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19 posts from August 2007

Road testing the meet and greet

Colinfriend Colin Huggins [left with friend Nuk] writes: Herewith the report of a meeting held yesterday at Chez with Jade Thompson of the Sofitel. Present: Colin Huggins, Bill Bohlen, Henry Bodman, Bill Welbourne, Dick and Josephine Arnold. The Brisbane chapter charged in with the Wednesday blue rinse brigade for the Chez seafood banquet. Jade was on hand to discuss the arrangements for the Meet & Greet and to hand out car parking vouchers. Here we were again – road testing another reunion event. According to the Dick Arnold scale for chapter meetings this one could be classified as a 5% business and 95% food and wine fest.

It was decided that the Class of 1962-63 would be allocated the disco area, where tables to sit 60 will be arranged for the night. It was also decided that a set menu will not be used, which gives people the option of eating or nibbling on the reunion’s first night. But the whole hog looks good. The seafood banquet laden with the mudcrab and lobster is a feast to bring froths of saliva to the mouths of the Colin Booths of our year.

I will not go into the food intake of respective members suffice it to say that plates seems to have been piled high with oysters and large succulent prawns. Dessert was partaken in Roman gluttonous proportions. The only thing missing was the vestal virgins with the grapes. The evening of the 12 October, as we all come together once more, is looking very good.

Ald Conlon – a rare photograph

I’ve been writing a lot in this space about Alf Conlon’s seminal contribution to the establishment of ASOPA and whingeing about my inability to find an image of him, any image. I would usually expect to be able to locate a pic of some kind somewhere on the internet. Well I didn’t.

Alfred_conlon_2 So (on the web) I searched the second hand book stores and eventually found what I was looking for. A short (68 page) work entitled ‘Alfred Conlon: 1908 – 1961’ produced in 1963 for his colleagues to memorialise him (a tradition which seems to have faded over the years), and which contains just two photographs.

So here is Alf Conlon’s portrait. I am proud to put the first picture of ASOPA’s founder on the web. Here it will remain.

The memorial is an unusual book and already I love it. In its 68 pages are short, anecdotal tributes from nearly 40 authors. People with names you will recognise. John Kerr, Charles Rowley, Vic Parkinson, James McAuley, JK Murray, James Plimsoll, HC Coombs, Sir Marcus Oliphant, Sid Deamer, Angus Maude. There are many others. All eminent people of the era.

From time to time, therefore, I will dig into this remarkable little book and offer some nuggets from Coombs and the odd gleamer from Deamer. For starters, here’s an extract from Charles Rowley’s contribution.

“Alf was a born manipulator, but the thing I don’t remember is Alf Conlon manipulating something in order to bring him personally a distinct material advantage… Among officers, none of whom knew him, Alf was probably the most unpopular man in the army. Many people, for instance who’d been in the Middle east, felt that Alf’s method of getting privates with special qualifications and making them majors or colonels in a day wasn’t the right thing to do at all. There was a feeling that here was fellow who was manipulating the sacred edifice of the army for his own purposes.”

More from this goldmine of reminiscence as the mood strikes me in the future. Meanwhile tomorrow I’m often to Brisbane briefly and Noosa at greater length. Contributions to ASOPA PEOPLE therefore may not be as frequent, but I’ll do my best. Anyway, who cares, we’ve got our Conlon pic.

Does the weatherman truly cometh?

The national election season is truly upon us, the fund raisers proliferate and the faithful dig deep to support the colt of their choice in Australia’s greatest two-horse race – the federal election.


Last night, along with 300 other people (the organisers were stunned by the level of support) I attended a ‘trivia night’ for ABC weatherman turned ALP candidate Mike Bailey, who’s standing against the incumbent Joe Hockey. As you’ll see in the accompanying image, Mike’s taken ‘A fresh start for North Sydney’ as his campaign slogan – a mildly punning reference to his former career in the ‘we get it right half the time’ forecasting brigade.

