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13 posts from February 2007

James McAuley

Mcauley James McAuley AM [1917-76] was born in Lakemba, NSW, and was educated at the University of Sydney, graduating with an MA in 1940. At University he was an outstanding intellectual figure, distinguishing himself as a conversationalist, poet, jazz pianist, drinker and bohemian. Drafted into the army in 1942, he was appointed to the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs convened by Alf Conlon. In this position he instructed members of the Australian New Guinea Administration Unit.

From this time, McAuley maintained a great interest in Papua New Guinea, and was a lecturer at ASOPA from 1946-60. His essays on PNG, published in the journal South Pacific, were acclaimed. McAuley became editor of Quadrant in 1956 and was named reader in poetry at the University of Tasmania in 1961, prior to becoming professor of English. He died after a lingering illness at the age of 59.The James McAuley Lecture is delivered annually in his honour at the University of Tasmania.


By James McAuley

The magpie's mood is never surly
every morning, wakening early,
he gargles music in his throat,
the liquid squabble of his throat.

Its silver stridencies of sound,
the bright confusions and the round
bell-cadences are pealed
over the frosty, half-ploughed field.

Then swooping down self confidently
from the fence-post or the tree,
he swaggers in pied feather coat,
and slips the fat worms down his throat

[Sources: and]


I've recently come across a couple of intriguing articles about ASOPA’s progenitor, Alf Conlon. You may know that Colonel Conlon headed the wartime Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs from which ASOPA emerged. He was also the second, and not very happy, Principal of the School from 1948, after John Kerr left to return to legal practice, until 1950.

Conlon was described by one contemporary as “Svengali like” and it is controversially claimed that “Conlon created the mysterious Directorate in part as a haven for artists and intellectuals to avoid repeating the slaughter of the best minds of a generation that had impoverished Australian culture after the losses of the First World War”. He was apparently a charismatic figure, and had many influential associates including HV ‘Doc’ Evatt, Herbert ‘Nugget’ Coombs, Prime Minister John Curtin and General Sir Thomas Blamey. Apparently, and unfortunately, none of the records of the secretive Directorate remain.

Conlon once told publisher Peter Ryan, recently returned from New Guinea (as a 19-year-old warrant officer he had won a Military Medal) to become the Directorate's chief clerk, that it was "pathetic" to see how out of touch Blamey was when he returned from the Middle East. “Poor old bugger. He didn't have a clue who was up who in Canberra,” said Conlon. Ryan adds: “Up-to-the-minute knowledge of 'who was up who' was certainly a department of life where Alf claimed to excel and with much truth.”

We’ve previously reported the anecdote from Conlon’s nephew that, when facing resistance to the continuation of ASOPA from the Canberra bureaucracy, the great man loaded a couple of cartons of red into the boot of his car and took off to Canberra for ultimately successful discussions with Federal politicians.

Vale Sam Piniau

PiniauYoung“YOU might have heard about Sam,” the email from Moale Rivu began. “He has been sick for a while and has passed over to the other side.”

Dammit, Moale, he can’t be dead. When we were together in October he was fine. He told me he was in great shape.

We spent two days driving around the Gazelle in his clapped out car, visiting the places he wanted us to see and meeting his sweet wife and his grandkids and having dinner together on the Orion.

Photo11 Moale Rivu is the best PR man in Papua New Guinea. He’s a decent man and a respected man. And he tells the truth.

Sam Piniau OBE is dead at 68 and I have lost a very great mate.

Sam, whose father was a pastor in Rabaul, had been a bright young man. So sharp-witted his teachers found a place for him at a top high school in Australia – where he turned out to be as good a footballer as he was a student.

Returning to Papua New Guinea, he got into radio broadcasting just as it was beginning to burgeon and, after cutting his teeth on some tough assignments - like Bougainville when the secession movement was on the boil, before long found himself as Chairman and CEO of the National Broadcasting Commission.

In 1970, I took over Radio Bougainville from Sam, the couple of days spent handing over the station was the first time I’d met him. We liked each other, had a lot in common and got on like a house on fire.

He went to Moresby, eventually to run the NBC, and, after some years in Bougainville, I went to Indonesia to set up an educational radio service. In 1973 he persuaded me back to Moresby to head the policy and planning unit of the new NBC.

Together we prepared the NBC’s first five year plan, opened new stations, guided the organisation through Independence and tried desperately to manage a worsening financial situation.

Keith___sam_at_restaurant It was this problem that directly led to my leaving the organisation and which indirectly led to Sam’s departure. In 1975, as the NBC Act allowed, we tried to introduce advertising on to one of our networks to generate much-needed revenue.

There was a monumental political fight in which character assassination became the ordure of the day. I left shortly before the Somare government moved in Parliament to amend the NBC Act to prohibit advertising.

The government was defeated on the floor of the house. And soon thereafter, commercial broadcasting came to PNG.

But what had been a close friendship between Sam and Somare had been sorely tested, and Sam quit the NBC. Somare offered him the job of High Commissioner to Canberra, but Sam refused. He’d had a gutful of politics and of being a public servant.

