1946 Woodend, Victoria
1959-64 Dandenong High School;
1965-8 Royal Military College Duntroon (Dip Mil Stud with Merit);1969-74 University of New South Wales (BSc (Hons), PhD in physics). PhD Thesis: 'Ionic Emissions from the Surfaces of Solids';1980-4 Australian National University (MA (Qual) in politics). Sub-Thesis: 'The 1973-76 Reorganistion of the Australian Defence Department.
1971-2 Regimental Officer, 2 Signal Regiment, Watsonia Victoria;
1975-8 Staff Officer 2, Operations and Plans, Army Office Department of Defence Canberra;
1978-83 Staff Officer 2/Engineer Class 3, Defence Communications Systems Division, Department of Defence Canberra;
1984-7 Defence adviser, Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, Parliament House Canberra. Drafted the Committee's reports on: The Australian Defence Force: its structure and capabilities (1984); Disarmament and Arms Control in the Nuclear Age (1986) and The Management of Australia's Defence (1987).
1987-93 Senior Research Fellow, Peace Research Centre, Australian National University. Academic publications over this time are shown: here.
1994-2001 Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University College @ ADFA. Academic publications over this time are shown: here.
2001-3 Visiting Fellow, School of Politics, University College @ ADFA and visiting lecturer in the MA program run by the Department of International Relations, Australian National University.
I was born in 1946 at Woodend in Victoria, not far from the Hanging Rock made famous by Joan Lindsay and Peter Weir. My father, like his hero Ben Chifley, was a train driver. We tended as a consequence to move about a lot: from Woodend to Wahgunyah to Sunshine and, in the mid-1950s, to Dandenong. A small town then, it was surrounded by market gardens and was light years from Melbourne's civilising influences.
By this time the family comprised not only my parents and myself but my twin brother and sister, Daryl and Jillian, who were born across the border at Corowa in 1950, and the baby of the family, Noel, born at Sunshine four years later. I attended my first school at Dandenong; a squat, prefabricated edifice that had been constructed to cater for the baby boomer generation. The teachers at the North Dandenong State School were either young women or returned men who brought with them the military's passion for rote learning and corporal punishment. There were no trees to speak of, just 'shelter sheds' in which we ate home-made sandwiches (no canteens then), drank our free issue of tepid milk, and played mind and other games - 'what's the time Mr Wolf?'
The school and the community it served contained large numbers of 'New Australians': Brits and Poles, Italians and Dutchmen, and Ukranians and 'Balts' whatever they were. They had come at Arthur Calwell's invitation to help make post-war Australia strong and secure from any 'Jap' resurgence. The adults worked in the automobile and other factories being built on the outskirts of town. They were friendly enough but difficult to understand or fathom, ate strange food, and preferred to keep to their own. There was no racism that I can recall but not much mixing either beyond the exchange of greetings and, after a while, vegetables across the back fence.
Most of my free time was spent outdoors, roaming far and wide with my mates on our bikes, playing tennis, swimming in the Dandenong 'baths', or contesting test matches on roughly mown pitches. Whenever one or other of us was able to scrounge a 'few bob', we downed lime spiders or savoured bags of mixed lollies (the 'poms' amongst us called them 'sweets') purchased at the local milk bar. There was little time or incentive for more aesthetic pursuits such as reading, music or theatre. Our heroes and role models were the matinee idols of the day, and such other men of action as sporting identities and Anzacs. In this regard we were typical of most Australians then; obsessed with the external and superficial, and perversely uninterested in anything artistic, intellectual, or 'different'.
There was, I remember, some pressure on us to attend Sunday School where earnest young (and not so young) men and women asked us to 'declare ourselves for Jesus' - no chance. The remainder of our Sundays was usually taken up with visits to or by the relatives who formed my parents' social circle. Perhaps because it reminded them of their earlier days in the bush, they enjoyed these occasions immensely, yarning, reminiscing, and playing euchre or five hundred well into the night (no-one it seemed played bridge). I would use these opportunities to listen to music on our more affluent aunt and uncles' record players, or take off into the night with my cousins and hang about the neighbourhood shops or the Preston cemetery (was that from where my subsequent interest in family history originated?)
Christmas holidays sometimes saw us de-camp to the 'tent cities' that every year sprang up in the tea-trees that fringed the eastern reaches of Port Phillip Bay. Sometimes we rented a 'holiday house' at some remote location like Philip Island, and trekked each day across burning sand to exposed and windswept beaches. Mostly we would take the train from Melbourne's Spencer Street Station to Ouyen where my mother's parents and my father's mother lived, the former on their wheat farm near Kiamal, the latter in a small house located across the road from the town's trotting track.
