Ian Dunbar Fretz Claessen (1922-2001)
Nat Map’s First Clerk and its Finance Whiz 1961-1985
By Laurie McLean, October 2018
Ian Claessen 1984
Extract from Dandenong office staff photo.
Ian Claessen was a man of small stature who had a quiet, courteous and somewhat reserved disposition. For a quarter of a century between March 1961 and December 1985 Ian gave dedicated and valued service to the Division of National Mapping’s Victorian office as an administration and finance officer. Ian wrote with a fine flowing copperplate hand.
Ian was born in Ceylon of Dutch-Ceylonese descent on 18 January 1922. He was a grandson of the Assistant Colonial Surgeon. Ian was a member of the Dutch Burgher diaspora who left Ceylon to settle in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries. The Burghers are a small Eurasian ethnic group in Ceylon descended from Portuguese, Dutch, British and other European men who settled in Ceylon and developed relationships with native Ceylonese women. With the establishment of Ceylon as a British Crown Colony early in the Nineteenth Century, most people who retained close ties with the Netherlands departed. However, a significant community of Burghers remained and largely adopted the English language. During British rule, Burghers occupied important places in Ceylonese social and economic life.
World War II service
As a young man Ian Claessen served with the Royal Army Service Corps during World War II. It is not known if Ian’s service was solely in Ceylon or whether he was posted overseas.
Nat Map supervising surveyor Rom Vassil recalled Ian discussing the Japanese air raids on Colombo that Ian witnessed on Easter Sunday 5 April 1942. For further brief details on initial Japanese hostilities against Ceylon in World War II please refer to Appendix A.
During World War II (when Ceylon was still a British Colony), many Ceylonese volunteered for war service. Most of these volunteers joined the Ceylon Defence Force (CDF). During the War the CDF expanded from a reserve unit to a mobilised force of ten infantry battalions and three artillery regiments. Support units served in the Royal Army Service Corps. Many Ceylonese including members of the CDF volunteered for service in the British Army. Ceylonese troops served in the Royal Engineers in Italy and with the Royal Army Service Corps in the Middle East and North Africa.
After the War, Ian was employed by the Government Transport Board in Ceylon. In 1960, together with his family Ian Claessen emigrated from Ceylon to Australia. The political landscape in Ceylon under pro-nationalist governments from the mid-1950s alienated some parts of Ceylonese society including, Christians, the Dutch Burghers and others of European heritage as well as the Tamils. For some highlights in the recent history of Ceylon please refer to Appendix B.
According to electoral roll entries by 1963 at least, Ian Claessen and his wife Dorothy Estelle Claessen were living at 35 Glendale Road, Springvale in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs. Electoral rolls also indicated that around 1968 Ian and Dorothy were living at 9 Monterey Boulevard in the Pines Estate at North Frankston. The Pines is on the eastern side of the Frankston-Dandenong Road about 16 kilometres south of Dandenong.
National Mapping Administrative Section at the Rialto Building 1961-1977
Ian Claessen joined Nat Map’s office in the Rialto Building at 497 Collins Street Melbourne on 27 March 1961 as an administrative officer. Ian was the first clerk engaged in what became a small Administrative Section on the second floor of Nat Map’s Melbourne office. However, it appears that for his first 10 years of service, Ian’s formal Public Service position was Drafting Assistant, Grade 1.
Flexible working hours were introduced in the Commonwealth Public Service in the early 1970s. Prior to then, standard daily office hours were from 0830 to 1651 with a one-hour lunch break. All staff had to sign in and sign out on a daily time sheet.
For many years Ian was the custodian of the time sheet and would rule a red line across the sheet at 0830 each morning. Any late-comers had to sign below the red line and then tender their excuses to management or have their pay docked accordingly. Occasionally some staff would claim that Ian had ruled the line too early or was late in making the time sheet accessible at 1651. Needless to say such claims were invariably without foundation. Assistant director Joe Lines in particular had the utmost faith in Ian’s integrity and when necessary would simply suggest that a complainant set their watch a little earlier.
