A short history of the ASOPA site
10 March 2009
Sydney Harbour National Trust
The onset of World War 2 prompted another round of construction work on the military land at Middle Head. The golf course was resumed in 1940, with the army deciding to retain the clubhouse as two married quarters.
In 1941 buildings were constructed to temporarily house the Anti-Aircraft and Fortress Engineering School (the 10 Terminal Regiment site) and the Army’s Signal Unit (the ASOPA buildings).
On 13 August 1941 the Federal Government established the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) to release men for duty with fighting units. By the end of the war, more than 24,000 women had enlisted as volunteers in the Service, which involved in a range of duties including administration and transportation. An AWAS contingent was attached to the Signals Unit at Middle Head.
ASOPA grew out of an army civil affairs unit also created during the war. It was originally known as the Land Headquarters School of Civil Affairs, and based at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. In 1947 the Government approved the establishment of the Civil School as a permanent body – to be known as ASOPA - with teaching and research duties to be based at Middle Head.
The Army permitted ASOPA to occupy part of 10 Terminal until 1952, when ASOPA was relocated to occupy the timber framed huts of the Signals Camp. A number of modifications and additions were made to the timber huts to make them suitable as a teaching facility.
From its early years ASOPA played an important role in the development of Papua New Guinea. From 1948 it offered a number of refresher courses, short courses and two year diploma courses to train Australians as administrators. Students were originally selected from the armed forces and ASOPA trained many people who made a notable contribution to the development of Papua New Guinea.
The School became known for its association with a number of notable academics and administrators. In particular, John Kerr, James McAuley, Alf Conlon, Charles Rowley, Peter Lawrence and Camilla Wedgwood.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, ASOPA grew in stature, size and significance. In 1954 it started to train Australians to become teachers in PNG primary schools as well as continuing to train patrol officers. Teacher training was further extended in 1960 to include training of teachers for Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory.
In 1964, the School switched teacher training from primary to secondary. In 1967, the school commenced a course for senior local government officials. It was in this period that a number of extensions and alterations were made to ASOPA to cater for the growing demand for its courses and its use as a research school.
By 1970, the Commonwealth Government had realised that despite its goal of making PNG independent, there was no adequately trained public service of indigenous people in the country. In 1971, changes were announced for ASOPA, with the school being developed as a training centre for Papuans and New Guineans, preparing them for the impending self-government. In addition, candidates for short courses could now come from any other developing nations, in the Pacific or elsewhere.
In 1973, the School was integrated into the structure of the office of the Australian Development Assistance Agency and became known as the International Training Institute.
Photos: Students at leisure, early 1960s; AWAS personnel at play on the ‘ASOPA Oval’, December 1944; Sir John Kerr, first ASOPA principal
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