This was quite an adventure for a boy from the 'city'. The train travelled through the night with scheduled stops for 'refreshments' at Ararat and St Arnaud. Just before daybreak it clanked into Ouyen where even in the middle of summer it was bitterly cold. My mother and father would proceed to the houses of their respective parents and an awaiting breakfast. It was usually my misfortune to have to accompany my father which meant a plate of wheat bix on which was poured a mixture of hot water and powdered milk. My inability to do justice to the soggy mess would earn a rebuke from my grandmother, a large and fierce women with strong opinions about her in-laws in particular. She also had twinkling eyes which, in my rush to escape outside, I failed to notice. My father adored and doted on his mother which yielded her the advantage and sometimes caused tensions in his relationship with my mother. I was always in awe and a little frightened of 'Grandma Cheeseman' as we called her. Since researching her life and times, however, I have revised my early opinions of Alice Laurence (whose surname I bear) and regret now I didn't talk or listen to her stories more.
My maternal grandparents, by contrast, were wonderful people; welcoming and kind, calm and non-threatening, and always, it seemed, in good humour. As a fair number of my mother's fourteen surviving siblings and their large families also lived in the area, there were places aplenty to visit and lots of cousins to hang out with. These always seemed so much older and more mature than I; able to drive the trucks and tractors on their respective properties, fire off the 'twenty-twos' kept in the farmhouse kitchens, and recite at length crop yields and other important statistics in the slow country drawl I tried hard to mimic. My cousins seemed quite content to include me in their adventures: bird-nesting, yabbying, trapping rabbits, or wandering through the deserted scrubland or saleyards pitching stones onto any tin roofs we espied. On one occasion the door of a shed we had been peppering sprang open as we approached and a very angry swagman charged out filling the air with expletives and threatening murder should he catch any of the little bastards who disturbed his Sunday nap.
Although I now suspect I was despatched there to relieve the financial and other pressures on my parents, I enjoyed my stays at Ouyen and, in later years, Horsham where other members of my mother's family farmed. For it was there I was regaled with endless yarns about local events and characters ('dags' my aunt called them), and was able to tuck into the sumptuous morning and afternoon teas we took into the fields or, when the day's work was close to home, were laid out on the large kitchen tables. At Horsham I read late into the night the books of Mary Grant Bruce and 'Brent of Bin Bin' among others, perfected my country twang, and learned to drink my tea black (and from a saucer if it was too hot). There was no 'putting on the dog' there.
Dandenong High School (1959-64)
In 1959 I began my secondary education at Dandenong High. Established in 1919, the school was originally designed to house only a few hundred pupils. The baby boomer invasion swelled its ranks to over 1000 and the sturdy brick buildings that once formed the core of the school were now complemented by a hotchpotch of temporary constructions called 'demountables'. The windows of these had either fences or strong wire grates erected in front of them as protection against cricket balls struck from the pitch on the main oval. The rear of the school, as a consequence, had the look of a migrant camp or a German Stalag (an impression heightened by Monday morning assemblies held in the enclosed courtyard). The front of the school by contrast, with its curved driveway, double-story brick entrance and green lawns sheltering under two immense palm trees, exhibited a decided colonial appearance. The spectre of Empire was reinforced by the presence across the highway of the turreted headquarters of the 1st Dandenong Scout Group ('Dandenong's Own') which I attended on Friday nights. There we were instructed by earnest young men in the mysteries of field craft and the chivalric code of the British Imperialist, Baden Powell.
I am unable to claim, as some do, that my school days had any major or formative influence on my thinking or subsequent life. I didn't mind going to school but, looking back, I think it right to say I was neither inspired by my teachers nor enthused by what was taught. Reading through my old school magazines, I am struck by how few of my teachers had any formal teaching qualifications much less degrees. Most seemed to be working towards their diplomas which would have added to their already high workloads (and, I dare say, their tempers). Probably because of this they had little time (or inclination) to go much beyond imparting the basic demands of the curriculum. This meant that my schooling at any rate was as much about remembering as thinking or questioning, as much about sporting as classroom activities and involvement, and, during the crucial last few years, as much about girls as anything else.
