In late 1951 the PNG Department of Education reported that it employed 117 people. Not many in a land where the Australian government claimed to be promoting education as a development priority. One month later, in January 1952, PNG Treasurer, HH Reeve, firmly in Canberra’s thrall, let the educationists know that “a strong view is held that the overall restriction in finance will prevent Departmental progress and expansion.” And the South Pacific Post lamely editorialised: “The stock answer to requests for schools is ‘No funds’.”
Despite it being apparent that the nascent education system was starved of funds, the then PNG Public Service Commissioner felt able to write to the Administrator, Donald Cleland: “I desire to advise that I have had no confidence in the organisation of the Department of Education.”
And Acting Administrator Cleland, very much Bob Menzies’ man, advised CR Lambert, the Secretary of the Territories Department in cosy Canberra: “I share [these] view, not only in regard to the organisation and functions of the headquarters staff but also as to the effectiveness of the Department in the field.” And Cleland had only been in PNG five minutes.
In June, the Director of Education, WC Groves, obviously seen by Cleland as a ‘JK Murray man’ and therefore in the gun, wrote to a colleague: “We have not been entirely idle here. The job grows bigger every day, with too few people to handle it. I think I can say with truth that I personally have never worked so continuously hard at any job that has fallen to my lot before.”
Sensing that Groves was in trouble, Murray wrote to him in July that he should “hold on” if attempts were made to ‘narrow’ the concept of education. He gave Groves some good strategic advice, including to preface his Budget Estimates submission by stating ‘the essentials’ of education policy in PNG.
Cleland hadn’t finished with his attempted demolition of Groves. When the new Administrator opened Mission Conference in November 1952, which Groves was supposed to chair, Cleland told the gathering, “…pick your own [chairman], no feelings will be hurt.” Groves left Port Moresby on the MV Murkur in early December on four months leave.
Why there was a war being fought against the Department of Education when the United Nations was urging greater Australia action in schooling might have been due entirely to personality conflicts, but we will have to leave it up to historians to provide a definitive answer.
What we do know it that, in the following year, Territories Secretary Lambert was emboldened to suggest: “the possibility of devising a two-year Sydney Teachers’ College Course to include by way of alternative and optional courses the special subjects required by the Director of Education and provided by ASOPA”.
In other words, ASOPA should be closed. Lambert said his suggestion had been discussed with the principal of the Sydney Teachers’ College, Dr I Turner, obviously greatly impressed by the prospect of expanding his empire. There was no mention of the views of ASOPA Principal Charles Rowley.
Dr Turner was magnanimous in accepting his new role. “[Turner] said that he would be willing and able to provide a lecture room in which members of the ASOPA staff could give lectures to ASOPA Cadets, provided that these lectures were given after 4 pm … Dr Turner said that unfortunately he would not be able to provide any place for ASOPA staff to work or leave material [and] it would probably not be possible to keep all the Cadets in one student group. It was felt that this was probably a good thing, since the Cadets would get a wider range of experience if they were in different classes, and that they would intermingle more easily with the other students.”
Fortunately, this preposterous suggestion, and Turner’s mean and grasping response to it, never saw the light of day. But it was another of many incidents in ASOPA’s journey which saw the School come close to closure.
Based on ‘The Blatchford Collection’ [1952,1953] in ASOPA People Extra.