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:
The 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.
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@example.com
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