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George Arthur Vickers Stanley (1904–1965)

by B. J. Allen

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George Arthur Vickers Stanley (1904-1965), by Geoffrey Mainwaring, 1945

George Arthur Vickers Stanley (1904-1965), by Geoffrey Mainwaring, 1945

Australian War Memorial, ART24248

George Arthur Vickers Stanley (1904-1965), geologist and geographer, was born on 26 July 1904 at Little Coogee, Sydney, only child of John Arthur Hall Stanley, estate agent, and his wife Elizabeth, née Moyse, both Australian born. After his mother's death, George was raised from the age of 5 by close relations at Randwick. He attended Sydney Technical College and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1926), graduating with first-class honours in geology and geography. Joining a party which surveyed Ontong Java atoll in the Solomon Islands, he later took part in a university survey of the Great Barrier Reef.

In 1927 Stanley was employed by the Anglo-Persian Oil Co. and travelled to Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea where he was to live and work for the rest of his life. In 1930-33 he carried out geological surveys along the coastal ranges between Matapau and Aitape. Appointed by Oil Search Ltd of Sydney in 1934 as leader of a team to carry the survey south of the Torricelli mountains between Maprik and Lumi, he concentrated on an anticlinal structure at Wambara which he was convinced would be worth drilling, but in 1939 the survey was abandoned. That year he investigated possible oil exploration leases near the Dutch border, visited oil fields in the Dutch East Indies and worked for the Australasian Petroleum Co. in Papua.

With the Japanese invasion Stanley left Papua in June 1942. As a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve he was attached to the Far Eastern Liaison Organisation, a secret propaganda unit, and returned to Port Moresby. He recruited, trained and supervised local men to act as Australian agents. In 1943 he participated in 'Moss Troop', an unsuccessful attempt to land forces behind Japanese lines on the Upper Sepik, and in 1944 reported on troop movements in the Torricelli foothills. Although the sometimes controversial activities of Stanley and his agents were questioned by other Australians operating in the Sepik, he was awarded the D.S.C. in 1945.

In 1947 Stanley rejoined A.P.C. as a senior geologist. In 1956 he joined the Papuan Apinaipi Oil Co. On 11 November 1961 he married Palu Hehuni of Tubusereia village. Stanley increasingly adopted a studied eccentricity. Although a well-educated and cultured European, president of the Port Moresby Scientific Society, member of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, and owner of perhaps the best library of Papua New Guineana, he dressed in a singlet and baggy shorts, and drove about Port Moresby in a battered Landrover, with two or three Papua-New Guineans, collecting empty bottles. In 1962 Stanley joined the Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources, Canberra. During his last years he was troubled by lack of money and long separations from his family. Suffering from cancer, he returned to Port Moresby where, after receiving Anglican confirmation, he died on 6 October 1965 and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife and daughter survived him. Much of his valuable library went to the University of Papua New Guinea.

A large man, even by the late 1930s Stanley travelled extremely slowly on foot in the bush and was sometimes carried. His scientific contribution was his detailed geological mapping and synthesizing of the exploratory work of others. Stanley was not at home in either colonial European or Papua New Guinean culture. While he disliked the post-war colonial society, he held some of the prejudices towards Papua New Guineans of the pre-war European society.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Ryan (ed), Encyclopaedia of Papua and New Guinea, vol 2 (Melb, 1972)
  • D. M. Fenbury papers (National Library of Australia)
  • H. A. J. Fryer papers (National Library of Australia)
  • G. A. V. Stanley papers (University of Papua New Guinea Library).

Citation details

B. J. Allen, 'Stanley, George Arthur Vickers (1904–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

George Arthur Vickers Stanley (1904-1965), by Geoffrey Mainwaring, 1945

George Arthur Vickers Stanley (1904-1965), by Geoffrey Mainwaring, 1945

Australian War Memorial, ART24248

Life Summary [details]


26 July, 1904
Little Coogee, New South Wales, Australia


6 October, 1965 (aged 61)
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.