying “thank you” to Clarke for their early childhood education which had seen them all do well in life.
“He taught me twice, Grade 4 in 1965, when he was first posted to Keapara, and again in 1967 when I was doing Grade 6,” Kali recalls.
“I had two good years of teaching from this man here, which were life-changing.
“Those values that I learned from you, Richard, have made a big difference in my life.
“Through these, I have achieved quite a few things in life, gone on to high school and university, and served my people.
“I have risen through the rank-and-file to become a departmental head.”
Clarke is glad to be back in Port Moresby and meet his former students including Kali.
“After all these years, I can see the benefits that I, and many other teachers, put into what they did in Papua New Guinea,” he says
“It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’m proud of you John.”
Clarke recalls an incident in 1967 where Hood Lagoon Primary School scored top grades all around and there were suspicions by other schools in Central.
He says his students were told to redo examinations and they again passed with flying colours and proved all critics wrong.
Clarke taught at Hood Lagoon from 1965-1967, two years at Kwikila from 1968-1969, and returned to Hood Lagoon where he stayed from 1970-1973.
He spent a year at the Post and Telegraph College in 1974 and left at the end of that year because of the health of his young son.
“I think that my time in Papua New Guinea has been justified and the benefits have been reaped now,” Clarke says.
It’s a pleasure.
“I know that John (Kali) is one but there are others who have done things in their own field, in their own way.
“I suppose I should say that over the seven years (teaching at Hood Lagoon), there would have been over 250 pupils who went through my hands.
“I would like to know that they’ve all done very well and that I’ve made my little mark in their lives.
“I’m one of many (Australian) teachers who came during that period in the 60s and 70s.
“Some would have spent a couple of years, some would have spent many years.”
Kali sums it up well: “I hope people of Papua New Guinea will remember people like Richard Clarke and others who came to serve in our country.
“Australians came and served side by side with our warriors to defend this country (during WWII).
“A new wave of people like Richard Clarke came and educated our people to become great people today.”
Clarke left for Australia last Friday, a satisfied man.
By MALUM NALU