At the Rialto Building Ian Claessen initially served briefly under supervising surveyor George Robert Lindsay (Rim) Rimington who moved to Canberra as assistant director in 1962 (Rim had been promoted to the Canberra position in July 1961). Afterwards Ian worked under supervising surveyor Howard Angas (Bill) Johnson, assistant director John Dunstan (Joe) Lines, and assistant director Sydney Lorrimar (Syd) Kirkby.
In late 1967 a new Clerk Class 3 position (No 319) was created in Nat Map’s Melbourne Administrative Section. The occupant of the new position was responsible for the clerical activities in respect of staffing, estimating, repairs, purchasing and stores. Despite carrying out similar duties for some six years Ian was not appointed to the new position. Instead Laurie Worsnop (1946-2011) was promoted to the position from the Department of National Development’s Victorian Regional Office.
As well as Ian Claessen and Laurie Worsnop, other Nat Map administrative staff at the Rialto included: Billie Cruickshanks who joined in the early 1960s, Noelene Burgess (clerical assistant) who had joined in March 1968, and Robyn Hayes (secretary to assistant director Joe Lines) who also joined in 1968. Marilyn Heller (clerk) joined in December 1971 and Margaret Fielding (typist) joined in September 1972. Another staff member from the early 1970s until early 1977 was Con Steriadis (clerical assistant).
In 1970, Robyn Hayes and Laurie Worsnop married and in early January 1971 the Worsnops moved to Canberra where Laurie was promoted to a Clerk Class 4 position in the Central Office of the Department of National Development.
1971 was a big year in Ian Claessen’s Nat Map career. On 14 January 1971 Ian was promoted from Drafting Assistant Grade 1 (Third Division) to the then Clerk Class 2/3 position (No 2) vacated by Laurie Worsnop. Later that year the Clerk Class 2/3 position (No 2) was reclassified at the Clerk Class 4 level. Initially Ian was overlooked for promotion to the higher classification by the selection panel chaired by Victorian Regional Office executive officer Jim Sullivan.
However, after the first chosen candidate withdrew, Ian was duly promoted to Clerk Class 4 on 18 November 1971. Thus during the course of 1971 Ian enjoyed about a 70 per cent increase in his annual salary, from a then salary range maximum of $3,569 to a salary range maximum of $6,016.
In his Clerk Class 4 position, Ian’s duties were to control and direct staff within the Administrative Section; carry out the more important tasks in this area, prepare associated correspondence, and assist with preparation of annual estimates of expenditure for the Division of National Mapping in Melbourne.
National Mapping Administrative Officer at Ellery House 1977-1985
In April 1977, along with National Mapping’s Topographic Office, Ian moved from the Rialto Building to Ellery House at 280 Thomas Street Dandenong about 35 kilometres south-east of the Melbourne central business district. Ian continued to lead the small administrative group at Ellery House until mid-1978.
From that time most of Nat Map’s Topographic Office administration functions were undertaken by staff in the Victorian Regional Office of the then Department of National Resources. VRO staff shifted to Ellery House from 460 Bourke Street Melbourne in July 1978.
Despite some overtures for Ian to be transferred into the Victorian Regional Office at Ellery House, he remained with Nat Map until his Public Service retirement some seven years later. Nat Map apparently kept Ian on its own staff due to the level of respect and trust with which he was held by Nat Map senior managers who appreciated the need for discrete divisional level financial advice, as distinct from relying solely on advice at the departmental level.
At Ellery House Ian Claessen became part of the small Planning and Staff Development Section. The section was headed successively by senior surveyors John Manning, Rom Vassil, John Madden, and Paul Wise.
The other staff member of the section was the Training Officer; Reg Ford BEM (1914‑1994) until his retirement leave in August 1979 and then Bruce O’Connor. During his eight years at Ellery House Ian served under assistant directors Syd Kirkby and Alan Thomson.
Some of Ian’s Family History
Ian Claessen’s paternal grandparents were James Gerald Claessen (1848-1931) and his second wife Adeline Maud Schokman (1863-1919). James Claessen was born in Colombo to Coenraad Henricus Claessen and his wife Maria Georgiana de Caan. Adeline Schokman was one of the daughters of Charles Everbardus (Edward) Schokman and his wife Joseline Petronella Van Geyze. James Claessen was a station master with the Ceylon Government Railway.
