A sizeable and enthusiastic crowd gathered at Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, on 8 October, 2016 to hear Colonel Katrina Schildberger launch my book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence.
It’s amazing how many will turn up when free wine and nibbles are on offer 🙂 Everyone I’ve spoken to said they had a good time, and lots of books were sold.
Colonel Schildberger is Head of the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and travelled from Sydney for the occasion. She gave a great speech to launch the book.
The Chalkies tells the little-known story of some 300 teachers who were conscripted into the Australian Army between 1996 and 1972 and quietly sent to the then Territory of Papua New Guinea while Australian troops were fighting in Vietnam. It is published by Australian Scholarly Press, Melbourne.
The conscripted teachers, colloquially known as ‘Chalkies’, were posted to the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and their task was to upgrade the educational levels of indigenous troops of the Pacific Islands Regiment in what turned out to be critical years leading up to the country’s independence. For many it was their first year of teaching and their first time out of Australia.
The Director of Army Education at the time, Brigadier Ernest Gould, described the initiative as ‘an educational scheme which for magnitude, scope, intensity and enlightenment is without parallel in military history’.
Yet most Australians have never heard about it.
With the aid of an Army History Research Grant, I drew on the recollections of more than 70 former Chalkies and archival sources to tell the story of how these conscripted teachers (one of whom was me) responded to the challenges of a life most of them never wanted or imagined for themselves. A small go group of ex-Chalkies gave me feedback on my research to help keep me on track.
It was very appropriate that Colonel Schildberger launched the book, because not only is 1966 the 50th anniversary of the scheme’s beginnings in PNG, it is also the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Army Education in World War II.
The jacket blurb says The Chalkies is ‘a unique tale of the good, the bad and the unexpected, told against the background of military and political developments of the day’.
A former Australian Governor-General, Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery, who served two terms in PNG, wrote the foreword.
If you’re interested in reading The Chalkies, in Australia you can order a copy through your local bookstore, or direct from Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane. Alternatively, you could ask your local library to buy a copy. The ISBN is 978-1-925333-77-0.
Till next time
What writers say
By the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. ~George Orwell