Community Involvement
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Community Involvement

MWA International Community Involvement

During 1960 I discovered that I had some talent for management and administration. I took on the role of secretary of the UNE Sports Union in June for the remainder of my time at university, while my colleague ‘Blue’ Twomey became president and Lloyd Fell was treasurer for a year. Part of my task was to liaise with the UNE ground staff over the condition and allocation of the various grounds for particular events. Led by Frank Partridge, the men met over smokes in a ramshackle shed just below the ‘bottom huts’ and it was there that I met with them to map out forward programs and yarn about local affairs. I also became involved briefly in editing and producing the student newspaper, Nucleus, at this time. David Heath became secretary of The Union, further enhancing the role of our group in university affairs.

With increasing student numbers at UNE by 1961, we decided to field two first grade teams in the local competition. I captained the ‘B’ side, which included a large proportion of staff members, thereby enabling this side to continued playing through the summer vacation when undergraduates were absent. John McGarrity, our soil science lecturer, and Neil Yeates were regular players, together with Jack Dulloy and Warren Musgrave from the agricultural economics faculty. Professor Smith from the Science faculty opened the bowling with Jack Dulloy, while John McGarrity was an enthusiastic all-rounder and Neil a stylish middle-order batsman. Monty Kelk was a fellow student member of the team.

The UNE B team had excellent team spirit and performed credibly. A number of us generally adjourned to a hotel for drinks after the match—usually the Wicklow which locked its doors for the statutory closing time between six and 7:30pm, but we stayed on—and some of us would often end up at the McGarrity or Dulloy residence later!

Perhaps the culmination of my sporting contributions during this period was in May 1962 when UNE hosted the Inter-Varsity competitions in rugby union, women’s hockey and tennis. I took on the task of organising these events and remained at Armidale during that period to ensure that the program ran smoothly, with Don Smart and Geoff Miller stepping up to organise the rugby union events. Communication with the various university clubs involved was restricted to letters through the mail, long-distance telephone calls or telegrams, so there was much uncertainty about how and when various teams would arrive. Participants were accommodated in student accommodation that had been vacated by UNE students for the vacation period.

The combined UNE side had success in the rugby competition, defeating the University of Queensland 16-8, while I spent some time with participants in the women’s hockey competition. I got to know several of the girls in the University of Western Australia team, one of whom was to provide an interesting introduction to the upper echelons of Port Moresby society.

During the University vacation I spent two months in Papua New Guinea working at the Department of Agriculture Stock and Fisheries at Goroka in the Eastern Highlands during January and February 1962, which gave me my first experience of an extensive patrol to highland villages. On completion of my degree in 1962, I returned to Papua New Guinea and was again posted to Goroka as an Agricultural Extension officer with responsibility for establishing and managing village cattle projects across the Eastern Highlands District.

October 1963 saw the first ‘Gumi’ race on the Asaro River. Commencing at the road head below the DASF piggery, contestants were given an inflated rubber tyre from the Administration’s vehicle depot in North Goroka to float down the river to the landing at Kamaliliki technical school. Bruce Boniwell and I both participated, while Bill Seale (the District Commissioner) had the luxury of a large tractor tyre with a timber platform and a large umbrella for shade! My journey was not particularly memorable, for shortly after commencing my journey my ‘gumi’ developed a leak. I tried to stem the loss of air as best I could, but my conveyance gradually deflated, hitting many rocks as it slowly sank until finally I lifted the limp sheet of rubber from the stream and waded ashore somewhat short of the finish line. The event was hailed as a great success and the ‘Goroka Gumi Race’ became an annual event for an extended period with participants flying in from various PNG towns and cities.

August 1964 saw the first Goroka Show to be held at the new West Goroka grounds. We were closely involved in preparations for the event, organising agricultural exhibits and for the first time, cattle from village projects were to be judged. Robert McKillop’s role was to organise this element of the show. Huge long-houses were constructed of native materials to accommodate the tens of thousands of villagers coming to the show, while visiting expatriates filled all the available accommodation, including residences.

