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.
Author: Peter Ryan