Grey nurse drove an Asia focus
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