Vale Sam Piniau
James McAuley


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.


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