Past times: ASOPA Feed


Asopamap More than 60 ASOPA veterans are expected to attend an open day at the old School on Saturday. Former staff and students have been invited to meet with officials of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to discuss ideas for how the site may be used to commemorate ASOPA and its successor institutions.

The Trust has prepared a map showing where to park [P] and register [R] on the day. If the parking area is full, as is possible given the numbers, there are more spaces available on the parade ground to the right of the oval as indicated on the map. You will also notice that, conveniently, the toilets are marked as 'TOILETS'. The meeting will be held in the former Library between 2 and 4 pm. If you want to participate, contact Jessica Sartor on (02) 8969 2177.


Asopa This Saturday, for the first time in many years, ASOPA formally opens its doors to visitors. Former staff and students of the School have been invited to meet with officials of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to discuss ideas for how the site may be used to commemorate ASOPA and its successor institutions.

The meeting also aims to gather details of people who may be able to supply copies of photos, memorabilia and other material and who also may wish to participate in oral history interviews. Afterwards, participants will be able to “wander around the site”, according to Trust manager Bob Clark.

The meeting will be held in the former Library from 2 - 4 pm. If you are able to attend, contact the Trust booking officer on (02) 8969 2100.


The gates of ASOPA will be formally thrown open to visitors for the first time in many years later this month. Ex staff and students of the School have been invited to meet officials of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust at ASOPA and will be able to “wander around the site” afterwards, according to Trust manager Bob Clark.

Asopashft Heritage architects have been invited to tender for work for conservation of the ASOPA buildings. Work will start on implementation as soon as the plan is approved.

The aim of the meeting is to gather details of people who may be able to supply copies of photos, memorabilia and other material and who also may wish to participate in an oral history interview. Ideas for how the site may be used to commemorate ASOPA and its successor institutions will also be discussed.

The meeting will be held in the former Library on the ASOPA campus from 2 - 4 pm on Saturday 31 March. Afternoon tea will be provided. People who are able to attend should contact the Trust booking officer on (02) 8969 2100 or email here by Wednesday 28 March. If you are not able to attend but are interested in providing memorabilia or oral histories at some time in the future, you can email Bob Clark here.


Funny how things happen. Yesterday I attended my first meeting as a committee member of the newly incorporated Matthew Flinders Society. There I met Ray Baker, Melbourne-based sports trainer and remedial masseur who works with, among many others, Aussie Rules teams Carlton and Essendon. Ray is also a direct descendant of Bungaree, the last tribal chief of the Broken Bay Aborigines.

Bungaree2 Now Bungaree’s name may not be well known to you, or even known at all. But it ought to be, because he circumnavigated Australia with Lieutenant Matthew Flinders and the cat, Trim, in that pioneering expedition of 1798, Flinders noting that Bungaree was ‘a worthy and brave fellow’ who, on more than one occasion, saved the expedition. Flinders was the man who coined the name ‘Australia’ and, upon doing so, he is reputed to have told Bungaree that he was “the first Australian”, Flinders himself having been born in England and Trim the cat in South Africa! Bungaree subsequently cut quite a figure around Sydney and was the subject of no less that 17 portraits - including the one here painted in 1826 by Augustus Earle.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie, recognising Bungaree’s courage and worth, gave him some land in the general area of where ASOPA is today. But Bungaree wasn’t much of a farmer, preferring hunting and fishing, and the farm never came to much. But, along with other aspects of Middle Head’s rich history, it remains a substantial part of the Australian story. And yesterday I took Ray Baker across to Mosman in a cab for his first visit to his forbear’s land. I’m glad I did. It was one of those small, important, memorable events.

Georges Ray met with Bob Clark of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to talk about how Bungaree’s life and times may be marked in the amazing project that is transforming Middle Head, extolling its history and restoring its heritage. The old ASOPA campus is part of this, of course, and that’s why you Sydneysiders and near Sydneysiders should try to make that information day at the School between 2 and 4 pm on Saturday 31 March.

Bob Clark suggests you bring along any old photos and documents that may be relevant to the site, but especially your knowledge of how the place was at various points in its development and how it worked. I’ll see you there.


