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
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.’’