Educators and volunteers

Scholarly essay written by Roxanne Missingham, Director of Scholarly Information Services Division, ANU

Folder 3: 39 folios

Contains original field and studio portraits and dyelines of women: teachers, trainee teachers, scholarship girls, university under-graduates, welfare workers, girl guides, and volunteer socialites. Also a small unfinished field drawing of Alice Wedega MBE DBE (1905-1987), teacher and PNG's first woman parliamentarian.

Schools in Papua New Guinea faced challenges because of the sparse population widely distributed across a vast nation. Their establishment and curriculum has been developed sporadically through a range of church and secular influences.

In this section, Elizabeth Durack Clancy takes the reader on a journey through teachers and some students in the schools of Papua New Guinea. Education was at the centre of the agendas social and economic reform from international organisations and indeed the churches.

Western education was initially introduced by the waves of missionaries that visited the islands, highlands and coasts of Papua New Guinea in the 1800s. The first schools, included the London Missionary Society school in Port Moresby opened in 1874 and a Methodist Missionary Society school at Kinawanua on the Duke of York Islands in German New Guinea opened in 1875. (1, 2)

Teaching required resources. George Brown, responsible for the creation of the Kinawanua school noted the need for resources in local languages, publishing the first book in the Duke of York dialect in 1879. His approach was what we would interpret as a desire to move to a single dominant language as well as colonial missionary approach:

No mission could have had a more promising beginning than ours has had in all these islands. I believe that our principle difficulties in the future will arise from the great difference between the dialects, the constant feuds between the villages, and the want of authority among the chiefs. But as our knowledge of language increases, we shall no doubt be able to decrease very much the number of dialects as we introduce the use of books in our schools; and the reception of the religion of Jesus will soon produce peace and order where all is now discord and confusion. (3)

Lutheran Missionaries used the Kote and Yabim languages in German New Guinea, Lutheran, while the New Britain Methodists moved to Kuanua. Motu was used by the London Mission Society in the South Coast of British New Guinea. Works in Suau language in Samarai before 1900, while others sought to convert locals to German. (4)

The westernisation and Catholicisation of education focused on practical skills and spiritual behaviour. As education evolved, developing skills that could result in employment and economic outcomes became more prevalent.

After 1884, German and English missionaries established primary schools to teach Western concepts of morality, the German and English languages, arithmetic, and Christian doctrine. During the early 1900s, the British government encouraged missionaries to develop vocational education programs in Papua New Guinea to produce better farmers, crafts people, and skilled labourers. In 1914, Australia took control of the German colony in northeastern New Guinea. With Papua and New Guinea under its reign, Australia established English as the official language of instruction and laid the foundation for modern education in Papua New Guinea. (5)

Durack entered a world in which education had become more uniform, inspected by government officials with an emphasis on professional, qualified teachers. (6) Paul Hasluck, Australian minister for Territories, had in 1959 established a set of policy statements for education, which were seen as slow in working towards nationhood - he "was criticized for his gradualist policies and not identifying an indigenous elite for future leadership roles". (7, p.131)

While schools commenced primarily with all boy and all girl schools the policies of the early twentieth century moved towards government schools for both sexes. The majority of schools remained non- government (in 1960 there were 306 government schools and 958 non-government schools, increasing to 648 government and 1,702 non-government schools in 1972. Teachers were increasingly indigenous - 73.6% of all teachers by were indigenous.

But what of the local women? Megerrity reports on the extent of male dominance in education in Papua New Guinea. He notes:

There were only four girlsʼ schools and four female education officers by 1958. The Department of Territoriesʼ discouragement of female employment was ultimately a failure to address the fact that the female studentsʼ expectations of social and economic mobility were bound to be raised through higher levels of education. What limited employment and training opportunities there were for adult women tended to reflect the dominance of the Department of Health over other Territory Departments more than the balanced needs of the Indigenous community. For example, while a great deal of resources went into training Indigenous females in nursing and in infant/maternal health, many women were being turned away from teacher training courses. (8, p. 8-9)

In this gendered environment, Durack's drawings provide warmth and diversity. Those attending the University of Papua New Guinea could celebrate their participation in a university less than three years old (it was established in 1965). Her illustrations reflect a seriousness in these teachers who were shaping the minds of those who would lead the nation after independence from Australian in 1975.

A special mention must be made of the drawing of Dame Ahioma Alice Wedega. As the entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography records:

Wedega's career was shaped by her LMS education at the Kwato mission at Milne Bay and, following her baptism at 16 years of age, her first work was with other Kwato missionaries, proselytising and teaching domestic science to women throughout coastal south-east. After the death in 1930 of its founder, Charles Abel, the mission, now independent of the LMS and known as the Kwato Extension Association, came under the influence of the Moral Rearmament movement. Led by Cecil Abel, son of the founder, members of the KEA became swept up in evangelistic fervour and Wedega vowed, along with other women of the mission, to dedicate her life to Christian work and never to marry. (9)

Attending the Pan Pacific Women's Conference at Christchurch, New Zealand, she was the first female national to represent her people overseas.

It was her national leadership as a nominated member (1961-64) of the Legislative Council, the first Indigenous woman on the Council, that saw her become a role model and political leader across the nation. She was appointed MBE in 1964 and elevated by the government to DBE in 1982.


(1) Haihuie, Samuel. 2003. “Educational development in Papua New Guinea.” In Building a nation in Papua New Guinea: views of the post-Independence generation, edited by David Kavanamur, Charles Yala, and Quinton Clements. Canberra: Pandanus Books.

(2) Gunson, Neil. 1969. “Brown, George (1835–1917).” Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.

(3) The Papers of Reverence George Brown (1835-1917), Methodist Missionary, from the State Library of New South Wales.

(4) Kari, Sam. 1995. Historical Development of Education in P.N.G. Master of Education Thesis, Australia, University of Adelaide.

(5) 2017. “Papua New Guinea - Educational System—overview.” Education Encyclopedia.

(6) Maclaine, A. G. 1968. “Native education in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.” Australian Journal of Social Issues, 3(3): 25-35.

(7) Guy, Richard. 2009. “Formulating and Implementing Education Policy.” In Policy Making and Implementation: Studies from Papua New Guinea, edited byRon May. Canberra, ACT: ANU Press.

(9) Megarrity, Lyndon. 2005. “Indigenous education in colonial Papua New Guinea: Australian government policy (1945‐1975).” History of Education Review, 34(2):41-58.

(9) Johns, Eric. 2012. “Wedega, Dame Ahioma Alice (1905–1987).” In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra, ACT: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.