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14 posts from June 2006

John Kerr

Kerr_john I’ll be attending former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s 90th birthday celebration on Tuesday 11 July. It will be held, appropriately some might feel, at Sydney’s Machiavelli Restaurant. It’s impossible to mention Whitlam, of course, without thinking of his nemesis, John Kerr, the first Principal of ASOPA.

Sir John Kerr [1914-91], a former Chief Justice of NSW and Australia’s 18th Governor-General, dismissed Gough Whitlam’s Labor government on 11 November 1975, provoking one of the most significant political crises in Australian history. Kerr was born in Balmain, his father a boiler-maker, and won a scholarship to Sydney University, graduating in law. He spent World War 2 working for an Australian intelligence organisation, the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs, under Colonel Alf Conlon. In 1946 he became the first Principal of ASOPA and the first Secretary-General of the South Pacific Commission before returning to the bar in 1948, where he became one of Sydney's leading industrial lawyers.


Ngvillager It was said of the late Charles Rowley that he “brought to his principalship [of ASOPA] an outstanding record in academic achievement and scholarship together with wide experience and competence as an educator, administrator and historian. These qualities enabled him, during his thirteen years as Principal, to establish for ASOPA a reputation for sound scholarship among academic institutions in Australia and overseas”. Now, I’m pleased to be able to report, Charles Rowley’s pioneering study, The New Guinea Villager, is available free on the Internet. You can find it here.


When Education Officers left ASOPA after their two year training course they were awarded the Certificate in Education (CertEd) which entitled them to teach but did not fully qualify them. The final qualification (the NSW Teacher’s Certificate) required three years successful teaching experience and this experience, and fitness for promotion, was judged through annual inspections conducted by District Inspectors, remote, godlike figures whose power to influence one’s future career was held in awe. Or something like that.

Between 1958 and 1971 every inspection report was dutifully sent from Konedobu to the NSW Education Department in Sydney which, after three years, or in one notable case six years, issued Teacher’s Certificates to the fortunate.

These inspection reports make fascinating reading are now held by State Records NSW, the Government archives and records management authority at Kingswood in Sydney’s west. A battered old archive box contains the reports, which retain a musty tropical odour. The identification details, which you can look up here for yourself, are Series 3909, Box 10/38045.

Kingswood The Western Sydney Records Centre is located at 143 O'Connell Street, Kingswood [see photo], where there is ample parking and a well equipped readers’ lounge. Its opening hours are 9-5 Monday-Friday and 10-4 on Saturday. It has a good website here from which you can obtain further information.


A couple of months ago I noted that David Keating (ASOPA 1961/62) had started work on a project to document the impact of schoolteachers on the development and growth of organised sport in Papua New Guinea between 1960 and 1975.

Assisted by a research student from the University of Queensland, David’s project has the backing of the PNG Sports Federation, which is itself very aware of the lack of written records of that period.

Now David is ready to collect those sports stories, memoirs and anecdotes from people previously involved with sport in PNG. David says: “It is both intriguing and fascinating to reminisce and recollect memories of days gone by and it’s our aim to gather as many of these stories as possible and to store them in good care, so that anyone can come and view them and reflect on the times they (and others) have experienced.”

David is looking for people to respond to his request by 31 August this year and, if you want to know more about his research, you can contact him here or at PO Box 73, New Farm Queensland 4005 or on telephone 0413 880 188.

Once the anecdotes are collated, they will be published as a little book of memoirs. “Think of yourself as contributing to the preservation of history,” says David, “an important part of PNG sports history, too.”

David’s provided some ‘thought starters’ to point you in the right direction.

Did you go on any interesting or unusual sporting trips? Perhaps there was a stuff-up with travel arrangements?

Were you ever involved in dangerous or life-threatening situations while playing sport? Perhaps you’ve played in front of a rough crowd or maybe stepped on a snake?

Were you ever a part of a lopsided competition? Did the two teams try to solve the problem or did you ignore it, leaving one side battered and bruised?

Did you run into trouble with the locals because you didn’t understand the traditional customs and culture? Has this ever affected you as an athlete, teacher, coach or referee?