For mine, I’d be going stronger: ‘Big Mike Bailey – stormin’ through’ or ‘Vote Mike - rain on Joe’s parade’ or even ‘Weatherman with attitude – giving Howard the big chill’. Look, I know this piece has nothing to do with ASOPA, but I thought you’d appreciate a candid glimpse into my social life. Our team finished seventh of 38 in the trivia quiz, by the way. Very disappointing.

Oral history of ASOPA is being recorded

Middle_head The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is doing a fine job in conserving the cultural history of its harbourside sites – including ASOPA - through the stories and memories of people  associated with them. So it was that yesterday I sat down in my board room for an hour with Julie Evans and reminisced about my ASOPA and ITI experiences.

The recordings and transcripts of this important project provide snapshots of the sites’ histories and a reflection of the impact they have had on people’s lives. The Harbour Trust is keen to hear from people who have worked or studied at ASOPA or ITI. If you want further information or would like to participate, contact the resource centre coordinator by email here or by phone on (02) 8969 2100.

Apologies 130 years after cannibal feast

In March I recorded in ASOPA PEOPLE how I had been interviewed for Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program on the contribution to PNG broadcasting of the late Sam Piniau OBE. During the interview, I related an anecdote Sam told me on my visit to Rabaul last October.

Sam spent two days guiding Ingrid and me around the Gazelle, including visiting his modest house in Rakatop village in the hills behind Kokopo. As we drove through the bush not far from Rakatop, Sam stopped the car and pointed to a spot beside the road. “This is where my people killed and ate the first Christian missionaries from Fiji,” he told me. “It was a very hot day and the Fijians had struggled to the top of this hill. They were plump and glistening with sweat. They looked so good my people just couldn’t help themselves”.

On Saturday the Sydney Morning Herald published a small article saying that Sam’s people have just apologised to Fiji for their forefathers' actions. Fiji's high commissioner to PNG accepted the apologies at a reconciliation ceremony near Rabaul attended by thousands of people.

Georgebrownpngns The death of the Fijian minister and three teachers in April 1878 provoked a punitive expedition by Methodist missionary, the Rev George Brown [seen with PNG tribespeople, left], which resulted in a number of Tolai people being killed and several villages burnt to the ground.

These actions caused a storm of protest in the Methodist Church in Australia and elsewhere. But official investigations by British colonial authorities in the Pacific cleared Brown of criminal charges.

Alf Conlon and the discoverer of penicillin

In researching the background of ASOPA’s godfather, Colonel Alf Conlon, I’m stumbling across some interesting information. In fact, I’m turning up everything except a much desired photograph of the great man.

In 1943, Sir Howard Florey, an Australian who was professor of pathology at Oxford University, converted penicillin from a laboratory curiosity into a wonder drug. By 1944 penicillin was being used by Allied armed forces in Europe and working its magic on infections common in battle casualties.

Conlon, as head of the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs, was anxious to see penicillin made available for Australian forces and persuaded Army Commander-in-Chief Sir Thomas Blamey and Prime Minister John Curtin to invite Florey to Australia to advise on the production of penicillin and its use in the army and among civilians.

Florey arrived in August 1944 and spent some months visiting all mainland capitals, country regions and major centres of medical research. He concluded that medical research in Australia was in a parlous state and said so in widely reported public lectures. Curtin then invited Florey to come up with a solution. In time, a National Medical Research Institute was established within the Australian National University in Canberra.

Mysterious office gave rise to ASOPA

In 1941, Alfred Austin Justin (Alf) Conlon, medical student and bon vivant, was asked, as a civilian, to form the Army Education Service to improve the literacy and numeracy of recruits. Conlon soon convinced his superior that the Army needed its own research section. So, in April 1942, Conlon, who had not even been in school cadets let alone the university regiment, was appointed a major in the Army to do just that.

A first-class networker, Conlon was able to convince commander-in-chief of the Australian Army, Sir Thomas Blamey, that the research section should be upgraded to the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs (DORCA), reporting directly to him. Years later Conlon was to tell author and publisher Peter Ryan MM, who had been a clerk in DORCA after service in PNG, 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.” As if that meant anything in the Western Desert.