Scenemh Bob Clark writes: The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust is in the process of beginning the adaptive reuse of the ASOPA and adjoining sites. A back to ASOPA afternoon is being held for ex students, teachers and others from 2 -4 pm on Saturday 31 March. The Trust is interested in photos and knowledge of how the site worked and changed over time until its closure. If you can attend you will be most welcome and we would like to collect contact details.

[Photo: Sydney Harbour Federation Trust]

James McAuley

Mcauley James McAuley AM [1917-76] was born in Lakemba, NSW, and was educated at the University of Sydney, graduating with an MA in 1940. At University he was an outstanding intellectual figure, distinguishing himself as a conversationalist, poet, jazz pianist, drinker and bohemian. Drafted into the army in 1942, he was appointed to the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs convened by Alf Conlon. In this position he instructed members of the Australian New Guinea Administration Unit.

From this time, McAuley maintained a great interest in Papua New Guinea, and was a lecturer at ASOPA from 1946-60. His essays on PNG, published in the journal South Pacific, were acclaimed. McAuley became editor of Quadrant in 1956 and was named reader in poetry at the University of Tasmania in 1961, prior to becoming professor of English. He died after a lingering illness at the age of 59.The James McAuley Lecture is delivered annually in his honour at the University of Tasmania.


By James McAuley

The magpie's mood is never surly
every morning, wakening early,
he gargles music in his throat,
the liquid squabble of his throat.

Its silver stridencies of sound,
the bright confusions and the round
bell-cadences are pealed
over the frosty, half-ploughed field.

Then swooping down self confidently
from the fence-post or the tree,
he swaggers in pied feather coat,
and slips the fat worms down his throat

[Sources: and]

ASOPA in Wikipedia

I wish all ASOPA PEOPLE readers a merry Christmas and my hopes for a fulfilling 2007. Our Christmas present takes an unusual form. I've found time to develop a piece on ASOPA for the online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. Thus for the first time,we have a definitive article on ASOPA on the Interent. Wikipedia is compiled largely by volunteers and has begun to rival its hard copy brethren in influence, having already exceeded them in size. Wikipedia is able to be edited by its readers and I'd invite you to add factual information to the ASOPA entry if you have something to contribute. You can find the article on ASOPA here.

Marie Reay

Marie_reay Marie Reay [1922-2004] was a senior fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the Australian National University, author of The Kuma and numerous articles on the New Guinea Highlands. She also spent time at ASOPA. The anthropologist AP Elkin inspired her with an interest in Aborigines and in the mid-1940s she became the first anthropologist to study contemporary conditions among Aborigines in Northern NSW.

After a year as a research assistant at the London School of Economics, Marie spent two years lecturing at ASOPA. She then began a study of the Orokaiva in Papua. This project was aborted by the eruption of Mt Lamington, in which she was caught up and after which she suffered a nervous breakdown.

In 1953, however, she returned to New Guinea and was the first woman anthropologist to go to the Highlands, though the authorities took a good deal of persuading, and imposed absurd restrictions including dress, which once in the field she was able to ignore. The journalist, Colin Simpson discovered her there, and featured her in his travelogue, Adam in Plumes (1954).

Marie remained at ANU for the rest of her career and, despite increasing infirmity, continued to return to the Wahgi, where she maintained a house, almost to the end of her life.

[Source: Australian Journal of Anthropology, December 2005 by Paula Brown Glick and Jeremy Beckett]


Asopa Scott Robertson, from Robertson & Hindmarsh Architects, tells me his firm has been commissioned to prepare a Conservation Management Plan for the ASOPA site. Scott says his firm wants to contact former staff or students who have photographs of the buildings – photographs taken when they were in use. He’s also wondering if there is anyone who knows who planted what is now the lush tropical vegetation beside the walkways. You can contact Scott by emailing him here or respond directly to this web log through the Comments link below.

John Kerr

Kerr_john I’ll be attending former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s 90th birthday celebration on Tuesday 11 July. It will be held, appropriately some might feel, at Sydney’s Machiavelli Restaurant. It’s impossible to mention Whitlam, of course, without thinking of his nemesis, John Kerr, the first Principal of ASOPA.

