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OBITUARY:

Diplomat, author and athlete

Sir Alan Stewart Watt

WHEN Alan Stewart Watt

joined the Department of External Affairs in 1937, he was a mature man of 36 while the department was in its infancy.

When he retired in 1962, after having served as Secretary of the department from 1950 to 1954 it had grown from a very small unit of a few people advising the Govern ment, mainly on matters relating to the League of Nations, to a world wide service of some 44 diplomatic and consular offices. It has grown even larger and more comprehen

sive since then.

Alan Watt regarded his genera tion of foreign-service officials as the "guinea-pig" group on which of ten discomforting administrative experiments were carried out.

From the time the unit was set up in 1928 it had a daunting task, as Australia had very few independent sources of foreign information, ex cept, perhaps, for Richard Casey, who> was appointed after World War I as Australian Political Liaison Of ficer in the Cabinet Offices in Lon don.

Watt met Casey in England in 1924 when Watt was studying at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship.

And it was in 1940 that his career in active overseas diplomacy began, when he was posted to Washington as senior man under Casey who was

Minister there.

As Watt wrote in his memoirs, ■ published in 1972, he had some ad

justing to do when he joined Exter nal Affairs. He had already been three years at Sydney University studying English, philosophy and | history; three years at Oxford read

ing in the popularly known PPE (philosophy, politics and econom ics), six months in Heidelberg, Ger many; three years running an educational scheme for factory em ployees at a tobacco company in Sydney; four years as an associate to a Supreme Court judge in Sydney, and five years at the NSW Bar.

He went on to serve for 25 years as a diplomat, including some 17 years overseas in postings in the United States, the Soviet Union, South-East Asia, Japan, Germany, and at many international confer

ences.

He was among the first of a "wave" of Rhodes scholars to join the foreign service in the early peri od, among them John Hood, Laur ence Mclntyre, Ralph Harry and Terry Glasheen.

It was a crucial period leading up to World War II, through the war years and then into the formation of the United Nations and the post war international system of power blocs. For Australian diplomacy it saw the burgeoning of an indepen dent service and the establishment of a distinctive Australian voice of international affairs.

In some ways this was highlighted by the election in the Paris General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 of the Australian Foreign Min ister, Dr Evatt, as president of the assembly. Alan Watt was a delegate to the assembly at the time. He was later to recall the frustration of UN work — the weight of verbiage, the contrast between ideals and actions and so on. He had been with Dr Evatt in San Francisco in 1945 at

Sir Alan Watt

the formation of the United Na tions.

Perhaps some of the frustration stemmed from his experienee in dealing with League of Nations af fairs when he was put in charge of the department's international-co operation section a year after join ing. Another frustration that almost led him to quit the service was his difficulty with the style of the prick ly Dr Evatt. His relations with Sir Percy Spender and Casey were more cordial, though Watt was always a traditional public servant.

He developed some personal ap proaches to his work which, while outside the usual, showed his

dedication and his initiative.

One such practicc was to monitor foreign short-wave broadcasts on his own radio, resulting in his being able on several occasions to alert the Government to developments be fore the official versions came through.

He also began to develop a net work of influential contacts throughout the Public Scrvice — such people as Roland Wilson, Ed win McCarthy, Kenneth Bailey, Frederick Shedden, all highly placed officials and all, like himself, event ually to be knighted for their

services.

Another habit he formed in the service was to write independently to other service officers giving his views and guidance. When Dr Evatt became aware of the extent of this he ordered Watt to destroy all his copies of the correspondence which, dutiful servant that he was, Watt did. But a number of recipients of

the letters felt under no such con

straints and kept their copies, which Watt later drew on in retirement when he extended his interests in international affairs into the field of journalism and other writings.

A MAN of literary bent, he wrote,

but did not publish, verse

(there arc a couple of samples in his memoirs). He used to read out his verse, much of it satirical and poli tical, at chosen venues such as dinners.

He wrote extensively for The Canberra Times, as well as other newspapers and magazines, and when the Sydney-based Fairfax newspaper and media group ac

quired Federal Capital Press and The Canberra Times in 1964 he was appointed to the new board, which had A. T. Shakespeare (whose fami ly founded and owned The Can berra Times) as chairman, and Angus McLachlan as the other board member. He served on the board from 1964 to 1973.

In his writing he was able to draw on a diversity of experience under both Labor and Liberal coalition governments, including such critical negotiations for Australia as the ANZUS and Manila (SEATO) treaties.

He wrote four books, The Evolu tion of Australian Foreign Policy 1938-65, Vietnam, an Australian Analysis, his memoirs, Australian Diplomat and The United Nations, Confrontation or Consensus.

In his retirement he also became an honorary fellow in the depart ment of international relations at the Australian National University, and when a national headquarters of the Australian Institute of Interna tional Affairs was established in Canberra he became the first direc tor, from 1963 to 1969.

One of his abiding interests was tennis. In 1924 he had captained Oxford and played singles and dou bles in the Wimbledon tournament that year. It was a sport he kept up until his late years.

He married Mildred Wait in 1927. Lady Watt, who died in No vember, 1983, was a scholar with a particular interest in Russian, from which she was still translating up to the time of her death.

Sir Alan is survived by three sons and a daughter.

Digitisation generously supported by
Questacon - The National Science and Technology Centre
Digitisation generously supported by

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