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Monash University > Publications > Monash Magazine > Alumni News

A diplomatic life

May 2005

Monash University alumni are spread far and wide in diplomatic posts throughout the world.

Report: Allison Harding
Photography: Greg Ford

It took Monash graduate Ian Wilcock more than 35 years to receive his Diploma of Education from Monash. But it was not until Mr Wilcock, in his role as High Commissioner to South Africa, was at Monash South Africa's first graduation ceremony that the Chancellor, Mr Jerry Ellis, handed over the degree.

"I'd finished my studies in 1968 but had never actually received the degree, so it was amusing to finally have the piece of paper in my hand in 2003," Mr Wilcock says. "And as I still have a real affection for Monash, it's been satisfying to see the university establishing itself so impressively in South Africa."

Mr Ian Wilcock

Mr Wilcock is just one of many Monash University graduates around the globe in diplomatic postings with Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Some of the Monash graduates working with the department received their qualifications through mandatory training, as at various times the department has used the university as its postgraduate provider.

For others -- with backgrounds ranging from law and arts to economics and business -- it has often been their undergraduate studies that piqued their interest in international affairs.

The latter was the case for Mr Wilcock, a senior career officer with the department. Over the past 30 years, his positions have included ambassador to Israel, minister in London, counsellor and minister in Washington and first secretary in Manila.

Now happily back home in Melbourne -- his partner, violinist Jo Beaumont, is the artistic director and concert master of Orchestra Victoria -- Mr Wilcock is the state director of the Victorian office of the department.

"One of the reasons it is a real privilege to represent Australia is that most of the world has a very positive view of our nation, its achievements and its role in the world," he says.

During his time at Monash, Mr Wilcock wrote on a range of cultural, political and sporting issues for student newspaper Lot 's Wife and led a delegation of students from Australian universities to Malaysia , after which he became an accredited war correspondent during the Vietnam war.

But after Mr Wilcock returned to Australia and taught for three years (including at what is now the university's Gippsland campus), the diplomatic life won out over the call of the media or teaching. Appointments around the world followed, including a posting in London, where he was able to indulge his love of cricket by initiating an Ashes exhibition at Australia House, opened by Prime Minister John Howard.

Two of his most dramatic experiences occurred during his postings in Israel. In 1973, he witnessed the unexpected outbreak of the Yom Kippur War; then, almost 25 years later, during his time as ambassador, he was present during the collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Tel Aviv at the 1997 Maccabiah Games, which led to the deaths of four Australians and injuries to about 60 other athletes.

"Our main role was to do the maximum for Australians involved -- to identify them, to ensure they received proper medical care, to contact relatives in Australia," Mr Wilcock says. "And it's a reminder -- even more so today -- that you never know when something really difficult is going to happen to Australians abroad."

Like Mr Wilcock, life in the diplomatic service has taken current Australian ambassador to Turkey and fellow alumnus Jean Dunn around the world.

Ms Jean Dunn: a real interest in the world outside Australia.

Also a career officer with the department, she holds a Bachelor of Arts with honours in Japanese language and politics from Monash University and also undertook postgraduate studies on Japan/Indonesia relations.

Deputy head of mission in Seoul from 2002 to 2004, and with responsibility for trade policy issues while serving in Washington in the early 1990s and Geneva in the late 1980s, Ms Dunn was also a senior negotiator in the Australia/Singapore Free Trade Agreement negotiations.

She points to the increasing number of women ambassadors and females in senior roles as one of the most notable and positive aspects of her time with the department.

Describing her career as intellectually stimulating, challenging and varied, Ms Dunn says the range and depth of her studies at Monash have proved invaluable.

"I took away from Monash a real interest in the world outside Australia and in Australia's international relations," she says.

Mr Ian McConville, High Commissioner to Mauritius and the Seychelles and Ambassador to Madagascar and the Cormores, says he was always passionate about international issues during his studies. Mr McConville, who holds a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts in Foreign Affairs and Trade and a Bachelor of Laws, credits his involvement in various activities at university with helping his career enormously.

Mr Ian McConville: visiting an orphanage in Madagascar, for which the Australian embassy provided funds.

"As is true in many professions nowadays, corporations and government agencies are not just looking at academic qualifications but increasingly are interested in a person's capacity to work with colleagues and to be able to bring a depth of interest and engagement to a job," he says.

In his various overseas postings -- Pakistan, Cambodia, and now Mauritius -- Mr McConville has maintained a strong interest in the export of educational services overseas.

"The potential to expand our educational market in this region is very good -- Mauritius and Seychelles have close associations with Melbourne in particular," he says.

Mr McConville admits postings can be difficult for families, even if they are living in environments as "luscious-sounding as Mauritius". His wife, Libby, is a nurse and midwife, and they have three children under 10.

"It is sad but true to say that my wife's career has been compromised as a result of our postings, and while the kids may get to the beaches on the weekends in Mauritius, they also travel for one hour each way to school in very heavy traffic," he says.

"Libby has the harder job. When I head off to my nice air-conditioned office, whether in Pakistan, Cambodia or Mauritius, she is the one at home dealing with broken water pumps, driving to three local supermarkets to find somewhere that sells a container of cream or trying to communicate in Creole.

"But we're not complaining -- if you like cultural interactions, overseas postings can be a wonderful experience. I feel it would be hard to find a better job than the one I do now."

Action: To find out what Monash alumni are up to, visit http://www.monash.edu.au/alumni/prominent-alumni

Other Monash diplomats include:

  • Mr Richard Alston -- High Commissioner to the UK . The former federal parliamentarian from 1986 to 2004 holds masters degrees in law and business administration from Monash University.
  • Mr Colin Heseltine -- Ambassador to the Republic of Korea . A senior career officer with the department, he holds a Bachelor of Economics degree with honours.
  • Ms Jan Adams -- Ambassador for the Environment to Australia . Most recently head of the Trade Branch at the Embassy in Washington, Ms Adams holds a Bachelor of Economics (Honours) and a Bachelor of Laws (Honours).
  • Mr Jurek Juszczyk -- High Commissioner to Kiribati . Currently director of the Thailand, Vietnam and Laos Section, he holds a Bachelor of Economics degree with honours and a Bachelor of Laws.
  • Mr Robert Magee -- Consul-General to Guangzhou , China . A former UN Disarmament Fellow based in Geneva and New York, he holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and a Bachelor of Laws.
  • Ms Justine Braithwaite -- Executive Officer, International Law and Transnational Crime Section, holds a Graduate Diploma in Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  • Ms Jan Hutton -- First Secretary, Australian Embassy Belgium and Luxembourg , holds a masters degree in international relations.
  • Mr Allan Elliott -- Director, Administration and Coordination Section, Pacific, Africa and Middle East Division, holds a Master of Arts.
  • Mr David O'Leary -- recently returned to Australia after serving as Consul-General in Hong Kong, holds a Bachelor of Economics (first class honours).
  • Ms Georgia Allen -- Executive Officer, Pacific Islands Branch, holds a Graduate Diploma in Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  • Mr Michael Sadleir -- Executive Officer , China Economic and Trade Section, holds a Master of Arts in Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  • Ms Anita Butler -- Deputy High Commissioner, Australian High Commission, Honiara, holds a Master of Arts in Foreign Affairs and Trade.