James Claessen’s first marriage was to Sarah Lucretia Schokman (1856-1879). Sarah was an elder sister of James’ second wife Adeline Schokman. James and Sarah married in the Dutch Reformed Church, Wolvendaal on 20 September 1876. The Wolvendaal Church is located in the Pettah neighbourhood of Colombo. It is one of the oldest Protestant churches still in use in present day Sri Lanka.
Ian Claessen’s grandfather James Claessen and his first wife Sarah had two children prior to Sarah’s untimely death at age 23 years in January 1879. At the Wolvendaal Church in June 1882, James Claessen married Ian’s grandmother Adeline Schokman. They were to have nine children. Their third child was Ian’s father Glenville Dunbar Claessen who was born on 1 June 1886.
A recent image of the Wolvendaal Church in the Pettah neighbourhood of Colombo.
Image from Wikipedia website.
On 27 July 1917 Ian’s parents Glenville Dunbar Claessen and Iris Agnes Fretz, married in St Paul's Church in the Milagiriya district of Colombo. St Paul's is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka and is now part of the Anglican Church of Sri Lanka. Ian’s mother Iris Fretz (1887-1927) was the daughter of Arthur Henry Fretz and Agnes Jane Stork. Arthur Henry Fretz was Assistant Colonial Surgeon in Ceylon’s Civil Medical Department.
Glenville and Iris Claessen were to have three children:
· Noeline Stephanie, born 24 December 1919 (and in 1941 married Albert Eugene Reginald Ebert)
· Ian Dunbar Fretz, born 18 January 1922
· Glenville Malcolm Fretz, born 15 September 1923.
St Paul's Church in the Milagiriya district of Colombo where Ian Claessen’s parents married in 1917.
AntanO image from Wikipedia website.
Nat Map retirement
Ian Claessen retired from Nat Map’s Dandenong Topographic Office on Friday 20 December 1985 after nearly 25 years of dedicated service.
The day before Ian’s retirement the Dandenong office Christmas party luncheon was held on the seventh floor of Ellery House. At this luncheon Ian was seated at the same table as Senator Gareth Evans QC, Minister for Resources and Energy.
Retirement farewell (from the Natmap News December 1985 No 53)
Mr Ian Dunbar Fretz Claessen has been counting the cups of tea until his final retirement on the 20 December 1985 and has over the years endeared himself to a succession of assistant directors and all of us with his old fashioned courtesy and shrewd, often witty observations on daily life. This is what we will miss. Ian seems very happy with the prospects of his approaching retirement: I can't believe that my career is over, I am very happy with National Mapping. I have made many friends here…perhaps I have stood on a few toes from time to time, but generally things have worked out. I am very pleased that I have achieved what I set out to do - to build my own house and raise my family, and now they are all still with me, right behind me. I have a lot to be thankful for, here at Natmap, and to the One Above…yes. Ian joined Natmap on the 27 March 1961, and was the first clerk to do so. Prior to that he had journeyed from Ceylon with his family in 1960 and worked there for the Government Transport Board, and during World War II served in the Royal Army Service Corps.
The staff of the Natmap News and all at Natmap join in wishing Ian a happy retirement and plenty of time to enjoy his many hobbies and interests.
19 December 1985: Ian Claessen and other Nat Map staff dining with Senator Gareth Evans QC, Minister for Resources and Energy (in suit).
Sadly, Ian Claessen died on 17 July 2001 at age 79 years. Ian was survived by his wife Dorothy Estelle Claessen and by their children Sandra and Ion. Ian’s remains were buried at the Bunurong Memorial Park Cemetery at 790 Frankston-Dandenong Road Bangholme, about 7 kilometres north of the Claessen family home at Frankston North.
By the time of Ian’s passing Nat Map had ceased to exist as a discrete organisation and sadly his death was not communicated widely within the Nat Map community. However, Ian is still fondly remembered by all Nat Mappers who knew him. The Nat Map community is lessened by his passing.