I can't place all the blame on my teachers however. They did advise me to do science rather than arts which, in hindsight, was a mistake that took too many years to rectify. I was certainly smart enough to remain near the top of my classes in the early years especially. But I was also lazy or, rather, overly disinclined to apply myself when the going got tough intellectually. I preferred to avoid rather than face problems and work them through. My gathering knowledge of mathematics and the subjects that were based on it was therefore patchy at best - a fact that became clear during my final matriculation exams (which I only just scraped through). I elected also to avoid partaking in the choral, debating and other cultural activities that were on offer, preferring the safer and less aesthetically challenging opportunities offered by the school's comprehensive sporting program.
As I have mentioned, I had also by then discovered girls and was allowing them also to distract me from my studies. One of my early love interests was Penny, a Pom who lived around the corner. She rode a horse, went to some exclusive girls' school near Berwick, and seemed amused by the attention. Her parents clearly were not and remained polite yet pointedly distant. It was my first experience of the English class system (of which I then had no idea). The relationship, if you could call it that, didn't last long, just as well really. Then there was Franki who came to the school in her matriculation year. She was in the small group of 'swats' who were cultivated by Barry Jones, then a whiz on Bob Dyer's 'Pick-a-Box' and later a Federal Minister and President of the Labor Party. In spite of this she read and said interesting things (after school and on the corner of James and David Streets). Though that was as far as I ever got, I should thank her for contributing, in a small but important way, to my intellectual awakening. Finally there was Denise, another schoolmate who, like so many others, had an older boyfriend in the wings, one who had a car and money. I guess she enjoyed the safety of my (devoted) friendship for that is all it ever amounted to, despite my desires to the contrary.
There is not much else to say about my school days. I had some good times and made some passing friends. I was captain of the First Eleven and, much to my annoyance, only an emergency for the First Eighteen. In my final year I was also made Head Prefect. I profess to have been pleased by this at the time, even though I had no idea of what such an appointment entailed beyond directing small boys to wear their caps and leading the assembled school in its weekly honouring of God, the Queen and the Flag. In retrospect I think it was both an unfortunate and an inappropriate choice. In political terms prefects are, after all, agents of the state, beholden to its leaders and the system they oversee, carrying out their wishes and, when required, their dirty business. I never had an opportunity to discuss this aspect of the job with our school principal, one L. E. Cooke. A ferocious man with strong opinions, Len harangued his teachers and students equally. He wore a black academic gown (even though he had only a Bachelor's degree) and wielded a long cane. He is rumoured to have thrown small boys riding on the footpath from their bicycles. Perhaps I am being unworthy. Being a headmaster of a large school a significant proportion of whose students came from migrant and working class backgrounds would not have been easy. But if I had my chance again, I think I would kindly decline the offer of Head Prefect and remain with the student body (or am I avoiding responsibility still)?
One thing being Head Prefect did provide for, I suspect, was entry into the Royal Military College Duntroon. For reasons I am still coming to terms with, I had always wanted to be in the Army. Many would say I was obsessed with the idea: sporting my father's khaki jacket during my winter cycling sojourns; forcing my younger brother and his friend from next door into various training manoeuvres (carried out, apparently, under a barrage of clods of dirt); and conducting, with plastic toy soldiers bought from Coles, pitched battles on the table in the sunroom. From an early age I was also determined to be an officer rather than a soldier. I don't think my father was overly impressed by such pretensions. Both he and his father had served in the ranks, my father during the Second World War, and my grandfather at the end of the Boer War. Like most soldiers they saw officers as a class (and a world) apart, especially the 'Duntroon men' who made up the bulk of the detested staff corps or 'red hat brigade'.
Royal Military College Duntroon (1965-68)
I applied twice for entry into Duntroon. The first, unsuccessful attempt was for a so-called scholarship entry in which the Army would pay a stipend towards my matriculation studies. The following year I applied for direct entry into the College and was able to take advantage of the fact that although the selection tests and procedures remained the same, those conducting them had largely changed. I might have missed out on the money but was able still to collect the prize. I was intensely pleased with myself even though I had no idea of what precisely this glittering prize entailed. No-one I knew had been through the place or knew of someone who had. My only experience of the Army of the day was the incoherent utterings of a 'friend' of the mother of a schoolmate of mine who, after a few beers, would insist on introducing us to the mysteries of map-reading. Although my teachers and relatives seemed impressed (if not surprised in some cases) by my prospective attendance at Duntroon, none could enlighten me about what took place there.
