Reflections on Goldie River and Life by Bill Bailey
Exactly forty years ago, I was based at the PNG Training Depot at Goldie River as a Chalkie – a National Serviceman with the rank of Temporary Sergeant in the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps. Looking back now, I can honestly say that my posting to Goldie River was one of the most enjoyable and influential experiences of my life.
Getting to Goldie was achieved by enduring the normal obstacles imposed by the Army; recruit training at Puckapunyal, Infantry Corps training at Singleton, Educational Corps training at Middle Head and then a posting to
the Army Apprentices’ School at Balcombe where I marked time until I was due to go to Papua New Guinea. With hindsight, although I might not have said so at the time, all of these postings taught me a lot about myself and
provided me with skills and experiences I might not have had if I had remained as a relatively poorly educated special education teacher from Melbourne.
In November 1968, I was the last of my group to arrive at Goldie River and as a consequence, apart from my fair share of teaching assignments, I inherited the two additional responsibilities none of the others wanted:
looking after the Unit library and managing the Sergeant’s Mess bar. While both were time-consuming, they had their advantages. Today, if I had the opportunity, I could tap a keg or classify a book!
My day-to-day life at Goldie was reasonably routine; doing a stock-take of the bar every morning, conducting a few teaching lessons (a really minimal load), looking after the library and annoying Nasho officers by not saluting
them at every opportunity they thought necessary. The senior officer in the Education Unit at Goldie, Captain Dick Robinson, was a very nice man and although very keen on military life (he later transferred to the infantry
corps) he was affable and put up with our peculiarities with friendship and humour.
Life at Goldie was not all work, though – far from it. Our little group involved ourselves in a number of extra-mural activities to help pass the time. Most notably we participated in the Port Moresby Arts Council’s
production of “Lock Up Your Daughters”. While I looked after the lighting for the production, the more musical among us joined the cast. One of these Chalkie colleagues was Bernard Neeson, later known as Doc Neeson, lead singer in the “Angels”.
We also took every opportunity to travel to other destinations in Papua New Guinea when the occasion presented itself. Luckily we were able to visit Rabaul and Lae on some Army business. I cannot recall exactly what sort of
business it was. Perhaps it was just a “swan” as I remember we travelled on a Caribou sitting side-saddle in webbing seats. Other trips we organised ourselves were a memorable weekend to the Trobriand Islands, a few days
in Mt. Hagen including a scary drive into the Baiyer River valley, and a trip by lakatoi down the Papuan coast to a village at Paramana Point.
One of the most life-affecting things I did while I was a Chalkie at Goldie was to enrol in the newly opened University of Papua New Guinea where, with two of my colleagues, I studied Anthropology and Sociology. As I had not matriculated (having entered Teacher’ College with a meagre Leaving Certificate) I had to do an intelligence test before I was accepted. While the course was extremely interesting, it also had an effect on my life after the
Army. As I had been successful in the course at the UPNG, the Australian National University granted me matriculation status and enrolled me as an undergraduate. I was lucky enough to be awarded a Services Vocational and
Educational Training Scholarship – courtesy of my National Service – to pay for my first year, a “later years” Commonwealth Scholarship looked after the other two years.
Having attended ANU to do my degree, I stayed in Canberra. I first taught at the AME School – a progressive school – and I then went on to work as an educational psychologist and later as an administrator with the ACT Schools
Authority. My last teaching assignment was in Canberra as a deputy principal at Belconnen High School. I have to confess that I defected from teaching in 1991 to join the Australian Sports Commission as Manager of Policy and International Relations.
During my time in the education system, I had developed an interest in school sport and had become involved as an official and team manager in the sport of athletics at the national level. So the move into sports administration was not too dramatic. My experience at the Sports Commission and athletics let to my being appointed as Athletics
Competition Manager for the Sydney Olympic Games. This was a full-time position that I occupied for over five years and was a wonderful, if not at time frustrating and challenging, experience.
Following the Sydney Olympic Games I became the Executive Director of the Oceania Athletics Association – a position that took me back to Port Moresby on a couple of occasions. I regret to say that the Port Moresby I knew in 1968-69 no longer exists. The carefree, laidback approach of those days has been replaced by an ominous feeling of threat.
I resigned from the workforce in 2003 and now spend most of my time as a volunteer in the sport of athletics at the international level. I am a member of the Council of the International Association of Athletics Federations –
representing the Oceania Area – and I travel the world advising those involved in the organisation and staging of major international competitions. I did so as Technical Delegate for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and will do so again for the 2012 Olympic Games in London (having just received my appointment).
On a personal note, I now live with my partner of 36 years, David, on the Gold Coast where we are enjoying our “golden years”. Our major interest is travelling in south-east Asia, particularly Bali, where we help support our
adopted family – Budi, his wife Onik and their two daughters, Monica and Alena. The kids call us both “Kakek‘- grandfather.
I am interested in the Local T School…at Goldie River Training Barracks..please help me with some information on how it started and who taught in that school..
Hi Bill, I spotted Bill Bailey the UK comedian tonight on TV and so thought to do some serious looking, since you just seemed to disappear after 1970, once we got our discharge from NS. I have a guilty feeling that I may still have a box of your PNG slides since then, so do please make contact via email, and maybe I could return them to you when next I come to Qld to visit my daughter and family.
I am a producer on the ABC Australian Story program, currently putting together a program on Doc Neeson. If you have any more photos of Doc as a chalkie in PNG, please get in touch.