The recent release of former ambassador Trevor Wilson’s book, Eyewitness to Early Reform in Myanmar, prompts a brief look at other diplomatic memoirs by Australians and, in particular, those written by officers posted to Australia’s embassy in Rangoon (now Yangon) since it opened in 1956.
Australia has a strong tradition of diplomatic memoirs. Many ambassadors and other officials have recorded their experiences and impressions of international events. Books by Walter Crocker, Alan Watt, Richard Woolcott, Alan Renouf and Peter Henderson spring to mind. The National Library of Australia (NLA) holds the papers of others, and has recorded the reminiscences of many more as part of its oral history project.
Also, between 1988 and 1998, Griffith University’s Centre for the Study of Australian-Asian Relations (CSAAR) published 22 monographs under the collective title Australians in Asia. Edited by Hugh Dunn, they included diplomatic memoirs by Dunn himself, Keith Waller, John Rowland and Harold Marshall, among others. The series was a timely reminder of the contributions made by Australian officials to regional affairs.
Until 1966, all female members of the Australian Foreign Service were forced to resign on getting married, and none appear to have written memoirs. However, the partners of Australian diplomats have also contributed to the literature. In 1968, for example, Jean Spender wrote Ambassador’s Wife, and in 2013 Rachel Miller (herself a ‘diplomatic spouse’) edited a collection of interviews entitled Wife and Baggage to Follow.
Relatively few Australian diplomats or their partners, however, have published books about their postings to Burma (as the country was known before 1989).
Read the full “Old Burma hands write on the ‘odd man out in Asia’” article in the Lowy Interpreter by Griffith Asia Institute Adjunct Associate Professor, Dr Andrew Selth.