While he contributed to national life thereafter, mainly though his involvement in the National Sports Commission, he never again went anywhere near politics.

When Sam died he was growing and trading in cocoa and vanilla. He leaves behind Dulcie, six grown-up kids and a host of grandkids. He was such a fine man.

Photos: Upper - Sam.  Mid - Sam [left] visiting Brisbane as a young man.  Lower – Sam and I sharing a glass (me SP, Sam Sunkist) at a Kokopo restaurant in October. I wrote in my diary at the time: “Death. When old mates get together, the subject they move to before most others ... ”


PrayertreeJane Belfield is nothing if not prolific. The former PNG Government Broadcasting Service journalist has written a second e-book under the name of her alter ego, Jane Hill. The Prayer Tree and Other Stories (you can read an excerpt if you follow the link) was published by Alinar Publications on 4 February. “This is a collection of short stories I’ve written over the years,” says Jane.

“The first story sets the theme, and is the only one in the collection which is not fiction. In the other six stories: a retired spinster schoolteacher goes in search of flowers for an old friend’s funeral; a widow visits a flamboyant fortune-teller; a wife takes revenge for her husband’s infidelity; an elderly woman, lonely following the death of her husband and the estrangement from her granddaughter, finds herself in hospital; a migraine forces a young woman to visit a doctor in an unfamiliar town; an encounter on a lonely beach is unnerving for a young divorcee. Yes, the leading players in all seven stories are women.”


Jane Belfield writes: I was shocked and immensely saddened to read of the death of John Beagley [ASOPA 1967-68] in Cairns. I first met The Beag when I was working as Extension Writer on the AIDAB Cocoa Quality Improvement Project in Rabaul between 1990 and 1993. I was accommodated in the Rabaul Travelodge, next to which was Studio KalaKala, where Beag held court on Saturday mornings (and most other days!).

As well as portraits and landscapes, Beag painted on fabric. He was ably assisted by several talented local chaps and did a roaring trade in beautifully decorated t-shirts and other items. I was a regular customer, and my daughter and her children still have the shirts, laplaps, sandshoes, library bags, and goodness knows what - all sent to them from Rabaul. I have many such items myself, as well as one of Beag's oils hanging on a wall.

Beagpix At one stage, Beag thought it would be fun to frame his customers. I hope you can publish the Beag and Beebee pics I've had pinned to my kitchen noticeboard for many years. I was Beebee.

Beag, being a man of many parts, also translated some of my CQIP scripts into Pidgin for broadcast and publication. And we became firm friends - a friendship that continued long after I left Rabaul in 1993 (and the volcanic eruption the following year).  I find it hard to believe that he's no longer with us. And I really miss his gossipy, hilarious and often ribald communiques. Lukim yu, Beag, old chum.


A Port Moresby conference has looked at how school fees can be abolished for PNG children. Education Secretary, Dr Joseph Pagelio, said children have the right to education but school fees pose a major barrier. He added, however, that it "might take a few years" before school fees were done away with. On my recent visit to PNG, it was abundantly clear that fees are preventing many kids from attending school at all and driving many others out before high school. Cash is always short in villages, especially in remote locations where people are engage in a constant struggle to find ways to earn money.

In the Trobriand Islands, for example, I spoke with one man who held the very pragmatic view that his kids would not go to high school unless they finished at the very top of their class. It simply would not be a worthwhile investment. Access to education is creating a significant gap between the new PNG 'middle class', who have paid employment or live in the big towns, and other Papua New Guineans. This is a prime example of an area where, with not many aid dollars, Australia could give a lot of PNG kids a real leg up.


In the 1950s, the first teachers to be recruited for PNG service trained at Bathurst Teachers’ College. The first Cadet Education Officer intake arrived at ASOPA in 1958, which was also the year of the inaugural Patrol Officer versus CEO rugby match, establishing a fiery and hard-fought tradition that was to continue for many years.

Asopa_crest I am indebted to Ian Robertson, now living in Brisbane and who was a member of the Class of 1958, for this information. Ian tells me that the CEO's – proud of their institution and their calling - fashioned a navy blue blazer with an eye-catching bird of paradise crest on the pocket (above). “Quite a number of CEO's had them,” says Ian. “We believed them to be ‘chick magnets’ but the PO's were less than complimentary.”

“To my knowledge the only kiap with one was Tom Steen,” says Ian. “When I visited Tom in Yorkshire in 2005 he still had the entire blazer. I have only the cut off pocket as my blazer shrank something terrible over the years.”

Ian also provided a pertinent clipping from the original, and perhaps the only, ‘ASOPA Toktok’ magazine in which a kiap versified his displeasure with these blazers:


“The ones that would wear a blazer
Have yet to feel the touch of razor
Upon their skin so delicate and fair
To be without blazer, they cannot bear.

“Yet when they go to the Territory,
They will not feel so young and free
To wear their blazers as of yore
And weather the scorn of the old B4

“Perhaps they won’t be put out
When greeted with a cheer and shout
Of ‘Up old school – rah – rah – rah,
Let’s send them back to A-SOPA!”