A fitting tribute to Ian Claessen was recently given by Syd Kirkby who worked with Ian at various times between 1961 and 1984. Over the last seven years of that period Syd was Nat Map’s assistant director in Melbourne: I should like to register my personal admiration of Ian's unswerving integrity and loyalty to Nat Map. It is a matter of deep regret that the letter of the Public Service Act and Regulations, rather than evaluation of merit, for so long prevented Ian being properly recognised by classification of his position as the exemplary contributor he was. They don't come straighter than Ian Claessen.
Initial Japanese Hostilities against Ceylon in World War II
The Battle of Ceylon started with an air attack by carrier-based aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy against the then capital city Colombo on Easter Sunday 5 April 1942. The Japanese fleet comprised five fast carriers (Akagi, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku), four battleships (Karishima, Hiyei, Haruna and Kongo); and was supported by two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and eleven destroyers. The entire group was fuelled at sea by six fleet tankers. This attack was part of Japanese hostilities in the South-East Asian theatre during World War II. The Easter Sunday attack was part of Japan’s Indian Ocean Raid where the strategic objective was to disrupt the war effort of British Commonwealth nations and force the British Eastern Fleet to leave Asian waters.
On 9 April 1942 the Japanese carried out a similar attack at Trincomalee on Ceylon’s eastern (Bay of Bengal) coast. In both raids, the targets were British warships, harbour installations, and air bases. Colombo and its suburbs were attacked at 0800 by 75 enemy aircraft which came in waves from the carrier force at sea. Some 25 of the raiders were shot down and 25 more were damaged. Dive-bombing and low-flying machine-gun attacks were made in the Harbour and Ratmalana areas. A medical establishment in the suburbs was also bombed.
The raid on Colombo was led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo and Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, the two men who attacked the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. On 19 February 1942 Nagumo and Fuchida had attacked Darwin with 242 aircraft from a fleet of four aircraft carriers supported by two heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, seven destroyers, and three submarines. The Royal Air Force had only 20 planes at Colombo against the 120 planes available to Commander Fuchida. The RAF fighters took-off from the racecourse grounds and there was an air battle over Colombo. Ceylon Garrison Artillery and the Royal Artillery managed to shoot down some of the Japanese planes.
On 9 April 1942, Japanese attacked the harbour at Trincomalee and British ships off Batticaloa about 100 kilometres to the south. The light aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, the V and W-class Australian destroyer HMAS Vampire and the Flower-class corvette HMS Hollyhock were sunk and SS Sagaing partially destroyed. The RAF lost at least eight Hurricanes and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm lost one Fairey Fulmar. The Japanese lost five bombers and six fighters, one in a suicide attack on the Trincomalee fuel tanks with the resulting fire lasting seven days. Seven hundred people lost their lives in the attack on Trincomalee.
Ceylon - Some Historical Highlights
Map from Wikipedia website.
The Portuguese in Ceylon 1518-1658
By about 1500 trade in the Indian Ocean was dominated by Arab, Indian, Malay, and Chinese merchants who together used numerous types of seafaring craft to transport a variety of cargo, from spices to elephants. In the early Sixteenth Century Portuguese ships with mounted guns arrived in the ocean. These vessels, with their firepower and capacity for higher speeds, helped implement a policy of control that began to undermine the region’s long-standing, relatively open trade competition.
In 1505 a Portuguese fleet was blown into Colombo by adverse winds. The fleet commander Almeida received a friendly audience from the King of Kotte and was favourably impressed with the commercial and strategic value of the island. The Portuguese later returned and established regular and formal contact with Kotte. In 1518 the Portuguese built a fort at Colombo, were given trading concessions and gradually extended their control over coastal areas.
In 1592, the Sinhalese moved their capital to the inland city of Kandy. That location was more secure against attack from the European invaders. Intermittent warfare continued through the Sixteenth Century.
The period of Portuguese influence was marked by intense Roman Catholic missionary activity. Franciscans established centres in the country from 1543 onward. Jesuits were active in the north. Toward the end of the Sixteenth Century, Dominicans and Augustinians arrived. At the death of King Rajasinha in 1593, the Sitawake kingdom disintegrated for want of a strong successor. The Portuguese captured much of the land of the Kotte royal lineage and emerged as a strong power on the island. In 1580 Dharmapala (the last King of Kotte) was persuaded to deed his kingdom to the Portuguese and when he died in 1597 they took formal possession of it.