Sir John Kerr [1914-91], a former Chief Justice of NSW and Australia’s 18th Governor-General, dismissed Gough Whitlam’s Labor government on 11 November 1975, provoking one of the most significant political crises in Australian history. Kerr was born in Balmain, his father a boiler-maker, and won a scholarship to Sydney University, graduating in law. He spent World War 2 working for an Australian intelligence organisation, the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs, under Colonel Alf Conlon. In 1946 he became the first Principal of ASOPA and the first Secretary-General of the South Pacific Commission before returning to the bar in 1948, where he became one of Sydney's leading industrial lawyers.


Bob Clark (email him here), Senior Heritage Planner with the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust writes in the June 2006 issue of Una Voce: Things are beginning to happen down at Middle Head that will lead to a new lease of life for the former ASOPA and its later manifestations. The site is part of former defence land at Georges Heights/Middle Head handed to the newly established Interim Sydney Harbour Federation Trust in 1999. In 2001 the Interim Trust became the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust under its own Act of Federal Parliament charging it with opening various (now eight) sites to the public and conserving, protecting and interpreting their environmental and cultural heritage.

Burrell_asopa05_060The Trust has just commissioned a Conservation Management Plan covering ASOPA and its neighbouring 10 Terminal Regiment. This is the beginning of a process that will gather relevant information for the production of a Plan of Management. The plan will outline the proposed future for the site and a draft will be provided for public comment and displayed on the Trust’s website.

The Conservation Management Plan will include an historical overview of the area, a survey the current condition of the buildings, an assessment of their heritage significance and recommend appropriate uses for the buildings and policies for their conservation and interpretation.

Bohlenasopa05 The Trust and the historian undertaking the overview are interested in receiving photographs of the buildings (internal and external) and their inhabitants and information on teaching staff. ASOPA was highly regarded as a special educational institution. Are you aware of any other institutions in other countries that mirrored ASOPA’s role and success?

An Open Day on site is held in conjunction with the exhibition of the Plan of Management. Given the importance of ASOPA, it is planned to hold a separate Open Day purely for ex students, teachers and staff of the School to gather names, learn more about the institution and to discuss an oral history program.

Photos: Dennis Burrell and Bill Bohlen, from the Class of 1962-63 Reunion, October 2005.

Camilla Wedgwood

Wedgwood Camilla Hildegarde Wedgwood [1901-55], anthropologist and educationist, was born in England, a descendant of Josiah Wedgwood, the master potter. In 1920 she went to Cambridge to study anthropology. She passed with first-class honours in 1924 but the university did not award degrees to women until 1948.

In 1928 she was appointed lecturer in anthropology at Sydney University from where, in 1932-34, she undertook fieldwork on Manam, a volcanic island of 4000 inhabitants off the north coast of New Guinea. She then spent 1935 in Nauru.

It was clear from her research on Manam and Nauru that, in spite of her own unmarried independence, she saw a subordinate role for women in marriage and the wider society as part of the natural order.

In 1935 Wedgwood was appointed principal of Women's College at the University of Sydney. As principal and daughter of a well-known British Labour politician, Lord Wedgwood, she was a public figure in Sydney, prominent in charitable causes as well as a member of the strongly pacifist Quakers.

In 1944 Wedgwood was commissioned lieutenant colonel in the Australian Army and served as a research officer in Alf Conlon's Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. Here she developed policies for postwar educational reconstruction in Papua New Guinea, where she served intermittently in 1944-45. On an army bivouac, when offered a cigarette by her young cadets, she replied: “No thanks, I roll my own”.

Following demobilisation in 1946, she became a popular figure at ASOPA, where she was senior lecturer in native administration.

Camilla Wedgwood died of cancer on 17 May 1955 at Royal North Shore Hospital. A girls' secondary school at Goroka in the New Guinea Highlands and a memorial lecture in Port Moresby were named after her and her friend James McAuley dedicated his poem Winter Nightfall to her.

Author: David Wetherell

Photo: Australian War Memorial

Read more in The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Alf Conlon

Alf_conlon_1937 Colonel Alfred (Alf) Conlon [1908-61] chaired Prime Minister John Curtin's committee on national morale in 1942 and, the following year, reporting to commander-in-chief General Sir Thomas Blamey, assumed charge of the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. In this role, he assembled around him a group of talented people, among them John Kerr, James Plimsoll, James McAuley, Harold Stewart, Camilla Wedgwood, HIP Hogbin, WEH Stanner and Isa Leeson.

