The Macleay Museum yesterday provided four former ASOPA lecturers and me with a guided tour of the People, Power, Politics exhibition that celebrates the first generation of Australian anthropology at Sydney University. ASOPA, and its predecessor, the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs, loomed large in that first generation of local anthropologists because of the strong mutual interest in the Pacific and especially PNG. So the exhibition has a powerful ASOPA connection.
With me were Dr Ann Prendergast (history), Dr Ruth Fink Latukefu (anthropology), Dr Dick Pearse (education) and Roy Clarke (science). Before viewing the exhibition, we sat around a long wooden table with curators Jude Philp and Rebecca Conway while the ex staff members reminisced about their ASOPA years.
Each remembers their first experience of the School as overawing. What especially struck them was the staff room conversation, with figures like Peter Lawrence, James McAuley and Charles Rowley engaging in pyrotechnical discussion and debate about Pacific affairs and the great political issues of the day.
Each also clearly recalls the unorthodox way in which they came to teach at ASOPA, Charles Rowley's selection techniques were as unbureaucratic as those of his predecessor, Alf Conlon. Nothing as pedestrian as an advertisement in a newspaper or the Education Gazette.
Ann Prendergast was recommended to the School by Norm Donnison, already teaching there, who had lectured her at Wagga Wagga teachers’ College and been a fellow evening student at Sydney University. Ann's interview went very well until at the end, with a wry smile, Rowley leaned across the desk and asked: “And what do you know about ethnomusicology?” Nothing, replied Ann, who got the job anyway.
Roy Clarke, as a bright young science teacher, had been promoted to lecture at Balmain Teachers’ College. He spent two tortured hours in the company of the notorious and belligerent principal Athol Greenhalgh before Greenhalgh told him to get himself over to ASOPA. “That was the only time I spent at Balmain,” says Roy, “and it was two hours too long.”
Dick Pearse was a primary school teacher, just married and with a new honours degree. He took a call from Rowley who asked is he’d be interested in a position of lecturer in an arcane subject called Native Education. “That seemed to be the selection process,” says Dick who, having been given the name of the subject, moved on to create the syllabus and content.
For Ruth Fink, who as a young anthropologist had been mentored by Dr AP Elkin, it was Elkin’s departure from ASOPA to undertake fieldwork in PNG that precipitated her arrival on campus. Elkin simply recommended her to Rowley.
Ann Prendergast tells the story of Edgar Ford’s recruitment. Already a famed geographer, Ford’s credentials were well established when Rowley asked him to make the move to ASOPA. Ford had one condition: “ I will - but there will be no signing of time books.” There never was at ASOPA.
People, Power Politics: the first generation of anthropology at the University of Sydney (until 20 July). Macleay Museum, Gosper Lane off Science Road, Sydney University. Phone 02 9036 5253