by Phil Adam 1969-70
On arrival at Murray Barracks, I was accommodated in the old Officers Mess for a few days before moving into the Sergeants Mess when the cohort of Chalkies we were replacing left for home. On the first evening of our arrival, there was a barbecue on the lawns outside the mess. Of course, as was the case, we had to be properly dressed – long sleeved shirt, long trousers, tie or cravat. The thing I remember most about that barbecue was the mosquitoes. I have never seen anything like it. There were millions of them and, despite the dress regulations being designed to help prevent malaria, we sweated so much that our shirts were black with the little monsters and they bit right through them.
The first week in the Education Section was spent on a Stock take. We counted everything from books to paper clips. However, we soon got into the swing of things as courses began to be organized. The Education Section at Murray was a typical two-storey steel-framed building. The ground floor housed the office, a classroom, and the Murray Barracks lending Library. The top floor contained other classrooms, small offices and a language laboratory. The section was commanded by Captain John “Titch” Freeman supported by a National Service CSM Sergeant Steve Hill, a fellow Queenslander. Captain Freeman was a genuinely-decent human being. An Englishman in the Australian Army, he was nearing the end of his career but he was committed to the work he was doing and had a way of dealing with us that won both our friendship and respect. Sadly, he died shortly after retiring within a few years of my discharge.
I shared an office with another Queenslander, Mick Lee, on the top floor of the building. My teaching area was English and Social Studies and, in common with other members of the group, I taught a number of courses from AACE (Australian Army Certificate in Education) 1 to AACE 3 level. Most of the courses lasted 6 weeks and involved groups of Pacific Island soldiers from various units on the base. In addition, there were other educational duties including teaching the SGCE (Services General Certificate in Education) level for Australian soldiers on the base; some time at Popondetta doing the same thing; and teaching Pidgin to Australian troops. I also managed to tutor some French. In addition to our teaching duties, all of us at Murray Barracks in 1970 were required to take our examinations for Sergeant and to undertake standard battle efficiency tests including physical fitness activities and live firing.
All of us were rostered for other duties including 24-hour guard duties, manning the Library which was open to all persons living on the base, and projectionist duties in the theatre for the Pacific Island soldiers. Most, if not all, of us were involved in civil action programs which varied from accompanying construction gangs to remote villages to a program designed to help street kids from outlying districts.
Life in the Mess was fairly routine. Dinner was always served after 6 pm so it was compulsory to dress in the long sleeved shirt etc. Activities in the Mess, apart from the bar, included table tennis and darts at which we became quite proficient. There were also regular movies and the occasional formal dinner.
Beyond our duties, however, we were all involved in a variety of activities. Some, including me, were undertaking formal distance education studies to complete university degrees. Many were actively participating in sport. I coached and played for the Murray Barracks soccer team in the local first division competition. We also played trial games against the National side.
Outside of these activities there was also a fairly active social life in Port Moresby. There were a number of clubs which featured live music such as the Aviat Club and the German Club. I remember seeing Little Patti, Kamahl, Don Burrows and others. One popular way to spend a lazy Sunday was swimming at Ela Beach accompanied by lunch at the RSL Club there. And, of course, the taste of a burger at the Kai Kai bus at the bottom of Three Mile Hill lingers still. Many took advantage of the lower import duties to buy a variety of electronic goods mostly from the Chinese stores.
Our cars, if we had them, were often remarkable. My Hillman Super Minx had a couple of unnerving habits like having the gear lever come off when changing into third gear and having the seat slide forward when stopping. The engine nearly fell out and the boot lid was tied down with rope but still it managed to pass the compulsory safety test for registration. Without a car you had to arrange a lift with someone else or try the ‘hauli’ trucks which would pick up passengers from the side of the road and drop you off when you banged on the roof of the utility. The cost for one of these was 10 cents no matter how far you went.
There were funny moments such as the time a group of 9 Sergeants, including 6 Chalkies and 3 Pacific Island Sergeants, were officially reprimanded for attending a dance in the OR’s Mess on a dismal rainy night. There were serious moments. The worst moment came with the accidental death of one of our group, John Martin from New South Wales, riding his motorbike from town back to Murray Barracks.
But, whatever happened, the year in TPNG was an experience that none of us will ever forget.