THE CONCEPT OF the Australian School of Pacific Administration was the brainchild of Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Conlon.
As Director of the Australian Army Land Headquarters Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs, he convinced the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Thomas Blamey, of the need for a school to train officers to undertake civil government functions in the areas of Papua and New Guinea recaptured from the Japanese.
Early in 1945, with General Blamey's approval, Colonel Conlon proceeded to establish what was known as the Land Headquarters School of Civil Affairs, in building in the grounds of the Royal Military College, Duntroon.
Colonel JK Murray, who later became the first postwar Administrator of Papua and New Guinea, was appointed Chief Instructor and a highly qualified academic staff was quickly assembled.
Dr HIP Hogbin MA PhD, Dr RO Piddington and the Honorable Camilla Wedgwood MA - three anthropologists with established reputations for scholarship in this field - were appointed to the full time staff with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Dr John Andrews, Professor of Geography at the University of Melbourne, also joined the staff as a Lieutenant Colonel to lecture in geography. Dr Lucy Mair, Reader in Colonial Administration at London University, was brought out from England under contract to lecture at the School.
Lecturing in law was done by Lieutenant Colonel JP Fry MA BCL SjurD, who later compiled the first ten volumes of the Annotated Laws of Papua and the Territory of New Guinea.
In addition to this highly qualified staff of lecturers, six full time tutors were appointed, one of whom was Captain JP McAuley, now Professor of English at the University of Tasmania and one of Australia's outstanding poets.
In those early days the school's training program was designed on the basis of each lecture being followed by a tutorial.
Students were selected to attend the School from the ranks of the Australian Army and Air Force and included the following officers still serving with the Administration of Papua New Guinea: Harry West, Director, Division of District Administration within the Department of the Administrator; Kingsley Jackson, District Commissioner; Bill Johnson, Assistant Secretary, Civil Defence; Don Grove, Director of Lands; Keith Dyer, Principal Projects Officer, Department of the Administrator; Des Clifton Bassett, District Commissioner at Madang; Eric Flower, Works Coordinator, Department of the Treasury; and Fred Kaad, former District Commissioner, and now on the staff of the School.
In May 1945, General Blamey approved an amount of £10,000 being allocated for the construction of permanent premises for the School in the ACT. This was further evidence of Colonel Conlon's influence on General Blamey.
Colonel Conlon clearly perceived an important post-war role for the School as a centre of training and research for the whole South Pacific area, and gained General Blamey's support for his long-range plan.
Although a site for the School was selected within the grounds of the proposed Australian National University, events were to conspire against the project proceeding.
The School was moved to Holsworthy at the end of 1945, and it was not until the early 1950s that the proposal to establish the school in Canberra was again seriously sponsored by the then Minister for Territories, Mr Paul Hasluck.
When the school's military role came to an end with the defeat of Japan, Alfred Conlon set about the task of persuading Mr Eddie Ward, the first post-war Minister for Territories, to ensure its continuance as a civil institution to train administrative officers for the Administration of Papua and New Guinea.
Largely as a result of his efforts, in March 1946, the School became a civil institution under the name of The Australian School of Pacific Administration, and was transferred to Georges Heights, Mosman.
There, and later at Middle Head, the School operated provisionally until 12 April 1947, when the Federal Cabinet approved its permanent establishment.
ASOPA was given statutory recognition in 1949 by the Papua and New Guinea Act 1919-1971.
Mr JR Kerr, the present Chief Justice of New South Wales, was appointed the first Principal of the newly constituted School. He was followed by Mr AA Conlon (August 1948 – September 1949), Mr CD Rowley (November 1950 - March 1964), Mr JR Mattes (March 1964-December 1971), and the present Principal, Mr JP Reynolds.
In the post-war years the School's training responsibilities were extended to include the training of welfare officers for the Northern Territory and teacher-training, as well as its original commitment to train patrol officers for Papua and New Guinea.
Conceived in the prevailing uncertainty of the war years, ASOPA has battled on hopefully through the post war years, to an assured future that has so far eluded it.
When its epitaph is finally written it will surely contain the words - "to the memory of an institution that passed away while its future role was under periodic review."
Source: ‘ASOPA in war and peace’ in ’25 Years of ASOPA’. Geoff Leaver (editor), Australian School of Pacific Administration, 1972