Did you ever run into any financial difficulties, like being unable to buy equipment or maybe team uniforms for everyone? Did you ever try fundraising?

Are there any lasting friendships with expatriates or locals that were forged on the sporting arena and still exist from your time in PNG? What about those you’ve never seen after a team break up? Were there any characters you particularly remember? What were they like? Did you know someone involved in sport in PNG who has gone on to fame or fortune in another field?

Did your time in PNG change you as a person? Has your life been permanently influenced by some of these sporting adventures?  What did you get back personally from the efforts you expended in PNG?


A couple of months ago, MY Orion completed its first expedition cruise to Papua New Guinea and the voyage log [extracts of which I append] has just appeared on the Internet. My wife Ingrid and I will be cruising PNG on the Orion in October-November and, during that voyage, I look forward to sharing with you my experiences of revisiting a place I haven’t seen since leaving more than 30 years ago.

Tuesday 21 March: Nivani Island, Deboyne Lagoon, Lat 10°46’S, Long 152°24’E. This morning we anchored off the island of Nivani in the Deboyne Lagoon. Upon arrival a scout boat was sent ashore. Within a few minutes a report came back indicating conditions were good and a landing would be possible. Once ashore we realised we had discovered a bit of paradise: coconut trees, white sand, crystal clear water. On offer was swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. Many of us made our way to the WW2 Zero in just two metres of water. It was in perfect condition and home to a variety of fish and corals.

Zodiac Friday 31 March: Watam Village, Sepik River, Lat 3°54’S, Long 144°32’E. Within minutes of arriving in the Sepik, we could see the scout boat shoot off in the direction of Watam. It reported favourable conditions for a landing and without hesitation we loaded into Zodiacs and went ashore. We were greeted by dancing, singing and laughter and, until the moment we left, treated like royalty by people who had never met us but acted like they were our long lost friends. We were shown around the village with stops at the school and the church. The rest of the morning was spent talking to locals and observing basket weaving and sago making. Every one of us left Watam marked with red dye on our cheeks and with an experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Photo: Orion Expedition Cruises


The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is conserving the cultural history of all its sites, including the former ASOPA precinct, through the stories and memories of people who have been associated with them. The Trust interviews these people and records their oral histories. The subsequent recordings and transcripts provide historical snapshots and first hand accounts of the impact these institutions had on people’s lives. The Harbour Trust is keen to hear from people who worked or studied at ASOPA and, if you’re interested in participating, you can contact the Resource Centre Coordinator here.


Bob Clark (email him here), Senior Heritage Planner with the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust writes in the June 2006 issue of Una Voce: Things are beginning to happen down at Middle Head that will lead to a new lease of life for the former ASOPA and its later manifestations. The site is part of former defence land at Georges Heights/Middle Head handed to the newly established Interim Sydney Harbour Federation Trust in 1999. In 2001 the Interim Trust became the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust under its own Act of Federal Parliament charging it with opening various (now eight) sites to the public and conserving, protecting and interpreting their environmental and cultural heritage.

Burrell_asopa05_060The Trust has just commissioned a Conservation Management Plan covering ASOPA and its neighbouring 10 Terminal Regiment. This is the beginning of a process that will gather relevant information for the production of a Plan of Management. The plan will outline the proposed future for the site and a draft will be provided for public comment and displayed on the Trust’s website.

The Conservation Management Plan will include an historical overview of the area, a survey the current condition of the buildings, an assessment of their heritage significance and recommend appropriate uses for the buildings and policies for their conservation and interpretation.

Bohlenasopa05 The Trust and the historian undertaking the overview are interested in receiving photographs of the buildings (internal and external) and their inhabitants and information on teaching staff. ASOPA was highly regarded as a special educational institution. Are you aware of any other institutions in other countries that mirrored ASOPA’s role and success?

An Open Day on site is held in conjunction with the exhibition of the Plan of Management. Given the importance of ASOPA, it is planned to hold a separate Open Day purely for ex students, teachers and staff of the School to gather names, learn more about the institution and to discuss an oral history program.

Photos: Dennis Burrell and Bill Bohlen, from the Class of 1962-63 Reunion, October 2005.

