The Pacific gets a strong voice in Canberra
The hard men of Papuan rugby league

One of our principals was missing

I always enjoy meeting up with Bill Brown, with whom I worked on Bougainville in the early seventies when he was in the exacting role of District Commissioner at a time of heightening tension on the island and I was running Radio Bougainville.

We bumped into each other again at a PNG Association function on Sunday and once again exchanged robust views on any subject that crept across our field of vision. On this occasion the subject concerned the ASOPA career of one Wilfred Arthur. Bill Brown, at the School from June 1949 to 23 December 1949, recalled that Arthur was principal or acting principal. “That,” said Bill, “indicates of a break in the time line” [see Chronology under ASOPA PEOPLE EXTRA at right].

Wilfred_arthur Before continuing with the discussion, allow me to briefly introduce Wilfred Stanley (Woof) Arthur, DSO DFC (1919 – 2000). Arthur was an Australian fighter ace during World War II and is officially credited with shooting down 10 enemy aircraft. At 24, he also became the youngest Group Captain in the history of the RAAF. I will write more about him in future.

The information Bill provided, though, creates a problem. Which is this. The records show that Alf Conlon was acting principal of ASOPA from August 1948 to September 1949, when he was compelled to leave the position after a staff mutiny. It is possible that Wilfred Arthur took over the position for what was quite a long interregnum (perhaps from September 1949 to November 1950) before Charles Rowley arrived.

So what is the explanation for Bill believing that Arthur was principal from June 1949 or perhaps earlier? Well other evidence, especially that of John Kerr, tells us that Conlon – under great pressure from Canberra at the time over the future of the School - spent long periods locked away in his office and was rarely seen on campus. It could be – and in my view probably was – that Arthur was the man up and about running the School on a day-to-day basis during the period Bill was there.

Bill’s information was important for another reason. Until our conversation the other day, the history I’d located had been silent on who took over during the 14 months after Conlon left and before Rowley arrived. Now it seems that Group Captain Wilfred Arthur DSO, DFC could well have been that man.

And so we embark on another chapter in the rich and meandering history of ASOPA.


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