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9 posts from May 2006


For those of us who learned the only Anthropology we know while at ASOPA and under the scrupulous and expert tutelage of scientists like Dr Ruth (Fink) Latukefu and Prof Charles Rowley, it will probably come as no surprise to learn of the institution's significant role in the study of Anthropology in Australia.

This has now been documented in the current issue of the Australian Historical Studies journal (Vol 37 No 127, April 2006), which includes a paper by social anthropologist Dr Geoffrey Gray reflecting on the crucial role of ASOPA in shaping Australia’s contribution to the science. Here’s an abstract of the paper, which is entitled The Army Requires Anthropologists: Australian Anthropologists at War, 1939–1946.

World War II had unexpected consequences for the development of anthropology in Australia; it led to a breaking of the hegemonic control exercised by the Sydney (University anthopology) department by the creation of, first, the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) and second, the establishment of the Australian National University (ANU).

Both institutions affected the way anthropology was practised and theorised, as well as removing the training of colonial field officers to ASOPA, the original raison d’etre for the Sydney (University) department. While the institutional consequences of the war are relatively well known, the work of anthropologists during the war and how their work contributed to the changes is less well known.


The 1961-62 ASOPA reunion organising committee is working assiduously to prepare for next year’s event at the Cedar Lakes Country Club near Nerang on Queensland’s Gold Coast. The reunioOrganisersn will be held from 24 – 26 August and 61/62ers and former colleagues who may wish to attend should contact David Keating here. He'll give you the full drum.

The committee has negotiated a very favourable rate for accommodation and the reunion, the first since this group left ASOPA in 1962, is shaping up as a special occasion indeed.

The committee is pictured here (left to right): Peter Stuckey, Merv Dunkin, Ron Antoine, Bob Schultz, David Keating, Di Harwood (nee Withers) and Liz Gregory (nee Keegan).


Sir John Kerr QC was not only a controversial Governor-General of Australia and a lapsed mate of Gough Whitlam, he was also the first Principal of the Australian School of Pacific Administration.

In an article thankfully still on the Ausaid website (The End of a Unique Institution), which you can read here, Bill Goff eulogises about ASOPA’s demise and also provides some keen insights into the important contribution John Kerr made to its early days…..

Just how close the institution came to being still-born as a civilian school was revealed in a speech prepared by John Kerr, who had taught law at the School during the war and became first Principal of ASOPA. Kerr wrote: “The idea was opposed, and opposed in influential quarters. Attempts were made when the time came to demobilise the Military School to bring the whole academic venture to an end. … We were determined that what had been created should not be destroyed. In this we succeeded.”

Kerr had obviously displayed some early political skills, because not only was ASOPA established, but he also became organising secretary of the interim South Pacific Commission, which was conveniently housed in the same group of army huts as the School.


If you want to keep up to date with happenings in Papua New Guinea, including some of the more eccentric events that don't necessarily make the headlines, I suggest you tune into the PNG Gossip website. The most recent PNG Gossip newsletter, for example, tells of a  Melbourne con man who, posing as a vanilla buyer, for some bizarre unexplained reason stole more than 750 kilograms on vanilla from a Wewak company. The website offers you the opportunity to subscribe to a regular weekly newsletter full of PNG web links, gossip and news.


Like about half that ASOPA Class of 1962-63, after a few years in Papua New Guinea a gently humorous beanpole of a man and drummer extraordinaire, Howard Ralph, quit teaching. His passion was for medicine and, initially, he became a veterinary surgeon, and a good one – celebrated for his expertise in treating Australia’s native animals.

Later he undertook medical training and became an anaesthetist. More precisely he became a country anaesthetist. The distinction is important because Howard and his wife Glenda continue a love affair with the Australian bush and its wildlife.

Now Howard writes to me that he is two weeks in recovery after major surgery for removal of an aggressive carcinoma. “It feels as though I was suddenly dragged from my beloved anaesthetic work on the south coast to glorious Sydney to undertake yet another assault on my unwilling body and less willing mind”, he says.

