Memories of a Mission: From 1961 to 2018.

Memories of a Mission: From 1961 to 2018.

By Geoffrey Picker (former Palms participant, 1961)

Looking back to 1961, 67 years ago when I did a Palms course at Springwood and then volunteering to go to the Catholic Missions it was an unforgettable experience and I will always remember those years. Roy Boylan and Mary Gilchrist  (Sadly are no longer with us) prepared us well for this journey and I remember all the very dedicated people I worked with. They helped to shape my life for the better.


On the Palms website in 2018, there was an article entitled 10 Reasons to Volunteer Overseas in 2018. I, personally, ticked 9 out of 10.


I experienced a new culture and it opened my eyes to see how different the Papuans were.  Living and working at the mission we had first-hand contact with their culture and it left behind many memorable moments. The  Papuans were friendly and never chasing the clock like we do. They taught me so many things about life and material things. They lived a simple life in their native village. The Papuans had few material things but they were still happy.


I did see a new part of the world and it was amazing. I was climbing mountains up to 4000 metres and trekking in unbelievable rainforests and crossing scary bridges. The Kosipe valley altitude 2044 metres was a site of an archaeology find, stone tools dating back to forty thousand years ago were discovered. In my spare time, I was fortunate enough to take part in a bit of history. I wrote a book about my experiences and captured many authentic photos of life as it really was in Papua.


I did make lifelong friends and this continued many years after I returned to Australia and I still remember those people who I worked with in the missions and particularly those members of Palms from 1961


I was a teacher at a Catholic Mission School in the Owen Stanley Ranges of Papua. I will try to give a realistic view of teaching Papuan boys in the 1960’s. There were no programs like we have today, no reports to parents and no homework. That sounds great but the emphasis was on making lessons fun and practical. We did have a basic curriculum and we planned the lessons to suit the boys culture and age level. All lessons had to be engaging, otherwise the Papuans would leave and return to the rainforest because school wasn’t compulsory. English was taught as a second language. Literacy and hygiene were very important in the boys’ education. Our school was promoting a positive learning environment and this helped to retain the boys at the school.


Today in 2018, the Sacred Heart Mission at Kosipe I have read from the news no longer exists. It was burnt out by a wildfire in 1997. The school, the Church and all the buildings were burnt to the ground. I am lucky enough to have photographs and stories of the Mission and at present, I am documenting each photo I took to create a picture of the mission before the fire. Father Michellod MSC a Swiss priest built the mission in the 1950s and it looked like buildings in his home village in Switzerland.

I enjoyed living in a Catholic Mission community as it helped me to grow as a person. I could share and converse with people from different backgrounds. There was a French priest who always made us feel welcome, three teachers from  Australia and France, a native Papuan teacher, a native order of nuns and an eccentric MSC brother who worked at the sawmill. We all got along and we helped each other in so ways to feel part of the group. Living at the Mission Station was interesting as we used to get visitors from a helicopter pilot dropping in for afternoon tea, a French Priest who walked 12 hours to attend a meeting. We also had patrol officers staying the night and the Bishop coming to stay for a few days.  And I can’t forget Bill our mailman, an Aussie guy from Australia who brought mail to us every month from Woitape airport the main admin town.


Living in community enriched our faith. We could go to Mass every morning and say the Rosary with the Papuans. We lived our Faith and always felt spiritually close to God.


I learnt basic French and some words and phrases from three Papuan languages. Knowledge of their language helped me to teach.


After 4 years of teaching at a Mission School in Papua I  returned to Australia and taught for 30 years in Catholic Schools and I completed 25 years as a volunteer in St Vincent De Paul helping the disadvantaged in our community. This would not have happened without making that decision to attend the PALMS Course in 1961.

Volunteering in a community abroad can be a lifechanging, memorable experience. Inspired to teach abroad? Check out our current opportunities. To support education in the Asia-Pacific, donate to one of our current education projects.