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ASOPA under threat: Help preserve Australia’s PNG connection


YOU may not have heard that there’s a campaign being run in Sydney to prevent the heritage-declared Ten Terminal building at Middle Head being leased for the commercial development of an aged care home.

The Ten Terminal building was built in 1941, one of only two brick buildings of the army in World War II, and is immediately adjacent to the equally important old ASOPA heritage site.

As many readers would know, ASOPA (Australian School of Pacific Administration) has a very close association with Papua New Guinea.

It educated many professionals for service in the then Territory and later, around independence, provided training for many Papua New Guinean managers.

The Headland Preservation Group is running a campaign against a decision of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to grant the lease, which would effectively remove this important part of Australia’s – and Papua New Guinea’s - heritage.

Thus far the HPG has had strong support from a couple of prime minister’s Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party branches (he’s the local member), from one of his sisters and from broadcaster Alan Jones.

There is hope that Mr Abbott, who played a big role in having the Middle Head defence land restored to public parkland, may be persuaded to intervene.

One of the points that stuck in my craw about the leasing decision was the contention by parliamentary secretary Senator Simon Birmingham, who signed the approval, that he could not understand the fuss about a “run down old army transport depot”.

I recently had a guided tour around the area with distinguished writer and historian Gavan Souter and later wrote a letter to Senator Birmingham that I’d like to share with you:

10-terminal-back thenThe buildings you have approved for partial demolition and restructuring into a commercial aged care facility for a developer’s ultimate benefit once housed some of the cream of Australia’s military and administrative intelligentsia.

The School of Military Engineering (SME) did pioneer work in camouflage, anti-aircraft protection and coastal defence.  It was later occupied by a Signals organisation and from 1947 to 1951 it became the Australian School of Pacific Administration.

Perhaps living in South Australia, you have had no occasion to become aware of the work of Alf Conlon, Sir John Kerr and people like the poet James McCauley who operated out of that building in wartime intelligence functions, and the development of the ANGAU and District Administration field services in Papua New Guinea, which involved people like Hal Wooten and some of the legendary field officers who were trained at ASOPA.

If those names are unfamiliar to you, that ignorance is in itself a reason why you should not be so cavalier in dismissing the cultural heritage locked away in the structurally sound walls of these historic buildings.

The School of Military Intelligence occupied the buildings from 1958 for almost 10 years.

I have heard only hints as to what functions were undertaken during that period of occupancy; but I do know that many who trained at or were trainees of that School will be dismayed to learn that a senior member of Tony Abbott’s government thinks it fit to dismiss the issues about the adaptive reuse of the Middle Head 1941 SME buildings as difficult to understand concerns about "a rundown 1950s former military transport building.”

One morning last week I walked through the refurbished, low-level old ASOPA buildings.

They look fine; but I saw no signage whatever to indicate that they once housed ASOPA or any indication of the other fine work that was done there.

Those buildings adjoin Ten Terminal buildings, in which ASOPA and Conlon’s ANGAU training school started.

Just an old army depot....I took this photo. If you read the words, you will understand why the parliamentary secretary has his facts wrong - even the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (SHFT) itself doesn’t get them right; instead it propagates self-serving falsehoods.

Ten Terminal dates from 1941-42 not 1958; it had 17 years of highly significant operation linked to Australia’s military and administrative history before 1958; for the Federation Trust to describe it as “reusing an old Army depot” is tendentious nonsense.

I hope I can stir yur interest and campaigning zeal on behalf of those who treasure the idea that the cultural history of that area should not only be preserved but propagated.

I’d encourage you to support an online petition which you can link to here.

To show your opposition to this program of demolition and destruction, you can rally at the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust “board meeting in public” to be held at 12 noon tomorrow (Tuesday) in the Drill Hall on Cross Street, Mosman. Otherwise you might like to send an email of support to [email protected]

Paul Munro is a former industrial advocate lawyer and judge of the Federal arbitration system. He served in PNG from 1961-68 in the Public Solicitors Office and later with the Public Service Association at a critical time. He is now on the executive committee of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia


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Paul Munro

Thanks to Geoffrey Gray and Peter Sandery for adding to my personal data base.