As for the show itself, it was a fascinating introduction to the vibrant culture of the Highlanders, though the participation of a group of Kuka Kuka people generated considerable feat among the local people. Small but fierce men, the Kuka Kukas sent the locals scurrying away in fear wherever they ventured in the town. There were the traditional Australian features of district exhibits, marching brass and pipe bands and cattle competitions. I was responsible for the cattle events which went off without a hitch, although the judge awarded first prize in the village cattle section to Awe Ketawo’s Aberdeen Angus heifer, which Arona Valley rancher Lionel Oxalade noted was barren, a judgement with which I concurred!

Following my marriage to Kerry Barr on 4 January 1965, we both returned to Goroka in late January where Kerry gained an English teaching position at Goroka High School. With the arrival of Alan Ross as the District Forestry Officer later that year he became involved in a small community group including Robert and Kerry who were engaged in restoring two bitumen tennis courts behind the main government office in Goroka as cement courts. On completion of this project, we played regularly on these courts on Saturday afternoons.

Alan Ross, a middle-aged bachelor who had many years field experience at Bulolo, had taken over as the District Forestry Officer in March 1965. Alan and I were to become close friends over the years and he left the remarkable legacy of the hills to the south of the Asaro River becoming green with Klinkii Pine forests. There was a small cricket competition in the Eastern Highlands with just three teams so Alan and I got together and established the Administration Cricket Team with expatriate players from various government agencies and a group of Papuans from Northern Province employed as DASF Field Assistants rounding off the team. In addition, the Ellis Shield cricket competition had been established between Lae, Madang, Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands and Wewak in East Sepik Province, so aircraft were chartered for teams to travel to these centres for cricket matches.

While the Goroka community had its clear demarcations between administration, commerce and missionaries, there was a cohesive bond that defined ‘Goroka-ites’ and there was much socialising at the Goroka Sports Club. Dances were held there, while the pavilion at the showground was also a popular venue for social event. A jazz night with the Graeme Bell All Stars band was a particularly memorable event.

While cricket was my sporting interest, there was also an active tennis club with, initially, courts behind the district administrative offices. Originally laid with bitumen, much of our efforts during my initial years there was the rebuilding of the two courts with cement.

Kerry was a keen tennis player and we were regular attendees at Saturday afternoon tennis. It was mostly a social affair, but we did have an annual tennis tournament (played over several weekends in September). Regular players were Alan Ross, Gerry Chan, Lillian Cheong, Norrie Ford, Reg Sparke, Len Gear (manager of the New Guinea Company store) and several nurses from the hospital (who generally had a short stint of duty at Goroka). Kerry and I decided that we should not play together in mixed doubles, so she partnered with Reg Sparke in competitive events and they won the Highlands Championship mixed doubles in September 1965.

Kerry played golf, notably in the women’s Wednesday afternoon rounds after work, which offered exercise and social engagement. She gained some fame with a hole-in-one on the short fairway to the clubhouse one afternoon.

As a cricketer I did not have a lot of success with the bat, but my leg-spin bowling brought regular rewards, both in the local competition and in Ellis Shied games against other districts. The Sepik district centred on Wewak was an irregular participant in the Ellis Shield, but when the team travelled to Wewak for such a game in February 1965, Kerry and two of her fellow school teachers came with us on the DC3 charter flight. We got up early on Sunday morning and went to Boram Beach for a swim in the surf. The Wewak team was no match for the Eastern Highlands, although our match at Madang a few weeks later was more competitive. We came away from that match with a win, but there was much sadness as two Talair pilots had flown to Madang in a Cessna 172 aircraft. As they departed from Madang on Sunday afternoon they flew over the cricket ground, but when we got back to Goroka we received the news that they had crashed in the Bena Gap and both pilots were killed.

On our return from leave in 1969, I received advice that I had been promoted to Rural Development Officer Class 2 and that I would return to Goroka as District Rural Development Officer (DRDO) for the Eastern Highlands. In this position, I was responsible for some 50 field staff located at five extension stations across the district, while I also served on the team of senior departmental officers who undertook development planning and monitoring of the PNG Administration’s programs and projects in the district.