DORCA prepared studies which Blamey had ordered and provided reports on a broad range of topics which Conlon judged to be of national importance, including Army health and nutrition, the study of terrain, dietary standards for Papuans and New Guineans employed by the army, trends in international relations, and a host of other matters.

For administrative convenience, when it was formed in February 1943, the directorate was slotted into the broad category of Military Intelligence. This was short-lived but created a ‘cloak-and-dagger’ aura which clung to the unit and led to later claims that Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who had been Conlon’s second-in-command, was a war-time intelligence officer and that the CIA was behind the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.

Around him, Conlon assembled a bright young team. In addition to Kerr there was anthropologists WEH Stanner and Camilla Wedgewood, lawyer Julius Stone, banker James Plimsoll, later to become head of External Affairs, poets James McAuley and Harold Stewart, and librarian Ida Leeson. As a result of its mandate and its personnel, DORCA was regarded as mysterious, odd ball and bohemian.

One of its main roles was to provide policy advice on the government of PNG. Conlon's imagination extended far beyond military needs, however, even anticipating PNG independence. Work of enduring value was performed: the territories were placed under one administration, their laws were consolidated and codified, and the School of Civil Affairs, established in Canberra in 1945 to train service personnel to be colonial administrators, became in peacetime the Sydney-based Australian School of Pacific Administration.

The notable journalist, Tom Fitzgerald, later wrote of Conlon: "The greatest achievement arising from the kind of influence that Conlon exercised is the standard he set of disinterestedness in pursuing the right, without show or fuss, as a man opens a window in a stuffy room."

It is a shame that none of DORCA’s records survive. But perhaps this only adds to the mystery behind the organisation that was ASOPA’s progenitor.

Peter Lawrence

Peter Lawrence [1921-1987] was born in Lancashire and read classics at Cambridge. After war service in naval intelligence, he returned to Cambridge to study anthropology and earned his PhD for research amongst the PNG Garia people of the southern Madang Province in the late 1940s. Lawrence had a real love affair with the Garia and eventually managed to visit them each year from 1971 until shortly before his death. Lawrence’s book on the Garia, critics said, was the work of a determined, resourceful and distinguished contributor to Melanesian ethnology.

Roadcargo Lawrence's professional career was spent in Australia, where he was Professor of Anthropology at both Queensland University (1966-70), and Sydney University (1970-86). He was a frequent visitor to North America, where he lectured widely.

His principal theoretical interest was in the intellectual life of primitive peoples, with perhaps his best known books being Road Belong Cargo and Gods, Ghosts and Men in Melanesia. He wrote on religion, social structure, politics and law. But much of his teaching emphasised the applied value of anthropology, particularly for colonial administrators committed to indigenous development.

Lawrence’s first and enduring passion, he admitted, was teaching at the Australian School of Pacific Administration, beginning in 1957, where he created the Anthropology curriculum.

He had a major role, too, in the transformation of ASOPA to the International Training Institute, which contributed much to the education and careers of administrators from Third World countries. Peter Lawrence in Sydney died of a stroke on 12 December 1987.

Somare edict grounds Dr Joe

Prime Minister Michael Somare has told heads of PNG government departments that the country’s administration is entering a new era of austerity. This includes a blanket ban on overseas travel by departmental heads, unless the trip is sanctioned by Somare himself for some national purpose.

Pagello This decision seems to have put paid to any prospect of Dr Joe Pagelio, PNG Secretary for Education, being present as a guest speaker at October’s Brisbane ASOPA reunion.

Dick Arnold comments that Dr Pagelio’s presence “would certainly have added something extra to the Saturday evening's atmosphere and I'm disappointed he will not be with us physically. I believe many of us contributed some of the best efforts of our professional lives to PNG. It is very disheartening to think that we will be celebrating our beginnings at ASOPA without the benefit of sharing the occasion with a representative of the country where the enthusiasm of our youth nurtured the beginnings of an independent nation.”

It is understood that Joe Pagelio will offer some remarks to be read to the gathering which will acknowledge the legacy of expatriate teachers up to Independence and beyond - with a special reference to ASOPA graduates.

