The RSM at Wewak and my professional progress in Education
by Russell Jenkin (1967-68)
‘Should Papua New Guinea become the seventh State of Australia?’ This was a major essay question that I chose to answer, approximately two months after I had arrived as a Sergeant in the Education Section of 2 PIR, Wewak, in 1967.
I had been studying Victoria’s Year 12 English course, in my own time, during that year and the final examination had been sent to Wewak. OC of the Education Centre, Captain Warlters, set me up in a quiet spot for the 3-hour exam in late November.
I could only guess an answer to the major question on the prescribed novel, as I had given it cursory attention before I transferred to PNG and I did not bring the copy with me. I knew that I had to do well with this essay topic to have any chance of passing.
I thoroughly enjoyed answering the essay and, from memory, my final conclusion to the essay question was in the negative. All the unique socio-political issues that had been fascinating me since I arrived in PNG formed the basis of an essay debate which must have been quite a contrast to essays written by students back in Melbourne. It eventually got me a ‘Pass’.
After discharge from the Army in January 1969, the Pass in English encouraged me to complete the Year 12 Certificate and
then an Arts Degree – all in my own time, over an eight-year period. This led to a move from primary teaching in government schools into 30 years of secondary school teaching in some long-established and high-achieving private schools in Melbourne.
I had gone into the Army as an easy-going primary teacher, who had ‘jagged’ his way into teacher-training without a Year 12 qualification. The Army experience made me fiercely determined to improve my position, and the responsibilities given to us in TPNG gave me a powerful ambition to be a leader in my chosen field.
I held positions of executive responsibility in most of the high-achieving private schools where I was employed between 1980 and 2005. My last full-time post was as Vice Principal of Huntingtower School between 1999 and 2005. Today I operate my own educational consultancy business and am still open to a little part-time VCE teaching, ‘on invitation’.
I identified with the finely-crafted article written by Norm Hunter in the Armi Wantoks Journal, Volume 2 of 2009. Norm acknowledges that his subsequent success in executive leadership in schools can be linked to the observations and experience of his Army days – particularly in regard to examples of good & bad leadership, tucked-away in his sub-conscious during his early 20s, and then brought forth when he was elevated to executive positions in schools in later years.
During his days as a Nasho in New Guinea, Norm Hunter had great respect for Regimental Sergeant- Major J. D. McKay DSM, MM at Taurama Barracks. I had great respect for our RSM at Moem Barracks, Warrant Officer Grahame Weiss. RSM Weiss had a generally under-stated manner but would use his voice to effect, when necessary. He had a natural authority. He could be very serious, particularly when I had to report to him each Monday morning with the weekly financial statement from the Sergeants’ Mess bar! I was in charge and I was seen as ‘responsible’. In the early days, the Sergeants’ Mess was in an old building with ineffective security and the stock of alcohol seemed to be diminishing on a regular basis. This problem was finally resolved when we moved into the modern accommodation block and a Sergeants’ Mess which had effective security.
There was only one way to do one’s duty and that was ‘correctly’! On one occasion, RSM Weiss made that very clear to one of our colleagues in the Education Section, Bruce Richter. It was in regard to an over-sight (that any one of us could have made) when Bruce was on an overnight guard duty. A native soldier was assigned the task of unfurling the Australian Flag at first light. This flag flew on the major parade ground and this happened to be the day of a regimental parade! The soldiers marched on to the parade ground later that morning and were greeted with an Australian Flag flapping in the breeze, but upside-down! RSM Weiss acted decisively! As Sergeant D.B.Richter was on duty, and was ultimately responsible for the management and conduct of this local soldier in the duty team, he was to be held to account. The RSM gave Bruce eight (8) consecutive days of overnight guard duty, as a penalty.
I remember that, although Bruce was not happy with the penalty, he was quite philosophical about it and even pointed out that it probably meant that it would mean that each of us would have to do one less duty before our time was up at Moem Barracks. This was a ‘bonus’ for us, on the back of a penalty for our mate who had to be ‘responsible’ for an error of another soldier! Just as we had come to understand during recruit training days, ‘fairness’ (or logic) was not necessarily a high priority in the Army!