Camilla Wedgwood

Wedgwood Camilla Hildegarde Wedgwood [1901-55], anthropologist and educationist, was born in England, a descendant of Josiah Wedgwood, the master potter. In 1920 she went to Cambridge to study anthropology. She passed with first-class honours in 1924 but the university did not award degrees to women until 1948.

In 1928 she was appointed lecturer in anthropology at Sydney University from where, in 1932-34, she undertook fieldwork on Manam, a volcanic island of 4000 inhabitants off the north coast of New Guinea. She then spent 1935 in Nauru.

It was clear from her research on Manam and Nauru that, in spite of her own unmarried independence, she saw a subordinate role for women in marriage and the wider society as part of the natural order.

In 1935 Wedgwood was appointed principal of Women's College at the University of Sydney. As principal and daughter of a well-known British Labour politician, Lord Wedgwood, she was a public figure in Sydney, prominent in charitable causes as well as a member of the strongly pacifist Quakers.

In 1944 Wedgwood was commissioned lieutenant colonel in the Australian Army and served as a research officer in Alf Conlon's Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. Here she developed policies for postwar educational reconstruction in Papua New Guinea, where she served intermittently in 1944-45. On an army bivouac, when offered a cigarette by her young cadets, she replied: “No thanks, I roll my own”.

Following demobilisation in 1946, she became a popular figure at ASOPA, where she was senior lecturer in native administration.

Camilla Wedgwood died of cancer on 17 May 1955 at Royal North Shore Hospital. A girls' secondary school at Goroka in the New Guinea Highlands and a memorial lecture in Port Moresby were named after her and her friend James McAuley dedicated his poem Winter Nightfall to her.

Author: David Wetherell

Photo: Australian War Memorial

Read more in The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Alf Conlon

Alf_conlon_1937 Colonel Alfred (Alf) Conlon [1908-61] chaired Prime Minister John Curtin's committee on national morale in 1942 and, the following year, reporting to commander-in-chief General Sir Thomas Blamey, assumed charge of the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. In this role, he assembled around him a group of talented people, among them John Kerr, James Plimsoll, James McAuley, Harold Stewart, Camilla Wedgwood, HIP Hogbin, WEH Stanner and Isa Leeson.

One of the Directorate’s main functions was to provide policy advice on the government of the Trust Territory - Papua - and the Mandated Territory - New Guinea. Even in this early post-war period, Conlon' s activity extended beyond military exigency to anticipate PNG's independence. Under his leadership the Directorate performed work of enduring value: the two Territories were placed under one administration, their laws consolidated and codified, and the School of Civil Affairs was established to train service personnel as colonial administrators. In peacetime this became the Australian School of Pacific Administration.

Conlon's propensity for informal contact, deliberate avoidance of regular channels and neglect of administrative process (attributes later much emulated in PNG under Australian administration) led to clashes with official bodies. So Conlon relinquished this appointment, only to spend 1948-49 as an unsuccessful and unhappy principal of ASOPA.

Thereafter he resumed his medical degree at the University of Sydney and qualified, with difficulty, afterwards conducting a mainly psychiatric practice from his North Sydney home.

Conlon was of tall and bulky build. He smoked, drank and ate liberally, avoided fresh air and shunned exercise. He declared he was not interested in a long life, and he did not have one. But his enterprise and energy created a solid foundation for ASOPA and for the development of Papua New Guinea.

Read more in The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Author: Peter Ryan


John Kleinig writes in the most recent issue of Una Voce, the journal of the PNG Association of Australia: Those who had anything to do with ASOPA will be interested in the glossy new signboard that you can now find outside the former Hallstrom Library at Middle Head. Titled ‘The Old Pacific Training Centre’ it goes on……

“This collection of weatherboard buildings was built for the Army just before World War II. It became the School of Pacific Administration after the war and was later used by AusAid to train public servants, diplomats and Pacific nationals.”

The Harbour Trust, with what appears to be unlimited funds from the Commonwealth Government, is “restoring the precinct to create a place for public use and recreation”. So with the flick of the signwriter’s wrist, it appears that the site will now be transformed into a picnickers’ haven complete with some of the best views of the harbour.

