Grey nurse drove an Asia fo­cus

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Francesca Bed­die

PHILIP Flood tells us in this mem­oir that when he reached the pin­na­cle of his ca­reer as head of the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade, PNG of­fi­cials dubbed him the ‘‘ em­i­nence grise’’. He doesn’t tell us about an­other nick­name, ‘‘ the grey nurse’’ (shark), which he had at­tracted in an ear­lier stint as a for­eign af­fairs of­fi­cial. His dis­tin­guished sil­ver hair — which Chi­nese of­fi­cials urged him to dye — com­bined with a deep re­serve and cold de­ter­mi­na­tion gave rise to that metaphor.

The re­serve is only slightly lifted in Danc­ing with War­riors. A few anec­dotes and per­sonal touches leaven his ac­count of a diplo­mat’s life, yet the clean prose makes for a smooth read. And for those who called him the grey nurse, it is in­struc­tive to learn about his deep hu­man­i­tar­ian streak.

To bring to­gether the episodic life that char­ac­terises any ca­reer in for­eign af­fairs, Flood chooses to dis­cuss his re­la­tion­ships with those he calls the ‘‘ war­riors of gov­ern­ment’’, namely his po­lit­i­cal mas­ters: the ones, he sug­gests, who fight the pol­icy bat­tles. It’s a de­vice suited to a public ser­vant who be­lieves in the West­min­ster no­tion of frank and fear­less ad­vice, com­bined with loyal ser­vice to min­is­ters on both sides.

Flood judges most of his min­is­ters to have been ded­i­cated to the na­tional in­ter­est and strong con­trib­u­tors to pol­icy. The clear ex­cep­tion is Billy Mcma­hon who is de­mol­ished as man of few con­vic­tions and whose ‘‘ ten­ure as a min­is­ter seemed to be one con­tin­u­ous press con­fer­ence’’.

Flood started his ca­reer in 1958 when the Depart­ment of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs was small enough for ju­nior of­fi­cers to have con­tact with their most se­nior bosses and the min­is­ter, Richard Casey. Casey’s com­mit­ment to Asia and to cul­ti­vat­ing a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of our Asian neigh­bours made a last­ing im­pres­sion.

His eco­nomic train­ing saw Flood posted to Brus­sels, where he worked on one of the

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