Saturday, April 26, 2014

Two White Feet


I was enjoying a glass of wine at the garden bar in Alotau International Hotel as the author of Two White Feet (2013), Alan Robertson Quartermain, approached me. I was on my first wine glass to prepare for the evening dinner. He noted the comfort I had made myself at the bar. He wanted draft beer, but the bar had no proper glasses for draft beer so he settled for a SP green.

We got talking. I had known him only at a superficial distance all the time we met.

In few minutes of enjoying the cool drinks I was to learn something personal about Dr. Alan Robertson Quartermain. He was born in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, but spent most of his lifetime outside of his home country. The other personal information he shared with me after he had given his personal memoir: Two White Feet is that he is married to a Sepik woman, Jane Leo Bagiru and they have a son, Leslie Leo Quatermain.

I appreciated knowing such personal information to help me understand this great man. Dr. Alan R. Quartermain has devoted almost 28 years of a long and varied, sometimes exciting, off-times amusing professional life to higher education and research for agriculture in Papua New Guinea.

According to his memoire he was born in 1936 in Wellington, New Zealand. He has given his time and life’s commitment to the needs of rural people in developing countries since his basic agricultural science degrees in New Zealand. Dr. Quartermain received his PhD from the Iowa State University, USA.

He has taught in five universities, two in Africa (Zambia and Zimbabwe) and three in PNG, and worked for research institutions in New Zealand and for the PNG National Agricultural Research Institute.’

Quartermain has been fortunate to have been engaged in many agricultural consultancies in 28 developing countries, mainly for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He focused on providing advice on livestock and rural development, agricultural education and research institutional development.

A busy life lived is a fertile harvest legacy. Dr. Quartermain took time off for five years to farm a 40ha sheep and cattle unit all by himself and all along or from time to time has been a father, democratic socialist, a pacifist, a connoisseur of wildlife and wilderness, a lover of rugby (both codes), an amateur thespian and a practitioner of strathspey and reel.
  
In 2011 Dr. Allan Robertson Quartermain was awarded the Officer of the Order of Logohu (OL) in the PNG New Year’s Honours. This award was given to a man who had given so much service and dedication to the development of Papua New Guinea over 28 years. The recognition he received for his unwavering service to Papua New Guinea is a testament of commitment of a man who provided quality advice and education to Papua New Guineans.

Memoires are important record of the author’s life, but also serve as the blue-prints of a life well lived, but given exceptional treatment in recounting the perils, challenges, and achievements.

Now that Alan Robertson Quartermain has written his memoire entitled Two White Feet, he has given us (the reader) to peer into a life that we may have known only by name or even not-at-all. Dr. Quartermain’s father’s name is Leslie Bowden Quatermain MBE, the English Master at Wellington College, who was involved in the Presbyterian Bible Class movement in Zealand and later to achieve Antartic fame.  Dr. Quartermain traces his maternal genealogical tree to a Scottish heritage through the line of his mother’s great grandfather Alexander Yule who arrived in Zealand and landed on the Petone foreshore from the Bengal Merchant in 1840. This was the first organized Wellington settlement.

Chapter 2 of the memoire is devoted to the foundation Massey University that prepared Dr. Quartermain into the world beyond New Zealand.

“Massey was a springboard for a varied and exciting career spanning 32 countries and six universities and including the spells at Ruakura Animal Research Station in Hamilton, New Zealand, and farming in Wairarapa,” Dr. Quatermain writes.

From Massey, after his Masters Degree, he took up a teaching job as an assistant lecturer in the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a college of the University of London. In this chapter “Up Against the Colour Bar” he recounts the challenges of the ocean journey and the face-to-face introduction to the colour problem, which led him to the world of African national politics and confrontation the entrenched racial discrimination.

Escaping the traps of African politics Allan entered the Iowa State University to do his doctoral studies, thanks to the Fulbright Educational Exchange Programme.

 “My primary purpose at Iowa State University was to get my PhD degree, with a research thesis, which involved a somewhat esoteric fiddling with large volumes of dairy cow productions records from mid-west recording schemes to investigate possible underlying genetic mechanisms…In 1965 I left Iowa as soon as my PhD thesis was approved and headed for San Francisco where I was to catch the boat fro the second stage of the journey home to New Zealand,” he writes.

The rest is history as recounted in the rest of the book. Dr. Quartermain arrived in Papua New Guinea 1974, worked here as Associate Professor in Animal Production, at UPNG Lae campus, until 1981. He did various consultancies in different countries between 1979 and 1983.  He also served as Principal of Vudal University College, as the Chief Scientist for the National Agricultural Research Institute. He now serves as the Dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, UNRE.


Dr. Quatermain’s legacy is imprinted in the Alan Quartermain Multi-purpose Hall at NARI Bubia, Lae and at a dormitory at UNRE.

A beautiful memoire written with a candid style that is fresh and simple to follow. This memoire tells the story of someone who has influenced the lives of many people in PNG and around the world.

The book is on sale at the UPNG Bookshop for a good price.

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