One of the Directorate’s main functions was to provide policy advice on the government of the Trust Territory - Papua - and the Mandated Territory - New Guinea. Even in this early post-war period, Conlon' s activity extended beyond military exigency to anticipate PNG's independence. Under his leadership the Directorate performed work of enduring value: the two Territories were placed under one administration, their laws consolidated and codified, and the School of Civil Affairs was established to train service personnel as colonial administrators. In peacetime this became the Australian School of Pacific Administration.

Conlon's propensity for informal contact, deliberate avoidance of regular channels and neglect of administrative process (attributes later much emulated in PNG under Australian administration) led to clashes with official bodies. So Conlon relinquished this appointment, only to spend 1948-49 as an unsuccessful and unhappy principal of ASOPA.

Thereafter he resumed his medical degree at the University of Sydney and qualified, with difficulty, afterwards conducting a mainly psychiatric practice from his North Sydney home.

Conlon was of tall and bulky build. He smoked, drank and ate liberally, avoided fresh air and shunned exercise. He declared he was not interested in a long life, and he did not have one. But his enterprise and energy created a solid foundation for ASOPA and for the development of Papua New Guinea.

Read more in The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Author: Peter Ryan


John Kleinig writes in the most recent issue of Una Voce, the journal of the PNG Association of Australia: Those who had anything to do with ASOPA will be interested in the glossy new signboard that you can now find outside the former Hallstrom Library at Middle Head. Titled ‘The Old Pacific Training Centre’ it goes on……

“This collection of weatherboard buildings was built for the Army just before World War II. It became the School of Pacific Administration after the war and was later used by AusAid to train public servants, diplomats and Pacific nationals.”

The Harbour Trust, with what appears to be unlimited funds from the Commonwealth Government, is “restoring the precinct to create a place for public use and recreation”. So with the flick of the signwriter’s wrist, it appears that the site will now be transformed into a picnickers’ haven complete with some of the best views of the harbour.

Other suggestions in the past have included a school holiday or arts camp, a backpacker facility for schools and visitors, an open air amphitheatre and so on. There may be some fleeting reference to the work of ASOPA, probably in one of the touristy type brochures you find in the onsite weather-proof containers. Or maybe they have some plans to incorporate some of the past into the new facility. A quick look at the website didn’t give much away.

I don’t want to give the impression that the Harbour Trust is an insensitive, amateurish show. In fact the opposite is the case. The refurbishment of Lower Georges’ Heights is a stunning example of what can be done when you have the money, leadership and expertise. As well, the site has one of the best views of the harbour. Before they move to the next stage, which will probably include the ASOPA site, it would be intriguing to find out what is now planned.

Hal Wootten

Halwootten Hal Wootten QC AC, one of Australia's most brilliant legal minds, is a former NSW Supreme Court judge, a former Chairman of the Press Council and an expert on Aboriginal and Papua New Guinea affairs. He was also one of the founding staff members of ASOPA immediately after World War 2.

In an interview with Peter Thompson of ABC Radio National, he tells of how this came about…..

"Well, when I was working for the private solicitor and feeling very unhappy, and wondering what I’d do, I got a phone call out of the blue from someone who said his name was John Kerr. He wanted to talk to me about the possibility of a job, and would I meet him in a coffee shop. He described to me what a Colonel’s uniform looked like, and I went down.

"He had just become Principal of the Australian School of Pacific Administration, which was the civilian metamorphosis of the LHQ of Civil Affairs, which had trained people to go back for the administration of British North Borneo when it was re-taken from the Japs, and had done other work.

"The Australian School of Pacific Administration was to be a permanent school training field staff, magistrates, patrol officers and so on for New Guinea, for the resumption of civil administration. These of course were still in the days of the great post-war idealistic outburst before the Cold War had really killed everyone’s enthusiasm, poverty was to be tackled, colonialism was to be got rid of, racial discrimination was to be eliminated and there was a whole brave new world to be built.

"Part of the picture of ASOPA was that it was to work towards preparing Papua-New Guinea for independence, as part of the world-wide decolonisation process. So there was a very attractive, a very idealistic agenda associated with the School. Anyway I ended up going there, initially as a general tutor and then as a law lecturer, and I was there for five years which were very interesting years.