“Each time I survive one of these events, and arrive at some distance on the other side of the trauma, I reflect on how fortunate we are in Australia to have available the very best in medical care.

“Despite the constant miserable denigration from some media and some in Government, and the routine attacks from the legal profession, the medical system remains one of the best in the world. We are indeed fortunate.”

As you can tell from these sentiments, Howard remains his feisty self. The same man who adopted a spartan regime of brown rice, kaukau and boipis at that remote highlands outpost while he saved to put himself through medical school. And, yes, Howie, I remember my one meal. And I remember you ate it three times a day.

I wish Howard well. Extravagantly, rudely well. And you can contact him here if you want to say hello.


Kevin Meade is a reporter at the Brisbane bureau of The Australian newspaper and the author of a book published last year - Heroes Before Gallipoli, about the capture of German controlled Rabaul by Australian troops in 1914.

Kevin writes: “I've just read your article, Mataungan Memories, on the ASOPA website. During my research for the book, mainly at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, I was able to glean a fair amount of information about the Australians who fought at Rabaul. However, I could find very little about the Tolai people who fought on the German side. As I wish to write more about Tolai involvement, I wonder if you could help steer me towards anyone who may have information on this matter.”

If you can point Kevin in the right direction, contact him here.

The great Hood Lagoon 'scam'

Jeff Chapman’s story on the ASOPA website goes like this…..

Hood Lagoon is 100 km east of Port Moresby. I taught there in 1965/66 – with some success. In fact, the panel marking the Standard 6 examination papers in Moresby in 1966 didn’t believe the high scores my students achieved. Outcome - the whole class was forced to re-sit the exam a few weeks later. The ‘second chance’, as the kids saw it, was held at Hula, four hours walk from Hood Lagoon. The class left home in the dark and without breakfast to sit the extra exam. They were scrutinised by two supervisors, whose presence they found intimidating. Fortunately, the results were better than the original and had to be accepted.

Now ex E Courser Richard (Dick) Clarke writes…..

Apparently examination papers from a number of schools were suspected of being tampered with. Jim Tarr, the examinations officer, conducted subsequent examinations at Hula Primary School.

My outrage at the accusation of papers being tampered with was noted by Don Christie (Assistant District Inspector) and we received an apology after the results of the subsequent examination. I later found out that tampering indeed had been carried out at one school and possibly several others.

My opinion at the time was that some members of the Primary Final Marking Panel could not accept that a remote school like Hood Lagoon could outscore a school in the capital, Port Moresby.

The story of that class at Hood Lagoon is still remembered today by those who were involved. I was reminded of these event by ex-pupils when I visited Hood Lagoon several years ago.


Albert Mispel whose own account of his time in Papua New Guinea can be found here has told me of another excellent Internet offering authored by John O'Rorke [ASOPA 1959], focusing on life in the Gulf of Papua in the early 1960s. John tells some great stories and has put up some terrific pictures of that time. Here's an extract to whet your appetite.....

The recent opening of the New Guinea Highlands and the first contact with primitive people was front-page news and I knew that a number of Dookie Diplomates had gone there after graduation to work for the Department of Agriculture. Added to this, a good friend had recently been killed piloting a plane in the highlands. New Guinea was remote but it was in the news. There was a bit of romanticism, a need for adventure, plus the growing awareness that I had to find and assert myself as a person.

Without telling Dad or anyone, I discussed my thoughts with a friend of the family, Senator Harry Wade. He got me an interview for the position of Assistant Agricultural Officer with the Department of Agriculture, Stock & Fisheries under the Administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Phew! What a mouthful, but it sure sounded exciting and adventurous! I was accepted, and told to present myself at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA), at Mosman, Sydney, in early June of 1959.


Asopa3 Ron Antoine (ASOPA 61/62), Les Peterkin (ASOPA physical education lecturer in the early sixties) and David Keating (ASOPA 61/62) recently got together at Chillingham (NSW), the gateway to Springbrook National Park. I think we’d all have to admire the youthful energy radiating from our erstwhile colleagues.