This poem and others of similar ilk which I will return to in future musings, were published under the headline, ‘The cult of the angry young men comes to ASOPA’. John Osborne (1929-94) would be doing barrel rolls in his grave.


Eharopapua Albert Mispel writes: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York currently has an exhibition called Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: Art of the Papuan Gulf. Gulf art, and the old religious culture, died out in the 1930s as it was considered pagan. It had been a very rich tradition based on the 15-year Mahevehe Cycle as described by FE Williams and other anthropologists. There are great collections of related artefacts in the US, Germany and Holland but not much of quality in Australian Museums.

Kevin Lock was with me in the Gulf in the very early sixties and we had a couple of masks made by old men who still knew the techniques. Mine ended up in the Moresby Museum and Kevin donated his to the Museum of Western Australia. The story of his eharo mask is on his Lock Family Ramblings blog, and it makes good reading.

Eharodelivery The blog includes a photo of the mask being paraded around the village, which I am very fond of as it shows the different generations and their attitudes. Masks and shields are now being remade but the break was too large and the spirit has been lost.


Edbrumby Ed Brumby (left), who spends his working days as General Manager International, of the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance, has issued a call to arms to the ASOPA Class of 1964-65. “Pride demands,” Ed declaims, “that the 64/65 cohort be represented at the October reunion and I’m intending to be there: not, I hope, as the sole standard-bearer.”

The Melbourne-based institute is the leading provider of insurance education, training and professional services to the financial services industry in the Asia Pacific region. Members of that distinguished group of Asopians can go here to find out more about the Brisbane reunion planned for 12-14 October this year. And you can contact Ed at this email address.


Oskar2 In 1964, the Evangelical Brotherhood Church started a new outreach at To'okena in the Upper Lamari Region south of Kainantu. They preached the Gospel, established a Primary T School, taught Pidgin classes and set up an Aid Post. They also sent Swiss Oskar Hauser, a graduate of the 4th E-Course, and his wife to start the school. Oskar’s story – and other stories from E-Course graduates - is on Graeme O’Toole E-Course website which you can find here.

Photo – The Hauser’s native materials home at To’okena.


Moresby Steamships Trading Company, which began its commercial life in Port Moresby early last century, will spend K100 million on an 11-storey building in the central business district of Port Moresby. The Mary Street serviced apartments will accommodate 150 tenants and will be located between the St John Anglican Church (where I was married for the first time) and land now vacant but once occupied by the Papuan Hotel (in whose Snakepit I consumed the occasional ale). Tenants will occupy one, two or three bedroom serviced apartments and there will also be a restaurant, coffee lounge, pool and bar.


Top of the sheet in the most recent issue of The Mail, Bob Davis and Dave Kesby expatiate upon ASOPA 62/63 graduate BP White’s mile run against fellow student and now shock jock Alan Jones. Gaye Speldewinde has more about the PNG adventure of Maria (‘Sound of Music’) von Trapp. There’s more news, more detail on the giant Brisbane reunion later this year and people trying to track down former PNG schoolteachers John Hughes, Howard Mason and John Quinnell. The February issue will be on the ASOPA web page soon but, if you want to receive your own copy as soon as it’s published, contact me at this email address.


Bob Burlington was the year behind me at Nowra High School and then he arrived at ASOPA the year behind me in 1963. He was of pleasant countenance, as lean as a ferret and as clean cut as a country boy can be. After graduating from ASOPA in 1964 Bob spent some ten years in PNG’s  Madang Province - six teaching on Karkar Island, two teaching at Talidig and two in Madang as curriculum adviser. At the time Madang was billed as the prettiest town in the South Pacific. “Good years and great friendships,” Bob recalls now, “although I’d have to confess to contributing greatly to the ongoing financial security of South Pacific Brewery”.

I’ve just received a letter from Bob, my first contact with him in 44 years, which included a query about whether I remembered him. Of course I remember him. Nowra boys never forget (there was so little to forget in the forgettable fifties). Bob now lives on 100 acres in the village of Rylstone, one of the oldest settlements on the lee side of the Great Divide in NSW. He still does a bit of casual teaching after retiring from his post as a high school teacher at Mt Druitt in Sydney's west.

Bob’s teaching career book-ended periods as a truck driver and working in a publishing company as, like a lot of us who left PNG around Independence, he sought a career in Australia to match the  excitement and romance of the one he’d just left.

Hearing from Bob, I was reminded of a story. Col Booth visited Bob on Karkar for kapti one Saturday morning in the sixties. They talked, as Col relates, “while Bob had a beer as he was inclined to do most mornings”. Everything seemed peaceful in the haus wind until Bob excused himself and returned with a rifle. “He took aim at the saksak roof, pulled the trigger and pieces of a large python fell at our feet,” claims Col.

I reckon that's a great anecdote. And I think we all kept Bruce Flynn, then general manager of SP Brewery, a very happy man and much loved by his shareholders. Bruce, as you might expect, was also very partial to a glass or two of his product.