RSM Weiss had a softer side, however, and was very much a family man. He lived in ‘married quarters’ with Mrs Weiss, their three young children and his sister from Queensland. RSM Weiss invited the Nashos from the Education Section, to his home, for a meal, on a number of occasions. It was a very nice touch from a man who walked the grounds of 2 PIR with such authority. RSM Weiss supported our football team and indicated that he had been a keen Aussie Rules footballer in Brisbane, in his earlier days.
We had two Aussie Rules football teams at 2 PIR – PIR Red and PIR Green. We played in the Wewak regional competition and both teams ended-up playing in the Grand Final in 1968. The teams were led on to the ground by the 2 PIR pipe band on Grand Final day. It was a big day, with quite a big crowd in support, but the Greens were too strong in the end.
I captained and coached The Reds; a position I had assumed because I was so keen to set up the team. By contrast, the coach of The Greens was fellow-Nasho Sgt Kerry Dohring who had played football in Adelaide at a high level. Despite that, I am proud to say that our team of native soldiers, officers and ORs, acquitted itself really well and, at least, had one win against the Greens during the season. Our RSM and his family were strong supporters of our team, the Reds, and, seated in folding chairs on the boundary line, they added their voice to our efforts at most of our games.
Other Education Sections may have been a little more adventurous and expansive with the development of the academic courses set down by RAAEC. From memory, our group was not very adventurous and carefully followed the set courses in English, Maths, Science and Civics (or was it called ‘Social Studies’?). We were a conscientious group but I can’t remember the educational experience as ‘dynamic’. It was essentially ‘chalk & talk’ that was given to a compliant audience.
Rather ironic to me, now, as for the last six years I have been working through educational consultancy – linking businesses, elite sporting organizations and government business enterprises to schools, on a regular basis, with the aim of making learning in schools more relevant and more dynamic.
(Editor: former RSM Grahame Weiss lives on the Sunshine Coast and has been in touch with the Chalkie Network.)
I have attached several newspaper articles from Wewak in 1968:
1. In the fortnightly issue of Australian Army – The Soldiers’ Newspaper of September 26 1968, Second Lieutenant A. A. Haid submitted this summary of the Grand Final involving the two PIR Teams. Tony Haid was a member of our Education Section at 2 PIR, Moem Barracks, and, although a rugby follower from Sydney, he took an interest in our Aussie Rules competition at Wewak. A number of the members of the Education Section played in this football competition – Bruce Richter, Kerry Dohring, Jim Davidson, ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly, Ray Deane and myself.
2. Earthquakes (‘Gurias’) caused a little concern at times, but this one in September 1968 had a big impact. It came a few weeks before we were due to return to Australia. It was 6.5 on the Richter Scale and the epi-centre was said to have been in the sea, 50 km out from Wewak. It came at 7.20 a.m., as we were getting ready for the day and those of us on the top floor of the Sergeants’ Block raced down the concrete stairs. The stairs were heaving sideways as we ran.
We congregated on the sealed bitumen car park and it was heaving up and down like the sea with a thunderous rumble coming from underneath the earth. The substantial building was crashing end-to-end and it was remarkable that it did not collapse. This modern structure had been built to withstand ‘Gurias’, and, we were later told, that there was significant ‘give’ in all joints of the bolted steel frame. Subsequently, we could observe that large cracks were evident in the walls. I chose to take a ground-floor room for the remaining few weeks at 2 PIR and I was comforted by the fact that a number of local soldiers had been shaken up by this experience too and chose to sleep on the concrete paths, for a few nights, following the quake.
