The Peace Corps program in the United States was established by an Executive Order issued by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961, and authorized by Congress on March, 1961.
Australia, under the heading of “External Affairs”, administered an organization similar to the Peace Corps. As part of this arrangement, Bill Wilson, a member of my extended family, went to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to teach school.
Life-long friendships were formed, laying the foundations of a truly remarkable legacy. When Bill arrived there in 1952, PNG was in the very early stage of the road to independence.
The following article, Friendship—two peoples join by mutual experience, was written by Barbara Short. The article describes Bill’s experience and discusses two of his students:
(1) the highly respected late Sir Alkan Tololo, who rose to become High Commisssioner to Malaysia, to Australia, chancellor of the universities in Port Moresby, Lae and Vudal and member of boards that served the nation and,
(2) Sir Paulias Matane, who served as the first Papua New Guinean Ambassador to the United States following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“TIM COSTELLO, CEO of World Vision, is calling for more young Australians to visit Papua New Guinea and become friends with the Melanesian people, to take time to get to know them and for an effort to be made to understand each other’s culture, dreams and aspirations.
One young Aussie who did just this back in 1952 was Bill Wilson (pictured) from Perth, Western Australia, then aged 24.
Bill ended up teaching at Keravat High School in the Gazelle peninsula for a couple of years. Here is his story.
After Bill Wilson’s arrival at Keravat in 1952 he had his 24th birthday and on looking back he can see that he was ‘green’ and very inexperienced. He remembers there was no common Territory wide school syllabus and we “tended to cobble our own.”
The key to everything seemed to be competence in English, a broadening of horizons and knowledge of anything that would help the boys on their way.
Bill remembers that many of his students were about his own age and, being single, he was generally free after hours to spend time with them.
He often found himself discussing, in English, just about any subject under the sun that he knew about, or thought he knew about!
No doubt he taught his students, who included Alkan Tololo and Paulias Matane, a lot about the world in general and improved their spoken English. Matane was very keen to look him up in Western Australia in 1972 and Tololo looked him up in 1984. Here’s how it happened.
In October 1984, Bill Wilson read in The West Australian newspaper that Dr Alkan Tololo, the High Commissioner for PNG, was in Perth and trying to track down his old English teacher from 1952-53, named Wilson.
“I’d just like to say “hello” and talk about those old times. If I can find him I feel sure he would like to meet me and find out what happened to me,” Tololo told the journalist.
By sheer luck Bill Wilson heard about the article in the newspaper and phoned Alkan at his hotel. They arranged to meet at a car park as Tololo made his way to the airport. Bill was certain there would be a vacant space in a car park.
Bill reached the spot first. Within minutes a large, chauffeur-driven government car arrived, with flag fluttering. Out stepped Alkan, followed by his escort of two young men from the Premier’s Department and, without hesitation from either side “it was on”! In an hour they spanned 30 years.
The two young men were intrigued by this encounter and, when the time came to leave, one of them said, “Dr Tololo, how is it that you knew Mr Wilson after all those years?”
With a broad smile, Alkan replied, “Easily, he’s still wearing the same kind of trousers!”
The two young men thought it was a great joke, as did Bill. Later Bill realised that Alkan had read well the conservative nature of his old English teacher.
Bill Wilson summed up those old days like this:
“My days at Keravat were happy and uncomplicated. Without exception I liked the people I met, regardless of ethnic origin. Perhaps I helped some on their way. From them I certainly acquired some wisdom, although I did not realise it at the time. Such is life.”
Bill and Paulias Matane are now in their eighties but are able to keep in touch by email. Isn’t friendship wonderful!”
Please click on Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG ATTITUDE to view the article and learn more.