With the conversion of Dharmapala, many members of the Sinhalese nobility followed suit. Dharmapala endowed missionary orders lavishly, often from the properties of Buddhist and Hindu temples. After the Portuguese secured control of Ceylon they used their extensive powers of patronage and preference in appointments to promote Christianity. Members of the landed aristocracy embraced Christianity and took Portuguese surnames at baptism. Many coastal communities underwent mass conversion, particularly Jaffna, Mannar, and the fishing communities north of Colombo. Catholic churches with attached schools served Catholic communities across Ceylon. The Portuguese language spread extensively and the upper classes quickly gained proficiency in it.
Control of the cinnamon trade was one of the commercial imperatives for the Portuguese occupation of Ceylon.
Dutch Occupation 1658-1796
Dutch rule in Ceylon was implemented through the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-indische Compagnie, commonly called VOC). It was a trading company established in 1602 primarily to protect Dutch trade interests in the Indian Ocean. Although the VOC first controlled only the coastal lands, the Dutch gradually pushed inland, occupying considerable territory in southern, southwestern, and western Ceylon. By 1660 the Dutch controlled the whole island except for the Kingdom of Kandy. In 1665 the Dutch expanded to the east coast and thus controlled most of the cinnamon-growing lands and the points of exit and entry on the island.
Under Dutch occupation the Portuguese were systematically expelled. The Dutch (who were Protestants) persecuted the Catholics (the left-over Portuguese settlers) but left the Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims alone. However, they taxed the people far more heavily than the Portuguese had done. A mixed Dutch-Ceylon people known as Burgher peoples are the legacy of Dutch rule.
Kingdom of Kotte - Kandy
Initially a client Kingdom of the Kingdom of Kotte, Kandy gradually established itself as an independent force during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, allying at various times with the Jaffna Kingdom, the Madurai Nayak dynasty of South India, Sitawaka Kingdom, and the Dutch colonisers to ensure its survival.
Much of the Kingdom's territory was located in Ceylon’s mountainous and thickly forested interior. Mountain passes provided plenty of opportunities for defenders to stage ambushes. Routes to Kandy were kept secret, and spreading information concerning them could often result in death. Many routes into the hill country became impassable during the annual monsoon, and malaria was rife. Throughout its existence Kandyan forces used the land to their advantage, engaging in guerrilla warfare against invading forces, and evacuating major urban centres when enemy forces drew near – a tactic used with particular effect during the Kandyan Wars.
From the 1590s, Kotte was the sole independent native polity on the island of Ceylon. Through a combination of hit-and-run tactics and diplomacy they kept European colonial forces at bay, before finally succumbing to British colonial rule in 1818.
The Kingdom was absorbed into the British Empire as a protectorate following the Kandyan Convention of 1815, and definitively lost its autonomy following the Uva Rebellion of 1817.
British Crown Colony 1802-1948
The British East India Company’s conquest of Ceylon occurred during the wars of the French Revolution (1792–1801). When the Netherlands came under French control, the British began to move into Ceylon from India. After little resistance, the Dutch surrendered the island in 1796. The British thought their conquest was only temporary and administered the island from Madras (now called Chennai) in southern India.
The war with France revealed Ceylon’s strategic value and the British later decided to make their hold on the island permanent. In 1802 Ceylon was made a British Crown colony and British possession of maritime Ceylon was confirmed by the Treaty of Amiens that was signed between Britain, France, Spain, and the Batavian Republic (the Netherlands) at Amiens on 27 March 1802.
Initially, Kandy was administered separately, without any abrupt change from traditional patterns. However, the trend toward reducing the status of the nobility and of the Buddhist faith was unmistakable; this led to a popular rebellion against British control in 1818. After it was suppressed, the Kandyan provinces were integrated with the rest of the country.
Following the suppression of the Uva Rebellion, the Kandyan peasantry were stripped of their lands by the Wastelands Ordinance, a modern enclosure movement and reduced to penury. The British found that the uplands of Ceylon were very suited to coffee, tea and rubber cultivation.