But let’s leave the last word to Dick Arnold: “I can unashamedly state that my family's term in PNG between December 1961 and April 1976 were the most rewarding years of our lives!” Many of us would add hear, hear to that sentiment.

When the tumult & the shouting died.....


The front page of today's PNG National shows a delighted Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and no less pleased Governor-General Sir Paulius Matane, former Director of Education, celebrate Somare's fourth term as PNG leader. Sir Michael was re-elected as Prime Minister by a thumping majority over contender, and another old political war horse, Julius Chan.

Somare wins – & attacks Australian government

Somare2 Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, 71, was this morning re-elected as PNG’s Prime Minister in an overwhelming vote (86-23) over arch-rival Sir Julius Chan. It is the fourth time Sir Michael has led his nation in a 40-year political career. Sir Michael's National Alliance Party was supported by 13 smaller parties. This is the biggest coalition in any government since Independence.

One of the new PM’s first statements was to accuse the Australian Government of trying to interfere in the election process. His allegations do not augur well for improved relations with Canberra. “I think there seems to be somehow some kind of interference,” he told reporters yesterday. “We will be looking at that issue and I’m taking it up in the forum with Australia and New Zealand at my level as still the chairman of the Pacific Forum.” He said Australian commentators sometimes create an impression PNG would break down and become a failed state.

National Alliance president Simon Kaiwi has also alleged Australian interference during PNG’s elections. He accused Canberra of using political pawns within PNG to try to determine the political leadership. “Australia wants a leader in Papua New Guinea that can say ‘how high’ when they order him to jump,” Mr Kaiwi said.

1968-72 Asopians will go Greek

Peter Blessing is organising a couple of activities during the Brisbane reunion weekend to allow Asopians of 1968-72 to get together. The first will be a pre-Sofitel gathering at the Greek Club in Brisbane’s West End on Friday 12 October at about 6.30 for dinner at 7.30. The Greek Club is at 29-31 Edmondstone Street opposite Musgrave Park. Peter also mentions that there are plans for the 1968-72 group to gather for lunch on Saturday 13 October. If you would like to attend either or both of these events drop a note to Peter at this email address.

The stories that memorialise ASOPA

At last count there were ten ASOPA classes signed up for October’s Brisbane Reunion. There will be Asopians present from the Classes of 1958-59, 1959-60, 1960-61, 1961-62, 1962-63, 1963-64, 1964-65, 1965-66, 1966-67 and 1968-69. By any criterion this is a grand roll-up.

As part of the formalities at the Grand Reunion Dinner, it is hoped that a representative of each Class will relate an anecdote that sums up the group experience. It might be a lecture room yarn, an extra-curricula moment,a sporting triumph (debacle) or a landfall story, perhaps along these lines this:

Harold ‘Harry’ Peake was the teaching methods lecturer. He was also the ‘ever-widening circles man’ lyricised by Joe Crainean in the ASOPA magazine Vortex in 1963.

Now and then,
why and when,
ever widening circles
Meaningful, purposeful,
ever widening circles
So we seek,
from week to week
those ever widening circles

In Col Booth’s estimation, Harry was “the true gentleman of ASOPA; a person who really knew what he was talking about; one of few who generated genuine respect; the one who could impart knowledge without big noting himself. He taught much more than Social Studies, Reading, Comprehension and Written Expression. He introduced the concept of setting questions with progressing levels of difficulty to cover individual differences (introduced 20 years later to NSW schools as Bloom's Taxonomy).

"He expounded theories that the only way to mark Composition was with the writer at your elbow and that a teacher should concentrate on correcting one aspect so the poor kid didn't end up with a page full of red ink. Face-to-face marking was introduced into NSW schools in the mid eighties as a new concept, Conferencing; again 20 years after Harry.

"And how could anyone forget the poor old bugger zigzagging between lecture rooms making headway into a howling south-westerly.”

