This weekend, just shy of 49 years on, the Class of 1962-63, Cadet Education Officers, Australian School of Pacific Administration, regroups in Sydney to mark its coming together and to reflect on the circumstances that motivated these young men and women to train to teach in what was then the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. KEITH JACKSON reprises the history of ASOPA
SO THIS IS MIDDLE HEAD. A succession of winding plateaus and spurs culminates in a jutting headland pointing to the open sea between Sydney Heads. The stratified sandstone slopes are steep, having been cracked, warped and uplifted over millions of years.
The headland overlooks the flooded river valleys of Sydney and Middle Harbours and offers sweeping views of bush and water. The shoreline is a rich aquatic habitat. The bushland mostly confined to the steep slopes.
The area provides a rich record of Australia’s heritage, including Aboriginal culture. Middens and stone engravings provide evidence of Aboriginal life prior to 1788.
Bungaree’s Farm, Governor Macquarie’s experiment in introducing Aborigines to the settled ways of European agriculture, was sited on the peninsula.
The main theme of the colonial heritage, defence, reflects the concerns of an isolated colony. There has been a defence association with this land since a fort was constructed near Obelisk Beach in 1801.
There is a profusion of heritage buildings on Middle Head. The 1870s fortifications of gun batteries and buildings, particularly James Barnet’s barracks, are places of great significance.
Other important groups of buildings include the Submarine Miners Depot at Chowder Bay (1890–1), the World War I Military Hospital buildings (1916–22), the World War 2 Barracks converted to the School of Pacific Administration in 1949 and the Army School of Intelligence (late 1950s).
In 1945, General Sir Thomas Blamey had given approval for the Australian Army to established a School of Civil Affairs in the grounds of Duntroon Military College to train officers for the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit.
In March 1946, the School became a civil institution and was renamed The Australian School of Pacific Administration. It was transferred first to Mosman and later to Middle Head.
ASOPA was given statutory recognition under the Papua New Guinea Act in 1949 and continued to function as a responsibility of the Minister for External Territories until 1 December 1973.
At this time the Australian Government decided to integrate ASOPA into the structure of the Australian Development Assistance Agency (later AIDAB, then AusAID) under the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the International Training Institute came into existence.
Another functional shift – and change in name to Centre for Pacific Development and Training - saw the former ASOPA used as a base for consultants operating in the South Pacific region until this role was disestablished in 2001
The old ASOPA is now heritage listed, the old buildings have been refurbished and this historically rich enclave awaits another, this time perhaps a commercial, life.