Students - primary and secondary

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

Folder 5: 74 folios

Contains original field and studio drawings of some students together with complementary hand-finished dyelines with variations and sepia proofs.

Papua New Guinea’s predominantly religious schools experienced considerable growth in the 1960s. (1, 2) The Australian Government’s policy for Papua New Guinea education aimed to expand primary education.

Education for students was often truncated. Only 54 per cent of pupils completed primary education (3) – a concern described as “pupil wastage”. Families and villages benefited from the move of young men and women to more economically valuable activity.

Papua New Guinea was recognised as a “special case”. The Hon Kim Edward Beazley in 1968 in the Australian House of Representatives commented:

I remind the House that this Parliament also is responsible for the education of a child population in Papua - New Guinea which includes children of school age more numerous than those of the State of Victoria. There are many special problems in connection with the education of the children of Papua - New Guinea which have never been the subject of investigation and research. Constantly from education officials of the Catholic Church there are statements made about the special needs of children in that private sector of education. Can we have an inquiry into that? I believe it is urgently necessary. (5)

Colonial schools had been single sex – either all girl or all boy. (6) Female participation in education was lower than that of males. Given the significance of women’s labour, education provided a pathway to areas such as nursing and education, but reduced the availability of female labour in villages.

As noted previously, government girls schools were rare, in 1958 there were but four girls schools and four female education officers. (7) The Department of Territories failed to adopt the recommendations of the Administration’s Special Committee Appointed to Consider Proposals for the Education and Advancement of Women of 1957. Thus schools continued to maintain male dominance and a focus on male participation.

For girls the opportunity provided by education was a chance to engage in a world with teachers often from outside their local community and learn about a broader world. The reflections of the nuns in Durack’s drawings identifies the opportunities provided by education as essential for contrition to the future of the national identity of Papua New Guinea.

Change was, however, creeping forward in terms of female participation: “…gradually the people’s resistance to sending their girls to school began to change.” (8)

This was a period which would generate much more change, albeit more slowly than desired. One area of reform that was increasingly evident was in the curriculum. Students experienced traditional classroom learning, with modified classes structured by the Australian and international religious communities’. Papua New Guinean concerns for a more relevant curriculum became evident – with a focus group style approach held by the Department of Education in 1971, which comprised of thirty three indigenous people advising that the system needed to “prepare children for a changing society, to teach them to respect the views of their parents and the village community, and to give them practical knowledge to enable them to live a full and useful life”. (9)

Durack’s illustrations highlight the brightness of these young women, sometimes their trepidation on their first day of school, and the greater confidence of those who were transitioning in to careers and roles that would help in the development to nationhood.


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

(3) Ibid p. 32

(4) Cox, Elizabeth and Aitsi, Louis. 1988. “Papua New Guinea.” In Pacific women: role and status of women in pacific societies edited by Taiamoni Tongama.Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies of the University of the South Pacific.

(5) Beazley, Kim. 1968. “Education: Suspension of standing order.” House of Representatives Hansard. Speech. Canberra: House of Representatives, May 9.;query=Id%3A%22hansard80%2Fhansardr80%2F1968-05-09%2F0100%22

(6) Haihuie op cit

(7) Cleland, D.M. 1957. “N.G. women go to school: Education and Advancement of Native Women - Policy - Papua and New Guinea.” Sydney Morning Herald. Nov 19. Cited in Megarrity, Lyndon. 2005. “Indigenous education in colonial Papua New Guinea: Australian government policy (1945‐1975).” History of Education Review, 34(2): 41-58.

(8) Flaherty, Teresa A.  2008. Crossings in mercy: the story of the Sisters of Mercy, Papua New Guinea,1956 – 2006. Lewisham: Sisters of Mercy - Papua New Guinea Region. p. 83.

(9) Hiahuie op cit p. 231