Henry Bodman recalls Harry's statement about not getting too cocky about one's ability as a teacher: “One day one of you will teach an Exhibition student and I hope you won’t feel any credit is due to you," Harry said. "The student did it despite you”. And this aphorism: “Doctors hold sway, but what do they do? Patch up bodies. Teachers build people. Where's the comparison?” “Harry was a dear old codger who loved his subject,” says Henry

I’ll be MC at the Reunion Dinner and part of the plan is to identify a person from each Class to pay tribute to its ASOPA experience with a short anecdote. So now I invite Table Captains or another volunteer to perform this service on behalf of each Class, which will be one of the highlights of the night. Email me right here and we’ll start working up your presentation. If more than one person volunteers from each Class, we’ll sort things out by email. Email me today.

A bit of sporting memorabilia

Ralph Watson reckons the ASOPA PEOPLE censors have been at work and denied sports loving Asopians, and wasn’t that most of us, their due diet of athletic memorabilia. I’ve had a word with the chief censor and he has now cleared the images for public release. Apparently the exuberant youthfulness of those pictured caused a protracted bout of what medical science terms EDA (envy driven apoplexy), which has now been cured by a dose of MIA (mouth intubated alcohol).

197071athletics To cut to the chase, here are the photos; both of 1970 vintage. The first is of the ASOPA athletics team to the Third Australian Inter-Collegiate. So indescribably young. Apparently the early seventies was a classic time for the chuckers, jumpers and scarperers of the wanna-teach-in-PNG ilk, operating very much in the tradition of Bill Welbourne who held the 440 hurdles Australian title while at a student at ASOPA in 1962-63.

197071hockey This second pic is of the ASOPA women’s hockey team in 1970. The casual reader may not appreciate that the biggest braggers in ASOPA sport were members of the sniffball and aerial ping pong fraternity. But the highest achievers, easily, were the women’s hockey teams. They were petite, pretty and pugnacious – and usually brought home the bacon. In fact, this 1970 team went on to win the Sydney Women's C Grade competition. You OK now, Ralph?

Athletics [back] G Ison, S Dean (manager), R Watson, A Newman, G Moore, [front] V RFoss, J Abbott, C Kohoe, M Hindmarsh, N Walker

Hockey [back] C Pilgrim, G Van Vree, R Watson (coach), V Ross, L Denton, A Leeson, [front] N Bender, G Taylor, M Hindmarsh, J Shaw, D Leonard. Absent: J Abbott, J Newman (captain), L Huddleston, J Le Cheminant.

Art, self discovery and ASOPA

Denismurrell Denis Murrell was born in Upper Ferntree Gully on the outskirts of Melbourne and studied at ASOPA in 1966-67. He taught in PNG for 14 years and then, briefly, in Australia before travelling to the former Portuguese colony of Macau, which became his home in 1989. Denis is a well-known artist in Asia, his technique using a combination of acrylic paint, ink and tissue paper to produce colourful, highly-textured works.

Murrell1_3His paintings have been exhibited in many countries including Canada, the United States, Portugal, China, Taiwan, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Korea and are to be found in many private and public collections in Macau and elsewhere. In 2000 his painting ‘Lunar Fantasy’ won a bronze medal at the Forte Cup Twentieth Century Asian Art Competition in Washington, DC, and he has won prizes in many other prestigious art contests.

Beyond these sparse facts of Denis’ life and work there is a rich story of a journey of self and artistic discovery, which he will tell himself in the September issue of The Mail. If you’re not yet on the email distribution list contact me here.

Community education in PNG

The biggest ever reunion of ASOPA education officers is just over two months away. Renewed interest in those far off days (that do not seem, upon reflection, to be so far away) is reaching fever pitch. Well, to calm you down, I offer the comprehensive story of community education in Papua New Guinea.

It's a story that ranges from the deepest traditions of the people….

“[In the west] individual intelligence and perceptiveness are acknowledged as important factors influencing learning. In contrast, in inspirational systems [as in Melanesia] intelligence has no equivalent concept. As Carrier noted when commenting on the Ponam Islanders: "Ponams do not invoke notions like 'intelligence' or 'a capacity to learn'. They have no word for intelligence". For the Melanesian the important thing was to possess knowledge. In practice this meant “to know where to find the right sources and to have good contacts. In inspirational systems, people explain successful learning in terms of hardwork and struggle, not in individual intelligence or how smart one is.”

