When I was in Grade 5 and 6 in Primary School, I went to Ela Beach Primary School in Port Moresby.

It was a curious little school, with almost enough students for one class per grade. (Grades 3 and 4 were a combined class.)

The school was situated across the road from Ela Beach in a lovely location. Port Moresby's dry climate meant that our school oval didn't really have a good covering of grass: and the fact that the teachers drove their cars across the oval to park their cars didn't help. But there was a real life remnant of jungle on the hill above the oval. This was notable because most of Port Moresby's surrounds were grassland, caused by a fairly dry climate and the locals' habit of setting fire to hills for a combination of fun and to catch food.

The teachers in the school seemed eccentric: Mr Crilley, my grade 5 teacher had distinctive mood swings. Mrs Steele, my grade 6 teacher had severely grey hair and a manner that made over imaginative youngsters think of witches. To add to her 'strangeness', she was reportedly a Seventh Day Adventist. That was something I'd never encountered in suburban Melbourne.

Anyway: the point of this blog on the school is that we got an awful lot of political education in Grade 5 and 6. Which makes me wonder:

  • Is it normal for Grade 5 and 6 students to get a substantial dose of contemporary current affairs?; or
  • Did we get it because 1974/5 was a period when the whole world spoke about politics?;
  • Was the school truly unusual, perhaps because we were in Papua New Guinea? In a world where students didn't have access to television, and where most Australians felt they were remote from home, did our teachers feel a need to make an extra effort to keep us up to date?; or
  • Were those two teachers (who I always regarded as slightly eccentric) actually taking an expansive view of what they thought their students needed to learn?

Quite possibly my interest in current affairs and politics was sewn in those two very dramatic years.

I remember that in 1974 we learnt an enormous amount about somebody called Archbishop Makarios and the details of the troubles in Cyprus, leading to the takeover of northern Cyprus by the Turks.

Later in 1974, we were told that it was worthwhile paying attention to the Federal Election. This is because it was a Double Dissolution (that link is to my Wiki article on the subject). This had previously only happened twice in Australian Electoral History (1914 and 1951) so it was worth paying attention to.

(There have now been six Double Dissolutions in Australian Federal Politics. They aren't as rare as they used to be.)

Of course, in 1975, the events in Australian Politics (the Dismissal) were much more dramatic than the comparatively tame Double Dissolution that happened in 1974.

In August 1974 we also got to listen to Richard Nixon resigning. The technology of 1974 made this a distinctly tricky (sic) affair to follow. Somebody (presumably Voice of America) broadcast the resignation speech live on short-wave radio. One of the teachers' short-wave radios was placed next to the microphone for the school's intercom system, and the crackly voice of Tricky Dicky resigning was relayed through most of the classrooms in the school. (I presume that lower classes like the Preps and Grade 1 didn't get it. But it certainly went through to all the 'senior' years. After all, this was one of those events that had never ever happened before.)

The Dismissal happened too suddenly for the teachers to manage to relay any crackly short-wave reception of Gough Whitlam saying "Well may we say 'God Save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor General".  And by the time the election of 13th December 1975 I had finished Primary School, and we were on holidays. We heard the election result as we boarded a boat in the Philippines to go from Manila to Cebu.

Comments (1)
Anthony Holmes February 18th, 2007 07:57:10 PM

1) Grade 5 & 6 Politics Lessons
Michael McCormack 13/05/2013 11:16:05 PM

Childhood memories are fascinating - what was important historically differs from what matters to a kid. I was almost eight when the Dismissal occurred in November 1975, however I have no memories of it. However I do remember my birthday party that occurred a few weeks later extremely clearly! thinking about it, probably the first major historical event I recall was almost a year earlier - Cyclone Tracy and its aftermath in December 1974. Perhaps catastrophes make a deeper impression on young minds than politics? I wonder in, say, 2030 how many 36 year old Americans (i.e. those born in 1994) will directly remember the divided and rancorous US Election of November 2000? And how many will remember the events of a year later - 11 September 2011? My guess is that most will have few memories of the former and clear memories of the latter...

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