Friday, July 09, 2010

Remembering Bugandi the way it used to be


This week, I was pleasantly surprised to receive some amazing old photographs of Lae from Denis Murrell, a former teacher at the iconic Bugandi High School.
Murrell is now a freelance consultant and writer in China.
He taught at Bugandi from 1968-1971 and is now aged 63, albeit, with fond memories of Bugandi and Lae the way they used to be.
Murrell’s pictures include those of the school entrance with the Mercedes-Benz of legendary Bugandi principal (headmaster) Jack Amesbury in the background.
 Entrance to Bugandi High School, which has changed a lot over the years, with legendary headmaster Jack Amesbury's Mercedes-Benz  in the background.-Pictures courtesy of DENIS MURRELL

Under Amesbury’s guidance, Bugandi became a great and famous school – a far cry from what it is today - producing many students who went on to become academic, political and business leaders in Papua New Guinea.
“I was sent to teach at Bugandi High School in January, 1968,” Murrell remembers.
 Two teachers responsible for the construction of the Bugandi swimming pool, Rhys James and Bernard Swift

“It was my first teaching position apart from a short spell practice-teaching at Goroka High School.
“I saw Bugandi for the first time from the back seat of the principal’s Mercedes-Benz: a neat set of single and double-storeyed buildings situated behind lush, green, well-tended parkland and sports ovals bordered with red canna lilies planted by teacher, Jock Maloney, many years before, variegated crotons and painted, white stones.
 Denis Murrel (back) in his English class at Bugandi in 1968

“Bugandi had been built on the site of a former swamp, a place where people said it would be impossible to build anything.
“At first, just 10 acres were cleared of rainforest and a mess, two houses, a dormitory and two classrooms were built.
“That was in 1959 and amazingly, classes began soon after Jan 21, 1960.
“The school was called Bugandi Upper Primary School and there were just 78 students in standards 7, 8 and 9 and three teachers, two from overseas and one Papua New Guinean.
 Work parade at Bugandi in 1968

“By 1962, the name had been changed to Bugandi Junior High School and in the following year, a man famous throughout the land, Jack Amesbury, was appointed as principal.
“He worked successive groups of students hard over the years, to take the land back from the water, fell trees, clear undergrowth, build roads, plant lawns and gardens and construct playing fields and livestock pastures and I could see the results of this hard work as I travelled down the driveway in Jack’s car.
 Bugandi students working in the classroom

“The school had become a full high school in 1965.
“There were 257 students by then, enrolled in forms 1 and 2, but in 1966, Bugandi began enrolling students from all over the New Guinea mainland and forms 3 and 4 were begun.
“In 1968, for the first time, 87 boys sat for the intermediate certificate while another 58 sat for their school certificate examination.
“When I arrived there were problems; Jack was trying to develop another oval in order to accommodate all the rugby league teams that played at the school each week, but the trees were found to be full of shrapnel.
 Bruce Owner, teacher at Bugandi in 1969 and 1970

“The area closer to the Markham River had been a battleground between Australian and Japanese troops in the Second World War and students often found bits and pieces of Japanese war materiel and occasionally dangerous, unexploded bombs.
“So after 1968, no new land was opened up and a consolidation began.
 One of Bugandi's first female teachers, Joyce Stephenson, in 1969

“Existing buildings were improved or extended.
“The last piece of land developed was an Australian football oval while the last building erected during my stay was a chapel/assembly hall.”
 Student brings in his laundry after work parade

Murrell remembers Amesbury as a stocky, sandy-haired man with a demanding expression and occasional wry smile, a former Royal Australian Navy man. 
“He had been present on an Australian vessel at Wewak during the surrender of the Japanese and, consequently, he ran his school like the huge naval ship that he had been used to.
“Jack always referred to his students, no matter how young, as ‘men’ and his first words at every assembly were always ‘right men! on deck!’
“The students were up at the crack of dawn to shower in the ablution blocks.
“They ate a breakfast of wheat-meal cakes with jam and hot tea in the mess and then listened to the morning news on 9LA as they prepared for lessons.
“Some boys were rostered each day to keep the area around their domitories clean and tidy.
 Getting ready for work parade at the Bugandi assembly ground