I continued to undertake field work, travelling to each DASF station in the district to support our staff there, as well as supervising of some of the more demanding PNG Development Bank projects. In my extension role I established close relationships with a wide range of village leaders and entrepreneurs. Among them was Auwo Ketawo of Masilakaiyufa village adjacent to North Goroka had established an impressive poultry laying project in 1967. This business prospered and he had installed much larger laying facilities by August 1969. By February 1971 there additional laying houses with cages, ducks being grown for food and a village shop selling Highland artefacts. As discussed in chapter 4, Auwo Ketawo would go onto much grander business enterprises.

Following our relocation to Port Moresby in late February 1971, Kerry obtaining a position at the School of External Studies in Konedobu preparing correspondence materials for students undertaking studies by correspondence. She established a close friendship with a fellow teacher Yudi Tamal, while Robert was based at the DASF office among the main departmental complexes in Konedobu. My task, along with Gordon Dick, was to prepare the Department’s national officers for Independence in 1975!

In addition both Gordon Dick and Robert McKillop were asked to prepare the curriculum for a Rural Sociology Course to be taught to First Year Agricultural Science students at the University of Papua New Guinea. We agreed that Gordon would teach the course in the first semester and Robert would take over in the second.

There were a number of talented and enthusiastic students in the initial class. Rosa Me Hoi, a Papuan from the Brown River area northwest of Port Moresby, subsequently became a leading agronomist, while John Yogio, an Eastern Highlander, subsequently became the head agronomist at the Highland Agricultural Research Station at Aiyura. Our field excursions included the Tanuabada Dairy and the Ilimo Poultry Farm in August 1972, and subsequently the Sogeri Plateau and the Kila Kila Livestock Centre in Port Moresby.

Robert’s role involved regular travels to provinces and training institutions throughout the year, while back in Konedobu I took on the role of chaperoning new expatriate officers into the Department. Among them was Richard Caven, an Agricultural Science graduate from Melbourne University who would become my close friend over the coming years. I also became involved in the conflict over the Lowa Marketing Society based at Goroka which was being undermined by competition from the Government’s Fresh Food Project. At this time I was also preparing a series of agricultural entries for the Encyclopaedia of Papua New Guinea, covering coffee, pyrethrum, rice, passionfruit and sugar, the latter with the assistance of John Horne on the sugar plantation at Sangara in the Northern District.

The teaching role at the UPNG meant that Robert McKillop establishes close contacts with a range of staff at the University, including John Ballard, David Hegarty and Rex Mortimer, the head of the Politics Department; and Donald Denoon headed the History Department, with Bill Gammage a leading lecturer, while his wife Jan Gammage, taught at the Administrative College and edited the  Administration for Development Journal.  

While Kerry was reluctant to apply for the English tutoring position at the University, she changed her mind when I returned home from a trip to Rabaul and Vudal on 29 June, so we sat up that night a typed out her application. I delivered it to Garbi Duigu the following day, who advised that Anne Jackson, a tutor working with her, had been seriously injured in a horse accident over the weekend and had been flown to Brisbane for hospital treatment. Kerry received the good news of her appointment as a tutor in the Language Department at the university on Monday 7 July. She visited the department the following day and she commenced work shortly afterwards. On the negative side, there was much sadness for Anne Jackson who had been very popular at the university, but was now expected to be a paraplegic for the rest of her life.

With both Kerry and me working, Karl and Kirsten were booked in to a full-time child minding centre and, thankfully, that went off well. Unfortunately, as they had a sleep there, we were faced with children running about the house until late each night.

On 2 August, Kerry and I took the children along to an evening Mu-Mu at the Agricultural Faculty to celebrate the first Agricultural graduates from the University of PNG. They had a ‘ball’, especially after the speeches when the band got into action. Unfortunately, Kirsten was unwell the following day, making her difficult to get on with, which I put down to her getting more teeth.

