Brigadier Sir Charles Spry led ASIO from 1950 to 1970 and shaped the Organisation as it evolved to counter the threat to Australia and the Commonwealth from the Cold War. As a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon, Spry’s career included postings abroad and a position as a staff officer at Army Headquarters before becoming Director of Military Intelligence in 1946.
Spry was appointed Director-General of Security by Prime Minister Robert Menzies following the departure of Justice Reed. Spry, while only 40 years old when appointed, had accumulated a great deal of experience in his already impressive career.
He brought with him the military attributes of discipline, organisation and a firm, dignified hand. One of Spry’s first steps on assuming responsibility for ASIO was to establish a new headquarters for the Organisation in Queens Road, Melbourne. The officers of the day faced an early challenge—the centralisation of the Organisation’s records, most of which were paper files in the Sydney office.
In the early days of information management in ASIO, these records were manually reviewed and replicated based on their content. It was a protracted and mundane task of sorting, creating files and copying—the old-fashioned way, without photocopiers and scanners, by re-typing the relevant documents. To make lighter work of the mission, staff took on the task with humour and good grace, referring to themselves as the ‘The Salt Miners Federation’—inspired by the forced labour ‘Gulags’ of the Siberian salt mines.
Spry led ASIO for 19 years, leaving an indelible mark on the Organisation. Although his tenure was at times controversial, he is remembered as a dedicated and decisive leader and is attributed with developing the professionalism and skill level of the fledgling organisation, transforming it into a credible and formidable security service.
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