Colin and the Presbyterian women’s union
His Excellency looks like a goer for Brisbane reunion

The first dismissal: How Kerr got Conlon out of ASOPA

As regular readers will know, on the eve of the greatest ever gathering of former cadet education officers in Brisbane next month, ASOPA PEOPLE has been pursuing the story of Alf Conlon, the erratic genius who conceived the idea of ASOPA and then engineered it into existence.

The saga of Alf Conlon's departure from the School is told in John Kerr's 1978 autobiography, ‘Matters for Judgment’. When he returned to the Sydney bar in 1948, Kerr had handed his Principalship of ASOPA to Conlon, who was at the time fighting a losing battle with Canberra over making the School a research-oriented colonial training college with the status of a university. Conlon was also battling his ASOPA colleagues, who had begun to resent his uncollaborative and even reclusive behaviour. Kerr writes:

“In the end, [James] McCauley led a revolt six weeks or so after Conlon took over. The Portrait_2 Registrar rang me in my chambers, said there was a grave crisis at the school, and asked me to go over. And he meant a crisis, there and then. The staff had had a meeting and had decided that unless Conlon left the School that day they would take some action - I do not think it was actually expressed in the language of a strike; but in reality there was a real risk of teaching ceasing.

“McCauley had delivered Conlon an ultimatum, and the Registrar said Conlon had locked himself in his room and was in a state of profound depression. That day at the School he let me in to see him and I said, “What's it all about, Alf?” “Oh”, he said, “they just ... don’t want me”. And I said, “You really shouldn't be here, Alf. I think you should go back and finish your medicine”.  He said, “I don't want to be thrown out, and I think they mean it. They just won't teach tomorrow”. He suggested he be given six weeks to find a means of rationalising why he was going.

“The tension among the staff was so great it was doubtful whether they would agree to six weeks. I went out to the others and held some negotiations with McCauley. As I remember it, McCauley said, “Well John, he's got to go, physically, now. As far as we're concerned it can appear publicly for six weeks that he’s still Principal but he must not come into the place - he must stay away”. So something along these lines was worked out and Conlon accepted it”.

Alfconlon_2 And so, having been eased out by Kerr, Conlon left ASOPA at the age of 41 to finish his medical degree and ultimately to practice psychiatry – an apt profession you might suppose. After Conlon’s death in 1961, Kerr told an interviewer:

“He was eccentric and unorthodox, and he rubbed a great number of people up the wrong way. He left behind him in Canberra, amongst the bureaucracy, a trail of what one might call oppositionists, and as soon as Alf lost the power he’d got by delegation, Blamey’s power in other words, Canberra … cut itself off from him.”


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