On Monday 4 August I headed to the first of my two hour sessions with John Ballard’s Rural Development course at ADCOL. It was just a small group of around a dozen but there were a number of experienced and influential participants, including Anton Parao and John Kaputin. My first session was on the historical aspects of access to agricultural extension in the Eastern Highlands, which went off quite well, though the complexities of the story left some participants behind. My impression was that John Kaputin was too emotionally tied up with his elite group to appreciate the problems of disadvantaged groups elsewhere. Peter West-Newman met up with him for a few beers afterwards so we learned something of his plans for the New Guinea Development Corporation, including buying up real estate in Port Moresby. Next day Peter expressed his horror at the ideas put forward by John, particularly his personal elitism. We were left wondering how long the little people who so readily contribute to the coffers of the NG Development Corporation would continue to keep supporting John’s expense account.

Independence at last

Celebrations for Independence got under way on Saturday 13 September with the opening of the National Exhibition curated by Alex Preo. Kerry and I attended, but left disappointed. Our appreciation was not helped by a ranging gale and two wailing children, but none of the display stands stood out. Most comprised a wall of photographs on “how we helped PNG to nationhood” or depicting “what it was like in the old days”! The Army displayed a lot of guns and bombs, which seemed to attract the locals, but most of the exhibits were static despite the effort that had gone into the arrangements, although DASF at least had something active by displaying live crocodiles. I recorded that: “it was really after all, a very Australian display which left us with the feeling that we had seen it all somewhere before: probably at the Narromine Show in 1954!”

Kerry and I left our two children with Tom and Vv Quinn to explore the Marco Polo, the ship on which they would sail to Brisbane that evening. On arrival at Hubert Murray Stadium, we found ourselves among well-known dignitaries. Gough and Margaret Whitlam were engaged with Sinake Gire Gire (who appeared to be drunk), while Charlie Barnes and Doug Anthony were nearby. I don’t get too excited about formal ceremonies, but this one was a moving occasion with its drills by various military contingents, a superb performance by the band and the colourful dancing groups performing to a huge crowd and a flag-decked Sir Hubert Murray Stadium. Prince Charles drove among the soldiers and policemen in an open Army Land Rover, while the Australian flag was the centre of attention and there was some sadness at its lowering to close the ceremony.

Following that experience, we went to the port and found our children having a great time on the Marco Polo, though there was some excitement when Kirsten disappeared for a while.

The Castlecrag Community

In April 1976 Robert and Kerry McKillop moved into their new home in Castlecrag on Sydney’s Middle Harbour. They would soon become immersed in the local community joining the Castlecrag Progress Association shortly after their arrival. Kerry joined Rita Kaye in editing the Progress Association’s newsletter The Crag by mid-1976 and with the establishment of the Walter Burley Griffin Society in 1998, she became Secretary of the Society, a position she retains today.

Robert McKillop joined the Castlecrag Branch of the Australian Labor Party and the Castlecrag Progress Association in mid-1976. He subsequently took over Kerry’s role as editor of The Crag for several years before passing that role onto Margaret Chambers. Following internal conflict within the Castlecrag Progress Association over the Foreshore Building Line in 1996 and into 1997, Robert returned to Castlecrag after two years based in Port Moresby and successfully stood for President of the Castlecrag Progress Association at its Annual General Meeting in April 1997 I stood for President of the Castlecrag Progress Association and was elected to that position, with three members of the ‘Reasonable Greens’’ being elected to the committee. Over the following month, I sought to involved these individuals in the CPA’s activities. In 2010 I initiated a Castlecrag Food Fair at the Shopping Centre, which was the forerunner of biennial Castlecrag Community Fairs that have continued to the present day.

With Howard Rubie and Judith Rutherford from Castle Cove, Robert was also involved in reestablishment of the Federation of Willoughby Progress Associations that brings together nine Progress Associations across Willoughby City. I served as secretary of the Federation for six years and I resumed that role in December 2018. Robert also continues to serve of the Committee of the Castlecrag Progress Association.

In 2000 the National Museum of Australia advised the Castlecrag Progress Association and the Walter Burley Griffin Society that Castlecrag had been selected as one of the communities that would be included it in grand new permanent Landmarks Exhibition. In their respective roles as President of the Castlecrag Progress Association and Secretary of the Walter Burley Griffin Society, Robert and Kerry McKillop liaised with the Curator of the exhibition regarding the objects and stories to be covered in the Castlecrag display. The Walter and Marion Griffin puppets were then in storage so they were transported to the National Museum of Australia for restoration as key items in the display.