Hot rocker finds a mis­sion

◗ Archie Law first found fame as drum­mer for the Hux­ton Creep­ers. But when the band faded, Archie found a new pas­sion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

SCHOOL pro­gram con­nect­ing Melbourne teenagers with Viet­namese boat kids fired Archie Law with a pas­sion for in­ter­na­tional af­fairs which would even­tu­ally launch him into a dis­tin­guished ca­reer in over­seas aid and this month see him ap­pointed chief ex­ec­u­tive of Syd­ney­based hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion Aust­care. But first, he wanted to be a rock star. Which is how in 1989, aged 25, he found him­self at 2am in a bar with Joey Ra­mone, lead singer of leg­endary punk rock group the Ra­mones, drink­ing Long Is­land Iced Teas and talk­ing about. . . zoos?

‘‘ Joey had this real thing about it, he just loved zoos,’’ Mr Law ex­plains. ‘‘ He was a won­der­ful guy. Re­ally friendly.’’

At the time, Law was drum­mer for The Hux­ton Creep­ers, the Melbourne group which, in 1987, climbed the charts with a cover of the Man­fred Mann song Pretty Flamingo.

‘‘ There was a lot of hype about us,’’ says Law, now 44. ‘‘ We put out three al­bums and toured a lot. One of the last tours we did was with the Ra­mones.

‘‘ But then we had prob­lems with the record la­bel and it looked like we would have to rein­vent our­selves in or­der to keep go­ing. And I sup­pose that’s where I ran out of gas, and ev­ery­one else did at the same time.’’

The dis­band­ing of the Creep­ers freed Law to rekin­dle his in­ter­est in for­eign af­fairs. Re­turn­ing to his post­poned univer­sity de­gree, he stud­ied in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment and man­age­ment. For his hon­ours the­sis, he went to Cam­bo­dia to re­search the repa­tri­a­tion of refugees fol­low­ing the over­throw of the Kh­mer Rouge, an ex­pe­ri­ence that re­sulted in his 1995 book A Hollow Suc­cess.

‘‘ While I was do­ing re­search into the book I also be­came in­ter­ested in the land

Amines is­sue be­cause there were huge num­bers of mines ( in Cam­bo­dia),’’ he says. ‘‘ There were some­thing like 2000 mine ac­ci­dents hap­pen­ing a year at the time and you could see there would be no rural de­vel­op­ment in the north- west un­til that is­sue was re­solved.’’

Mr Law spe­cialised in the field, man­ag­ing the Cam­bo­dia pro­gram for the Bri­tish non- gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion ( NGO) Mines Ad­vi­sory Group and later join­ing the UN’s De­part­ment of Peace­keep­ing Op­er­a­tions in New York.

That segued into a pol­icy de­vel­op­ment role and in 2002 and 2003 Law was a mem­ber of the team which de­vel­oped the con­tin­gency plan for the UN’s emer­gency re­sponse to the Iraq war.

At the time, re­la­tions with the US and its al­lies in the Coali­tion of the Will­ing were se­verely strained be­cause of the UN’s re­fusal to en­dorse their Iraq strat­egy, a sit­u­a­tion Mr Law found frus­trat­ing and de­press­ing.

‘‘ There was a strong bias against the UN from the coali­tion in gen­eral, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, and it was tragic to see,’’ he says. ‘‘ Our rep­u­ta­tion re­ally did suf­fer over a lengthy pe­riod of time. It’s en­cour­ag­ing now to see the steps that have been taken by ( the cur­rent La­bor gov­ern­ment) in terms of re- en­gag­ing with a mul­ti­lat­eral sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly with the UN.’’

How­ever, Mr Law takes is­sue with Aus­tralia’s pol­icy on clus­ter bombs, say­ing the gov­ern­ment has at­tempted to wa­ter down a pro­posed in­ter­na­tional treaty which would ban the weapons. Ne­go­ti­a­tions on the treaty will con­tinue in Dublin in May.

‘‘ The gov­ern­ment needs to re­view its de­ci­sion on clus­ter mu­ni­tions and be less con­cerned about the geopo­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions and more con­cerned about the hu­man­i­tar­ian con­se­quences,’’ he says.

For Mr Law, be­ing able to speak out on such is­sues is one of the ad­van­tages in hav­ing left the UN and join­ing Aust­care. Af­ter nearly a decade over­seas, he re­turned to Aus­tralia with his fam­ily in Fe­bru­ary last year to head the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Aust­care fo­cuses on help­ing peo­ple af­fected by con­flicts and nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and re­lies for its fund­ing on the gov­ern­ment, bod­ies such as the UN and pub­lic donors.

It works mainly in East Ti­mor, Cam­bo­dia, the oc­cu­pied Pales­tine ter­ri­to­ries and the In­done­sian city of Aceh, which is still re­build­ing af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing 2004 Box­ing Day tsunami.

‘‘ We do a lot of work on pro­tect­ing civil­ians in coun­tries af­fected by con­flicts and dis­as­ters,’’ Mr Law says. ‘‘ What do they need for their phys­i­cal se­cu­rity? How can we help them pur­sue their liveli­hoods? There’s a big fo­cus on women, and giv­ing them op­por­tun­ties they might not oth­er­wise have.’’

Law is also help­ing forge an af­fil­i­a­tion be­tween Aust­care and Ac­tionAid In­ter­na­tional, the South African- based global anti- poverty agency. But his am­bi­tions don’t stop there. ‘‘ I’d love to play ( the drums) more and I’m plan­ning to get back in­volved,’’ he says. ‘‘ Maybe a bit of a jam once a week or so. And if the odd gig came up that would be fan­tas­tic.’’

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