Tea was first planted in Ceylon in 1824. James Taylor is credited with creating the tea industry in Ceylon by starting a 19-acre tea plantation on the Loolecondera estate in Kandy in 1867. The first shipment of Ceylon tea, just 10 kilograms, arrived in London in 1873. By the late Nineteenth Century Ceylon tea had become a staple of the British market, bringing great wealth to a small class of white tea planters.
To work the estates, the planters imported large numbers of Tamil workers as indentured labourers from south India, who soon made up 10 per cent of Ceylon’s population. These workers were effectively slaves and lived in poor conditions in line rooms not very different from cattle sheds.
British colonialists favoured the semi-European Burghers, certain high-caste Sinhalese and the Tamils who were mainly concentrated to the north of the country, exacerbating divisions and enmities which have survived ever since. Nevertheless, the British also introduced democratic elements to Ceylon for the first time in its history. The Burghers were given some degree of self‑government by 1833.
By the end of the Nineteenth Century nationalist sentiment had come to permeate social, religious, and educational fronts of Ceylonese society. Meanwhile, revivalist movements in Buddhism and Hinduism sought to modernise their institutions and to defend themselves against Christian inroads by establishing schools to impart Western education unmixed with Christianity. This agitated atmosphere set the stage for social and political changes in the first half of the Twentieth Century. It was not until 1909 that constitutional development began with a partly elected assembly. By 1920 elected members outnumbered official appointees. Universal suffrage was introduced in 1931, over the protests of the Sinhalese, Tamil and Burgher elite who objected to the common people being allowed to vote.
Independence from British rule for the constitutional dominion of Ceylon came on 4 February 1948. The 1947 constitution provided for a bicameral legislature with a popularly elected House of Representatives and a Senate partly nominated and partly elected indirectly by members of the House. The United National Party (UNP) a coalition of a number of nationalist and communal parties won a parliamentary majority in elections that were held in 1947. The UNP chose Don Stephen Senanayake as prime minister and advocated orderly and conservative progress. The UNP was dominated by English-educated leaders of the colonial era, who were familiar with the British type of parliamentary democracy that had been established on the island, and included people from all the ethnolinguistic groups in Ceylon.
The Bandaranaike Governments 1956-2000
Political and economic discontent converged after 1955 and a new Sinhalese nationalism was unleashed. It found a spokesman in Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike. In the 1956 elections the UNP was defeated and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came to power with SWRD Bandaranaike (1899-1959) as the fourth prime minister.
The new government immediately set about changing the political structure. With the Sinhala Only Bill, it made Sinhalese the sole official language and took measures to provide state support for Buddhism and for Sinhalese culture. The SLFP also wedded the new nationalism to a form of socialism in which the state was given a powerful role in economic development and the creation of economic equality.
The period of Sinhalese nationalism was also a time of political instability. The language policy alienated the Tamils, who, under the Federal Party, carried on a bitter opposition. Educational policies angered the small but influential Christian community. Reforms of Buddhist and other cultural practices offended different factions within the Sinhalese community.
SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated in September 1959 and the nationalist movement suffered a setback and languished for want of a leader. After a period of political instability, his widow, Sirima Ratwatte Dias (Sirimavo) Bandaranaike (1916-2000), was persuaded to gather together the fragments of the SLFP. In 1960 she formed a government and became the first woman in the world to hold the office of prime minister. Continuing the program of Sinhalese nationalism, she implemented policies to nurture and protect local industry and to extend the state sector. Partly in response to pressure from the Buddhist community to reduce the prominence of Christian missions in the country’s educational system, most private schools were nationalised, and state subsidies to any remaining private schools were discontinued.
Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike served three terms as prime minister 1960–1965, 1970–1977 and 1994–2000 and died in office.
Republic of Sri Lanka 1972
During her second term as prime minister Mrs Bandaranaike introduced a new constitution in 1972, replacing the 1947 constitution. Under the 1972 constitution Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka (officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka) and became a republic with a president as head of state.
The Bandaranaikes’ daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was born in 1945. She served as Sri Lanka’s eleventh prime minister from August to November 1994 and immediately afterwards served as the country’s fifth president from November 1994 to November 2005.
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