By Meg Gurry

 

Allan Gyngell made a lasting impact on many around him. I was fortunate enough to be one of them.

I came across Allan most directly through his work at the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA). As President, he, with then National Director, Melissa Conley Tyler asked me to join a small committee to seek out and publish the memoirs of former Australian diplomats – not their life stories, but moments in their diplomatic lives where they had experienced significant events in Australian or world history, witnessed from the various countries where these events took place and to which they had been posted. Now with Bryce Wakefield as the Institute’s National Director, it has grown in scope, continues to be a most satisfying project, and has produced some essays/monographs about Australian diplomacy which will be of lasting interest. It was just one, and a tiny part, of Allan’s many interests and foreign policy projects, but when you sat around a table with him, it was as if, on that day, diplomatic history was the only game in town.

We also connected over his hugely important book, Fear of Abandonment: Australia in the World Since 1942, communicating in person and by email about my area of interest, the Australia-India connection. He was always so interested in other people’s work, and chatted to me as if my contribution to Australian foreign policy scholarship was as significant as his magisterial tome. Ridiculous as it sounds, that is what he implied.

Foreign policy analysis is a strange and headless creature, and sadly is becoming polarised, another victim of the culture and history wars. It includes a wide range of areas: defence, intelligence and national security, bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, regional and international institution-building, trade and economics, history – always history – and political cultures, and understanding differing forms of political leadership and government. Allan seemed at home in all these disparate disciplines, cognisant of their connections with both the public and private spheres, and with the government and non-government sectors of Australian life. He of course worked in many of them.

Allan achieved what others find difficult, and what most fail to do – he transcended the divides, always in search of what is now described as the “sensible centre”. His Australia in the World podcasts with Darren Lim were a joy to follow, and it was while listening to these enlightened conversations that I realised that underneath Allan’s mild-mannered, thoughtful and courteous demeanour were some deeply-held, even passionate, opinions. He maintained a consistent search for better, fairer, more nuanced ways to manage and balance Australian interests which would work for the most people, never ideological, and never in response to the loudest voices. He liked to say he was an analyst and not a strategist. I suspect the second part of this claim is not completely true, and that as a strategist – albeit as politely expressed as his opinions were – he was in a class of his own.

Peter Morris (AAP Photos)

So much so, I’m not sure how his shoes can be filled. The foreign policy world is indeed mourning his loss.

 

Cover Image: The Lowy Institute

 

 

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Meg Gurry
Meg Gurry

Meg Gurry is an academic researcher and a former lecturer in Australian foreign policy whose scholarly publications focus on Australia’s relations with and government policies towards the states of Asia since 1945, in particular Australia’s diplomatic links with India. Her major work on Australia-India relations – Australia and India: Mapping the Journey, 1944-2014 – was published in 2015 by Melbourne University Press. She has a BA and a Dip Ed from Monash University and a PhD from La Trobe University. Dr Gurry is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, and an Academic Fellow with the Australia India Institute.