Other suggestions in the past have included a school holiday or arts camp, a backpacker facility for schools and visitors, an open air amphitheatre and so on. There may be some fleeting reference to the work of ASOPA, probably in one of the touristy type brochures you find in the onsite weather-proof containers. Or maybe they have some plans to incorporate some of the past into the new facility. A quick look at the website didn’t give much away.

I don’t want to give the impression that the Harbour Trust is an insensitive, amateurish show. In fact the opposite is the case. The refurbishment of Lower Georges’ Heights is a stunning example of what can be done when you have the money, leadership and expertise. As well, the site has one of the best views of the harbour. Before they move to the next stage, which will probably include the ASOPA site, it would be intriguing to find out what is now planned.


The PNG Gossip Newsletter (subscribe for free here) reports that Sir Michael Somare is on the way to achieving something that has not happened previously in Papua New Guinea - running a full term as elected Prime Minister. Previous PMs, including Sir Michael himself, have succumbed to votes of no confidence on the floor of Parliament.

E Course memorabilia

GRAEME O'Toole’s E Course website continues to expand and is a must see for people involved in teaching in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s.

Amongst other embellishments, Graeme has recently added to the site extracts from The Magnet, the magazine of the sixth E Course – in this case some delightfully candid pen portraits of the lecturing staff.

Former E Course personnel who have not yet been in touch with Graeme can contact him at this email address.

Hal Wootten

Halwootten Hal Wootten QC AC, one of Australia's most brilliant legal minds, is a former NSW Supreme Court judge, a former Chairman of the Press Council and an expert on Aboriginal and Papua New Guinea affairs. He was also one of the founding staff members of ASOPA immediately after World War 2.

In an interview with Peter Thompson of ABC Radio National, he tells of how this came about…..

"Well, when I was working for the private solicitor and feeling very unhappy, and wondering what I’d do, I got a phone call out of the blue from someone who said his name was John Kerr. He wanted to talk to me about the possibility of a job, and would I meet him in a coffee shop. He described to me what a Colonel’s uniform looked like, and I went down.

"He had just become Principal of the Australian School of Pacific Administration, which was the civilian metamorphosis of the LHQ of Civil Affairs, which had trained people to go back for the administration of British North Borneo when it was re-taken from the Japs, and had done other work.

"The Australian School of Pacific Administration was to be a permanent school training field staff, magistrates, patrol officers and so on for New Guinea, for the resumption of civil administration. These of course were still in the days of the great post-war idealistic outburst before the Cold War had really killed everyone’s enthusiasm, poverty was to be tackled, colonialism was to be got rid of, racial discrimination was to be eliminated and there was a whole brave new world to be built.

"Part of the picture of ASOPA was that it was to work towards preparing Papua-New Guinea for independence, as part of the world-wide decolonisation process. So there was a very attractive, a very idealistic agenda associated with the School. Anyway I ended up going there, initially as a general tutor and then as a law lecturer, and I was there for five years which were very interesting years.


Today’s issue of the Sydney Morning Herald features an article on the current state of play in Papua New Guinea which is a ‘must read’ for any person with an interest in Australia’s former territory.

The article, ‘The other disaster on our doorstep’, which you can link to here, was written by Allan Patience, professor of political science at the University of Papua New Guinea, who will win no friends in Port Moresby for his candid and even brutal political, economic and social assessment.

An extract…..

“The education system has all but disintegrated. Literacy rates are plummeting as schools close. Teachers are not being paid properly, or are not being paid at all. The higher education sector is fragmented and grotesquely under-resourced. It long ago ceased being the main builder of human capacity for PNG.

“Over the past two years the United Nations Development Program has placed PNG successively lower on its Human Development Index because essential services are failing and governance is stalling. Now the UN has warned that PNG may be downgraded from being a 'developing state' to a 'least developed state', ranking it among the poorest nations in the world.

“Canberra's befuddled responses to the looming crisis in PNG have been as reactive as its responses to the Honiara and Dili catastrophes. Its aid programs over the three decades of PNG's independence have, at best, held a shaky line between basic incompetence and total disaster.”