My Less Than Brilliant Career

by Capt. John Retallick

After attending Bathurst Teachers’ College in 1962-3 I was sent to a one teacher school in a wheat paddock somewhere out west for 2 years. Towards the end of that time I received a call-up notice for National Service and in early 1966 found myself at 1RTB Kapooka as a raw recruit. Thankfully, that torture lasted only a few weeks and I was off to OTU Scheyville to learn how to be an officer. That turned out to be even more tortuous but somehow I graduated into Infantry Corps and was posted back to Kapooka as a 2Lt platoon commander. That was much better as I was now the one dishing out the torture. Sometime in 1967 I became aware of the Education Unit at 1RTB and I applied for a corps transfer to RAAEC as I was much more interested in the classroom than the parade ground. Along with the corps transfer I obtained a 5 year short service commission as my Nasho time was due to end shortly thereafter and I was promoted to Lt. I resigned from the NSW Department of Education and I heard about the interesting education work of RAAEC members in PNG so I was accepted for a position at Murray Barracks in Port Moresby to begin in 1968.

I arrived at Port Moresby with my wife in early 68 and we moved into a flat at Boroko not far from Murray Barracks. I soon found the Education Unit and the Officers’ Mess and settled into both. The Education building was quite new and well equipped with chalkboards and stencil machines. I soon got to know other officers and sergeants. I recall working with OIC Captain John Finn and officers John Herlihy, Jim Murray and Dan Coward. I particularly recall W/O Dan Winkel who seemed to know everything about life in PNG. I have two particular memories of working with Dan; one was an excursion “on patrol” and the other building a boat. For the excursion Dan arranged the RAAF to fly about 20 staff and students in a Caribou to Popendetta on the north coast and we then hiked for a few days in the jungle before returning to Port Moresby. Building the boat took much longer; I recall Dan and I worked on it for about 3 months. It was built under his house in Murray Barracks and took up most weekends until we finally had a 12 ft runabout with outboard motor to launch at Ela Beach. We had a lot of fun in the boat and caught a few fish as well. Eventually I brought the boat back to Australia and used it for fishing on the south coast. Besides those extra-curricula activities I recall a lot of teaching local soldiers and some officers who were keen to gain an educational qualification for promotion. Learning “pidgin” was a high priority as it enabled better communication with the locals. We played various sports with my interest mainly in cricket and there were some handy players in our weekend competition. I also played some golf at Port Moresby Golf Club which stood me in good stead for a career in golf which I still play.

After a few months at Boroko the ever present cockroaches in the flat became too much for us so we moved to a flat about half way up Three Mile Hill with a nice view over Koki market. I became interested in gaining a degree so a small group of us from the Education Unit enrolled in a BEd by distance education from the University of Queensland. I recall studying Psych 1 with the help of a tutor who met with us once a week in the evening. That was the start of some 20 years of study which culminated in a PhD in 1989.

After two fascinating years in PNG as a chalkie I returned to Australia and was promoted to captain and posted to 3TB Singleton as OIC of the Education Unit. After a few years and other postings I found myself back at Kapooka as a language instructor teaching pidgin to army personnel on the way to PNG. That was my last appointment in RAAEC as I decided to move on after 10 years in the army. I found a position at Wagga Teachers’ College in the area of teacher education and eventually worked there for 25 years as it was transformed into Charles Sturt University. With many years of experience in teacher education and a PhD I felt like a change so I applied for a position at The Institute for Educational Development in The Aga Khan University, Pakistan. During the interview process a good deal was made of my experience in PNG as a third world country with some similar problems to Pakistan. I was appointed as Associate Professor and worked there for 5 very interesting years. That brings my career in education to an end as of 2007. Following that my wife and I retired to live on a golf course in the Hunter Valley of NSW where I still play about 3 days a week and we enjoy a glass or two of local produce as we are surrounded by wineries in a delightful part of the world.

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Frank Cordingley
Frank Cordingley
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  1. Thanks for your recount of your Army experience and the memories it evoked in the section on Murray Barracks. I wish you all the best in retirement. Steve Hill

  2. Thank you John for writing this story. My Dad was Dan Winkel. I heard so many stories about that boat. I think I even remember it. I have been back to PNG with my work and I have travelled to Pakistan. You have had a very interesting career.

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