My Chalkie Experience
John Retallick (1968-69)
After a stint of teaching in a small school in NSW, I entered National Service in January 1966 and arrived at 1 RTB Kapooka as a raw and nervous recruit. In a few weeks I was lucky enough to be selected to attend the Officer Training Unit (OTU) at Scheyville and I graduated as 2Lt in Infantry Corps in August. My first posting was back to Kapooka as a platoon commander training soldiers for Vietnam. After about 6 months, I applied for and received a Corps transfer to RAAEC which took me from the parade ground to the classroom and promotion to Lt. Sometime in 1967, I heard about ‘Chalkie’ postings to TPNG and I was keenly interested. In order to apply for such a posting I signed on for a five year short service commission in RAAEC and by early 1968, I and my wife set off for Murray Barracks, Port Moresby.
I vividly recall the first sights, sounds and smells of PNG. The air was thick and humid, smelling of the jungle that surrounded the airport. As we were newly-married with no children, we did not qualify for a ‘married quarter’ so we started off in a flat at Boroko. Very large cockroaches were a persistent problem so we were happy to move after a few months to a better flat on Three Mile Hill overlooking Koki Markets where we stayed for the remainder of the two year posting.
Very soon, I found my way to the Education Section at Murray Barracks and met all the Chalkies. The OIC was Capt John Finn and two other officers were Dan Coward and John Herlihy. I also met WO Dan Winkel who was a good friend to all and Lt Colonel Roger Jones at HQ. Amongst the Sergeants I recall Ian Bowen and Frank Cordingley but memory fails me on other names.
Learning PNG Pidgin was one of the early challenges. After a while and some instruction, I got the hang of it and years later that held me in good stead as I found myself back at Kapooka as a “tok pisin” instructor for soldiers going off to PNG. That was actually my last posting in RAAEC in 1976 before leaving the army to begin an academic career. Another challenge was starting a B. Ed degree by distance education from the University of Queensland with some other Chalkies at Murray Barracks. We found a tutor from somewhere who met with our group every couple of weeks for Psychology 1. I think I completed three subjects whilst in PNG and that also held me in good stead as I continued academic studies for many years, eventually gaining a PhD.
A highlight was my friendship with Dan Winkel. At some point we decided to build a runabout for fishing out in the harbor. Dan must have had some boat-building expertise as I certainly did not have much but build a boat we did. Our workshop was a space under Dan’s married quarter at Murray Barracks and we worked on it most weekends until a very fine boat was produced. We bought an outboard motor and a trailer and had some good times fishing and sightseeing off Ella Beach (see attached pictures).
Eventually the boat came back to Australia with me and we used it for holidays on the South Coast for many years.
I recall a number of staff picnics and trips away with our PNG soldier-students, mostly organized by Dan Winkel who was very good at arranging things. An accompanying picture shows some food preparation at a staff picnic at Idlers Bay in April 1968 (someone might be able to identify the people).
Editor’s note: The fellow in the white hat is Dan Winkel – confirmed by Dan
Hi John I was thrilled to read your story. Your wife taught me in grade 5/ 1969. She was my favourite teacher and I would often stay back after school to wipe the board for her. I also invited you and your wife to Uncle Luigi ‘s house for dinner . My dad owned Carlo’s Body Works at Badilli. Is it possible to email your wife to say hello I’m now a teacher and living in Brisbane. Regards Anna.
Thanks for your kind comment. I am happy that you learnt some Geography – always my favourite subject.
I just read John Retallick’s story. I was a Sgt in RAAOC in 1968/69 at Murray Barracks and remember John. He taught me geography for my SGCE and did a good job [thanks John]. I also remember Bernie Stosic, Graeme Hurrel, and Geoff Fifer, who were Sgt chalkies.
Peter Biggs Urunga NSW
Peter, you are welcome to email us by going to the Contact Us page of this website. You are also welcome to look through your photos and send us a few for the Murray Barracks Gallery.