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Synopsis

The Backroom Boys is the remarkable, but little known, story of how a varied group of talented intellectuals, drafted into the Australian Army in the dark days of 1942, provided high-level policy advice to Australia's most senior soldier, General Blamey, and through him to the Government for the remainder of the war and beyond. This band of academics, lawyers and New Guinea patrol officers formed a unique military unit, the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs, under the command of an eccentric and masterful string-puller, Alf Conlon. The Directorate has been depicted as a haven for underemployed poets or meddlesome soldier-politicians. Based on wide-ranging research, this book reveals a fuller and more fascinating picture. The fierce conflicts in the wartime bureaucracy between public servants and soldiers, in which the Directorate provided critical support to Blamey, went to the heart of military command, accountability and the profession of arms. The Directorate was a pioneer in developing approaches to military government in areas liberated by the combat troops, as demonstrated by the Australian Army in New Guinea, and Borneo in 1945-46. It is an issue of enduring importance. The Directorate established the Australian School of Pacific Administration, and had an important role in founding the Australian National University. Its influence extended into post war Australia. The Backroom Boys emphasises the personality of Colonel Alf Conlon, as well as the talented men and women he recruited. Above all, this book shows how, unexpectedly, the Australian Army fostered a group of men and women who made a lasting contribution to the development of Australia in the decades after the war.

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