It may have lasted only 30 seconds or so, but it seemed like a long time. I have subsequently lived through Cyclone Trixie in Port Hedland, W.A. in the 1970s and ‘Ash Wednesday’ in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges in the 1980s. Although both those experiences were confronting too, the terror created by the thunderous under-ground roar, the crashing buildings and the heaving earth, in the Wewak earthquake of 1968, stands alone!
Very interested to read Russell Jenkin’s account of 1968 GF in Aussie Rules between Army Green and Army Red. I was one of the OR’s at 2PIR (RAEME Workshops) and played with Army Red in the 1968 GF
Thanks Keith. You are welcome to contribute photos or a story of your TPNG experience to this Website. See the Contacts page for our Email address.
Keith, Yes, I remember you as a handy pick-up for our team and of course, we were former fellow-students at Lloyd St Central School (Melbourne) in Years 7 & 8, circa 1958! It was good to read your response.
Enjoyed your article Russell and can identify with many of your sentiments and memories. I spent only about 4 months at Wewak in 67 with Capt Walters as my OC. I can fondly remember many “social” evenings in the old bar and also seem to remember a certain assault boat / tinnie which was borrowed for a fishing trip one weekend. How we managed to paddle back in minus the outboard motor which sank to the bottom in very deep water, still astounds me. I believe our pay slips were severely depleted for the next few months after that incident. I also experienced a severe “earth tremor” in the early hours of the morning while on night duty – I was crossing the parade ground when the earth began to rumble then a large swell or ripple of earth traversed the open area, I think I almost froze in awe and managed to step over the ripple as it passed beneath me. The dormitory block emptied quickly with panic stricken soldiers – some of whom suffered ankle injuries when they leapt off the first level . The ground was so hot you could feel the heat through your boots. …VERY scarey.
After moving to Taurama Bks in 68 I completed my Yr 12 by correspondence and returned to Vic Barracks in Melbourne in time to sit for my exams. I subsequently spent 6 years at Monash finishing an Econ. degree with a second major in sociology. I then commenced my B. Edn degree which was eventually completed at UNi of SA when I moved to Adelaide. I became involved in both secondary and primary education positions and loved working within regional offices in consultancy roles supporting principals with the many innovations in curriculum and school development / leadership. During that time I completed a post graduate diploma in Professional Development – Education, at Flinders Univ. The majority of my education work was in the primary sector and I retired several years ago after stints in a variety of leadership . I too saw and worked under some very effective leaders – both male and female, and unfortunately saw some very ineffective “leaders” … all of which make you very aware of your own strengths and weakness as a leader .
My nasho and PIR experience certainly helped me to “grow up” , learn about myself and appreciate /use the skills of others.
Unfortunately i am not proud of how many times I must have bored friends with my PIR stories – as my two adult sons often remind me.
Thank you for your response, Ian. I remember the story of the tinnie and the lost engine, but can’t remember whether I was one of the recalcitrants on board. Walking across the parade ground during an earth tremour – fascinating, and just hints at the impact that such special experiences must have had on young Aussies in the PIR, circa 1968. You have done well with studies and in education leadership since those days. Do you see your experiences in the Australian Army and in the PIR in particular, as a spring-board to your subsequent success in your professional career? One of the last times we met, we were taping reel-to-reel recordings from our favourite long-playing record collections. Now, that is old technology!!! All the best to you and your family, Ian. Russell Jenkin
Nice article, Russell. thanks for building on my thoughts. It’s good to read someone else’s experiences & be able to relate to them personally. The interesting thing for me is that it’s usual to relate military leadership to authoritarian & unilateral management of people, but I came to understand that leadership is leadership whatever the context, & it has to do with building respect & trust. I saw Don McKay do it by treating people with respect, & being a person everyone trusted. He also built personal relationships while maintaining the distance that all leaders need to keep. A wonderful experience for me, & one that I didn’t fully understand till later when I was in leadership roles.
Thank you for your comments, Norm. My guess is that Don McKay’s style of leadership is more common these days – and perhaps, even in the Army, where the authoritarian style was the norm circa 1968. Thank you, again, for your most interesting article.