I mention for those interested in this chain of information that PNGAA is pursuing the idea of a commemorative dedication of some kind at the Ten Terminal site occupied by ASOPA from about 1948-1952.

The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is reviewing the Management Plan for the precinct following the withdrawal last year from the proposed development there of an aged care facility.

It is still early days but thus far the SHFT has shown itself to be amenable to at least having some signage indicative of the history of the use of the site.

PNGAA will emphasis that for some 51 years ASOPA and its successors played a vital role in the professional development of so many field administration staff, teachers and PNG governmental staff.

I will be doing what I can to aid PNGAA in putting together a collection of available material; Keith Jackson's work is so valuable in that respect because it is the funnel for so much but I hope that, over time, we can do justice to it and perhaps augment it.

Peter Sandery

Another source on the early days of ASOPA and its precursor The School of Civil Affairs,is a book entitled "The Devil and James McAuley", the author's name I have forgotten as I read it some time ago.

Paul Munro

It is a while since Geoffrey Gray's comment drawing attention to "Scholars at War". There have been a couple of developments over 2015.

First, while Tony Abbott was still PM the decision to use the Ten Terminal site as an aged care facility was rescinded and now seems a dead letter.

The Board of the responsible authority the Sydney Harbour Federation trust has been strengthened by the appointment of a new Chair, Kevin McCann AM who has past association with the Trust and its heritage preservation values.

The PNGAA has been sufficiently encouraged by these changes and by a Ministerial response while Abbott was still PM to press on with an attempt to get up a proposal for better use of the site first advanced by Harry West some years ago.

That is still a work in progress, and if we get anywhere you will probably be hearing from us with calls for backing and ideas.

One purpose of responding to Geoffrey Gray's comment is that I have belatedly read Scholars at War and want to thank him for such a useful reference; the essays cover a lot of territory and the bibliography is first rate.

It is a very worthwhile companion source to Backroom Boys and encourages me to read a lot more about the topics covered.

I thought Legge's piece, particularly comments about Conlon, DORCA, the staffing of and role of ASOPA, JK Murray and Paul Hasluck were particularly valuable and seem balanced.

Geoffrey Gray

Paul - I would suggest that you read 'Scholars at War' (ANU Press, available free on line) and check through the bibliography.

ASOPA comes out of Conlon et al when they set up the School of Civil Affairs at Duntroon in December 1944. The move to Mosman was in 1946-47.

(Sligo's work is excellent although he his weakest on the anthropologists and the School.)

A history of ASOPA remains to be written.

Paul Munro

I have since writing the piece above read Sligo's "The Backroom Boys". A very good study of Conlon in particular but peripherally of the ANGAU and later ASOPA training, students and their trainers. The formulation of post war policy for the future PNG through various thinkers is expounded in detail to an extent I had not seen written about before. Above all I found it interesting for the glimpses it gives of the background during
WWII of many Australians who later played major roles in different parts of PNG administrative history.
Sligo is an apparently reliable authority on the antecedents and locations of ASOPA and its precursors; his account merely reinforces the enormity of the loss involved in not finding a
way to use the remaining brick heritage buildings at Ten Terminal Middle Cove to focus the minds of those
who pass by upon the contribution to Australian/PNG cultural and political development made by ASOPA and those who taught or were taught there.

 Lindsay F Bond

Atop heritage’s pyramid, remnant is of building
adaptive reuse plundering seems wantonly usurping
amid yearning yesterday’s troop sites, park terrain and teaching.

ASOPA’s reuse of 10’s buildings, worthy remembering
apart it’s era’s austere constraints, vocations uplifting
among littoral scrub and sea views, tasked terrain of learning.

Ascribing value from old brick sheds’ less the point than gifting
abroad thus humanity’s needs meet with volunteering
an exemplary service ideal, intent nation building.

Charles Cazabon

From Charles Cazabon Cadet Education Officer at ASOPA 1965-1967

With not a modicum of hyperbole I believe the significance of ASOPA has been underestimated in the extreme.

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