Ten Year Anniversary of the Chalkies Group

by Ian Ogston

The Chalkies Group came together officially on the 25th October, 2003. On this occasion, a group of ten Queensland Chalkies met for the first time at the Long Tan Room at the Kedron-Wavell RSL. The purpose of this gathering was to assemble the Chalkie story as it unfolded for each of the bases in TPNG between the years of 1966 to 1973. Those who attended the inaugural meeting are listed at the end of this article.

The lead-up to this meeting began in the previous year. I had always believed that my experiences in TPNG were worthy of being written down for my family, if not for others. A search of the Australian War Memorial holdings and the internet generally, indicated that it was most unlikely that anyone had heard of the Chalkie scheme let alone written about it. Also, I was fortunate in that my wife, Elizabeth, had kept all of my letters that I wrote to her from TPNG and these formed the basis of my story. This eventually became the booklet, ‘Chalkies – Conscript Teachers in Papua New Guinea 1970-71′.

I realised at this stage, that my account of my year at Goldie River was but a small part of a much bigger and fascinating scheme that lasted for more than eight years and involved many hundreds of Australian teachers. I also became aware of the great significance of the Chalkies work in terms of the move towards independence in 1975 for TPNG. This was the driving force – we had been involved in a program of considerable importance historically, and no-one knew anything about it.
The whole scheme was absent from the records of the Australian War Memorial, the RAAEC and, we were to find out, the National Servicemen’s Association (who were, at that time, writing a history of National Service in Australia).

I began contacting colleagues who I had served with in PNG in 1970/71 and putting letters in the Queensland Teachers’ Journal and other publications. The result of this was the first meeting at Kedron-Wavell in 2003.

Original contact letter in Queensland Teachers’ Journal 20/3/2003
Original contact letter in Queensland Teachers’ Journal 20/3/2003

We produced, as a result of this meeting, the booklet, ‘Armi Wantoks’. (See illustration below). This book was designed to flesh out the experiences of Chalkies at Murray, Taurama, Moem and Igam Barracks to give a fuller picture of the scheme. By this stage we also knew a lot more about the origins of the scheme and this was added to the record. ‘Armi Wantoks’ has had two reprintings and has now virtually sold out.

After our first meeting, we had a barbeque at my place in Brisbane and we discovered here that we enjoyed each other’s company immensely and decided to meet annually to renew acquaintances and invite others to join us. This has been, perhaps, the richest and most fulfilling aspect of the Chalkies Group.

The last ten years has been a productive time for this group and I have listed below some of the achievements through this decade.

  • production of the ‘Armi Wantoks Journal’ to continue to tell the vast number of experiences we had in TPNG

    Chalkies’ publication, ‘Armi Wantoks’
    Chalkies’ publication, ‘Armi Wantoks’
  • placing our books in the Australian War Memorial and the National and State Libraries and the records of the RAAEC
  • inclusion in the history of National Service being written by the National Servicemen’s Association. (As a result of this, the NSA has had to change their banners to include PNG service. As well, PNG is now listed as a place of service on the National Servicemen’s memorial and the front entrance of the AWM).
  • Chalkies march at the main ANZAC Day parade in Brisbane
  • production of a CD collection of photos from our experiences in TPNG
  • connection with the present RAAEC at Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera in Brisbane through Captain Shirley Crane, Major Helen Lambe and Major Mary-Lou Bates
  • assisting PhD student, Tristan Moss, at ANU in his research into Army education in TPNG prior to independence
  • development of our website www.nashospng.com through the good works and skills of Frank Cordingley
  • expanding Australia-wide through the relentless and skilful work of Terry Edwinsmith
  • a return trip of a Chalkies group to PNG (as organised by Terry)
  • the National Chalkie Reunion at Kedron-Wavell RSL in 2012
  • the Melbourne Chalkies meeting with Terry in March 2013

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the group has been the bringing together of a fine group of people with the shared experience of TPNG. This has brought a great number of rich experiences for us and indeed, our wives and partners.

We hope, now, that this great time can happen for Chalkies in other states as state organisations or ‘chapters’ are beginning to be established.

The first Chalkie Reunion participants:
Phil Adam, Ian Colwell, Ed Diery, Terry Edwinsmith, Greg Farr, Kev Horton, Norm Hunter, Greg Ivey, Bob Large, Ian Ogston

Participants in the Original Reunion 2003
Participants in the Original Reunion 2003

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