Editor’s Note: This article was copied from the The Singleton Argus unaltered and in its entirety. We (the Chalkies) acknowledge it is the property of the newspaper and will receive no monetary gain in using it. We copied it here only to acknowledge an important milestone in the lives of those men who served in the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps all those years ago.
A unique group of servicemen were reunited at Singleton’s Australian Army Infantry Museum (AAIM) on Wednesday morning.
Like their counterparts, they served their nation with distinction during the Vietnam War period by applying their skills in conflict overseas.
However when these 300 servicemen returned home there were no medals nor was there a welcome home parade.
In fact, there was no formal recognition until two decades later.
This group, termed as the ‘Chalkies’, was made up of Australia’s young teachers who were conscripted into the Army from 1966 to 1973 and went onto teach in Papua New Guinea.
Half a century later, it was their turn to sit as a group and cast their eyes to the front of the room for the opening of the new showcases added to the museum’s existing Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR) exhibition.
“The influence of these young men, who did much more than teach school, is not well known,” Major General Brian ‘Hori’ Howard explained.
“They quickly improved the standard of general education throughout the Defence Force and the country in general as ex-soldiers who had undertaken their programs returned home and were able to use their skills to help their people.”
The scheme itself was established from within the army with the backing of army minister (and future PM) Malcolm Fraser in the belief that a self-government was on the cards for Papua New Guinea in the near future.
When it ‘was time’ for Gough Whitlam to come into power in December, 1972, conscription was consequently abolished.
Yet it was two years before the last conscripted Chalkie left Papua New Guinea before the territory gained Independence on September 16, 1975.
Earlier this year, General Howard recruited the support of Major Don Graham in obtaining the approval of the Curator at AAIM to proceed with the project.
Chalkies PIR Exhibit managers Garry Screen and Steve Beveridge then liaised with John Land, the Curator of AAIM who worked alongside Paul Mitrovich (Australian Army History Unit) to clarify the requirements for the display.
“To have the chance to gather here and hear their story really was an honour and privilege,” Mr Mitrovich told the Singleton Argus
“Here was a bunch of guys who were compelled to serve but they made the most out of it.
“These educators really have this great story to tell which everyone seems to have forgotten about because it’s overshadowed by Vietnam.”
He continued, “Usually when you think of someone in uniform it is in a war and almost violent like outcome.”
“Here we have a bunch of young men who are fit and smart and well educated and they go in and transform a country through education teaching.”
Until this year only a book, ‘The Chalkies – Educating An Army For Independence’ written by Dr Darryl Dymock (a Chalkie himself from 1969-70), had formally recognised these servicemen.
Fast forward to 2019 and the NSW Department of Education has also joined the Chalkies’ party by unveiling a ‘Roll of Service honourboard’.
“It is a great pleasure that I’m here today representing the 130,000 employees in the Department of Education as well as the 800,000 students who make up public education in NSW,” Director for School Operations & Performance Christopher Charles said.
The tribute board will make its way to the department’s head office in Parramatta.