“They wore government-issued white cotton drill shirts and navy or khaki shorts.
“Assembly was at seven sharp and no-one, absolutely no-one, was ever late.
“The assembly area in those days was to the right of the main drive-way into the school, in front of Jack’s office and the small staffroom, which was quite inadequate for a staff of 24.
“After assembly, English master, Charles Cazabon, and his staff, would take all the form one students to the two messes for 20 minutes of English language drills, while the other students went straight to classes.
“Students were punished for speaking their own village languages and Tok Pisin.
“They were required to speak English at all times and were reported to the principal by the prefects if they did not.”
During lessons, Jack Amesbury would often suddenly appear at a classroom window and take all the boys - Bugandi was a boys’ school in those days - and the teacher, out to work on the school farm or some other task.
“Classrooms had usually 25 double-desks accommodating up to 50 students per class.
“Sometimes there was a cupboard and for the teacher, there was a table - but no chair.
“Jack Amesbury didn’t like his teachers to sit down during their lessons.
“Some teachers would sit on a desk or even on the table but would always keep a wary eye out for an approaching principal.
“If you were caught sitting during a lesson, you could expect to be scolded in a way that only Jack could manage, and in front of your students too.
“Lessons for the students finished at 1pm and were followed by lunch, usually consisting of kaukau, other vegetables and soup.
“Boys rostered to mess duty helped the cooks to serve and clean up.
“The school was divided in to four houses and one house had to do work parade one day per week, all afternoon, until about 4.30.
“Some boys worked on the farm or at caring for the flower gardens, some cut grass with their serifs around teachers’ homes, while others cleaned the ablution blocks.
“Some boys worked on special projects like building the new swimming pool, or constructing the fish ponds, the new chapel/assembly hall or the tractor shed, while others ran the school tuck-shop operated by the Bantin Co-operative Society, whose president was Utula Samana.
“Selected boys helped Charles Cazabon in the library and others helped me to print t-shirts in the art room.
“After work parade, the students could relax until dinner or perhaps do their laundry.
“Dinner consisted of rice, instead of kaukau, and some green vegetables like aibika or spinach with some bully-beef or tinned mackerel.
“Immediately after that, from 7 until 9, boys went for night study in their classrooms, supervised by duty teachers.
“No-one could be late or absent without a good reason and the duty teacher would count the students present in each room.
“Following that, students were then free for an hour but had to be in bed by 10pm, lights-out time.
“Students could go into Lae town with permission on Saturdays and Sundays but they had to be back in their dormitories by midnight on Saturdays and 10pm on Sundays and the duty teacher and prefects would be waiting to catch those who might be late.
“There was usually a small group of boys up for punishment on Monday mornings for being back late.
The school, according to Murrell, had 20 prefects appointed by Jack Amesbury and presided over by the school captain and his deputy.
“These two students were in control of over 300 boys who not only studied, ate, slept and worked but who also took part in such things as debating, art activities, the Cadet Corps, first aid activities, scouting, civil defence, preparing the school magazine, the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, traditional dancing, the organisation of the annual school mumu, and of course, sport.
“They played rugby league, Australian football, hockey, basketball, cricket, volleyball and baseball.
“Many teams from all over Lae played in a rugby league competition held at the school each Saturday and every Bugandi student was required to take part.
 Bugandi teacher Charles Cazabon and his wife at top town in Lae.He taught at Bugandi from 1967 until 1970

“On Friday nights, students watched a 16mm movie flown over from George Page’s store in Port Moresby, movies like ‘Elephant Walk’ or ‘Giant’.
“During that first year and during the three further years I taught at the school, I cannot remember any boy not working hard to prepare for his future.
“In the late sixties, it was not easy for a boy to go to high school and boys who were selected used their lucky chance wisely.
“They knew that any boy who didn’t follow the Bugandi way of doing things could be immediately dismissed and sent back to his village."


  1. Meri Lae11:17 PM

    Very interesting and informative read. Certainly makes one yearn for days gone by and wonder where we went wrong.

  2. Ex-BCB2:14 PM

    Truely inspiring article. If only todays students were disciplined like those in the early days-there would be no lateness, absentism and our sole focus will be on suceeding!