And it’s a story that extends up to and beyond our arrival in the then Australian territory….

“The appointment of GT Roscoe as Director of Education in 1958 ushered in an expansion of the primary school system spearheaded by an influx of Australian teachers. These teachers, though sometimes short on experience, were placed in positions of responsibility as school principals or senior teachers. It was expected that they would provide leadership and guidance for their less academic PNG colleagues.”

Most of McLaughlin and O’Donoghue’s 1996 book is now available on the internet [click through on this hyperlink] and is something to be read thoroughly (if you sat in the front row at ASOPA) or dipped into (if you had to rush off to the Buena Vista).

[Dennis McLaughlin and Tom O’Donoghue, Community Teacher Education in Papua New Guinea, 1996]

Impressive historical scholarship

It’s been called “one of the most impressive pieces of historical scholarship to come out of Papua New Guinea” and I must admit that, until recently, it had escaped my attention. ‘It’ is My Gun, My Brother, the story of the PNG colonial police in the years between 1920 and 1960. It’s a fascinating read for people interested in PNG under Australian administration and, good news this, it is accessible free on the Internet and the section that relates to ASOPA – and the benefits colonial officers derived from being trained there – can be found here.

The author, Dr August Kituai is an academic historian at the University of Papua New Guinea. A reviewer has written “If [it] sounds a rather wooden topic, a dry administrative history, don't be fooled. This is a book full of rich stories…..”

My Gun, My Brother: The World of the Papua New Guinea Colonial Police, 1920-1960, August Ibrum K Kituai, University of Hawaii Press, 1998

The word spreads like wildfire

There's an interesting dynamic developing in relation to Brisbane's maxi-reunion in just over two months time. As each new person learns of the event - often people who have not seriously dwelled upon the acronym 'ASOPA' for years - they pass on the information to Asopians they know, and each is in touch with one or two. And so it is that much of the ASOPA chalkie diaspora is becoming engaged in the idea that reuniting might be a good thing to do.

The dynamic is this: as the reunion (October 12-14) gets closer, so the interest grows and the numbers expand. The dilemma is clear: the numbers, now exceeding 200, cannot expand indefinitely. Unfortunately the cut off point is approaching. This could be disappointing for people who have indicated they wish to attend the reunion dinner but have not paid yet. If you're one of these folk, it's $95 a person to Dick Arnold at [email protected].

Mailjuly Accommodation at Brisbane's Sofitel and Novotel hotels, adjacent properties and the epicentre for the event, is also becoming scarce. Places at other events are also filling rapidly. Fortunately there are also a number of free events where numbers are not restricted.

Now Diane Bohlen has produced a program for the entire weekend. This will be made available in the next issue of the ASOPA chalkies newsletter The Mail, which is available free each month by sending your email address to me right here.

One of our DC3s has been found

Dc3front Bill Stenning was visiting Moree recently when, perched outside a local pub, the Amaroo Tavern, he discovered this DC3 (originally VH-CUX) that had performed sterling service in PNG where she flew 5000 hours with the PNG Defence Force after being acquired in 1975 soon after Independence. The aircraft, manufactured in the USA in 1943, was originally delivered to the RAAF in 1945 where she served in many different squadrons. The PNGDF finally pensioned her off in 1992 when the port engine developed a massive oil leak and had to be shut down in flight.

In 1993 the DC3 was bought by Marty Taylor and flown to Moree in two stages in August the same year. After much work, the plane was towed through three fences and two roads to the tavern car park, finally being lifted into place in November 1993. VH-CUX had finished an outstanding career after 50 years of flight.

Dc3side The DC3, of course, has a special place in the hearts of those of us who lived and worked in PNG. They were always noisy and often uncomfortable but when those giant Pratt & Whitney engines roared into life – frequently gushing smoke and flame, when the giant tail rose into the air with the brakes still full on at diminutive bush airstrips and when the beast bumped down the strip and clambered into the air, we really knew we were flying. As did the arse-grassed passengers sitting side-saddle in the narrow canvas seats and the pigs and chickens in their cages in between. Yes, they were great aircraft.

[Photos: Bill Stenning]