The only information I had on the College, pictured on the left during the winter of 1965, was what was in the publicity blurbs provided by the Army. Like all military propaganda, these had been written less to inform than to impress the lay reader (and taxpayer). With little experience of the world and lacking the ability to read texts critically, I simply accepted the half-truths conveyed by these glossy publications with their soothing assertions and carefully staged photographs (of, for example, life in the company recreation rooms). In essence Duntroon was posited as a place in which young men (there were no women students then) came together to learn the fundamentals of war, study for a degree in the liberal arts, sciences or engineering, and, guided by highly professional staff officers, be inducted into a future career that embodied the glorious traditions of Australia's Anzacs (no matter that the Anzacs belonged to a volunteer, citizen-based Army, whereas I would be a member of a regular, fulltime force). Still, to a working class boy from the outer suburbs of Melbourne, Duntroon seemed a good place to go to; a place where I could study for a first class degree at no financial cost and, if successful, enjoy a lifelong career within the privileged and honourable profession of arms.
These aspirations underpinned the excited conversations of I and my Victorian colleagues as we sped northward from Melbourne on the Sprit of Progress. Unlike my previous train trips, this journey took place in a first class sleeping compartment with an adjoining buffet car. It ended on a clear Canberra morning at what appeared to be a railway siding but was in fact the capital's main train station. Here we were met by a stick-wielding drill sergeant who, after a somewhat fractious roll-call, herded us and our meagre belongings onto a lumbering khaki bus. This grinded and rattled its way on the short journey from Kingston to Campbell and disgorged us into the waiting arms of our second-year (Third Class) cadet mentors. These marched or led us away to our accommodation blocks which were already ringing with shrill calls of 'Fourth Class', 'What's my name?' and then 'Bog Away Fourth Class and Find Out'! The grinning and toothless hag was being revealed and the real military education of young Graeme was about to begin.
Our initial military orientation training took place not at the College but under canvas along the shores of the Murrumbidgee River near a crossing named Point Hut. Today Point Hut is surrounded by Canberra's ever-expanding suburbs. In 1965 it was in remote bushland seemingly miles from civilisation (a feeling reinforced by the fact that the river crossing was flooded and so our dust-covered journeys in trucks to the Majura rifle range went via Tharwa). Looking back it is instructive that a good proportion of my memories, and photographs, of Duntroon centre on Point Hut. It was after all my first, and arguably in hindsight most realistic, experience of Army life, one, moreover, that accorded with what I had heard and read about in numerous Anzac tales and reminiscences. It is also possible that my selective memory has been a reaction to my experience of Duntroon itself which was, in many ways, both unexpected and alien; more akin to being at an exclusive school than being in the Army. It was a school whose fundamental value structures were determined, and enforced, by the students themselves (as well as officers who were former students). Encouraged and enhanced by systems of official and unofficial bastardisation, these structures sought to instil in the individual an ability to think and act under the real (and imagined) pressures of combat. While no doubt well-intentioned, bastardisation led many of us to turn in on ourselves to survive, to repress our true feelings and instincts, and to construct about us the kind of emotional wall written about by Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. It also encouraged within the overall cadet body a degree of elitism, mysogynistic and anti-civilian proclivities, a tendency to defer to rank and authority and, of course, a sense of loyalty to the group (which occasionally led to tensions and conflicts of will between a particular class and their ruling officers).
Point Hut in 1965. From L/R: Bill Kernoczy, Self, Peter Hay, Bruce Harrison and Peter Cosgrove (the only one
to have a life-long career in the Armed Forces, ending it at the very top as Chief of the Defence Force).
Another group at Point Hut. From L/R: Michael Hughes, Paul Jones, Bruce Harrison, Graham Craze (dec)
and Self. We had spent the day learning how and then digging a weapon pit.
These problems, concerns and consequences only became clear well after I had graduated from Duntroon of course, had undergone years of additional tertiary education and study, and spent a good deal of time reflecting on the experience with former classmates. At the time I largely enjoyed and appreciated my Duntroon years (although I did find bastardisation, the novice boxing championship and the tennis party and other organised social 'events' in Fourth Class a trial). The College provided me with the beginnings of a number of life-long friendships, a secure and generally happy place to live and work, and an entree into a fully paid career. It gave me a free tertiary education, again admittedly in science rather than arts or humanities, although in spite of continuing promises that we would end up with a bachelor's degree, I and my colleagues graduated in 1968 with only a Diploma of Miliary Studies. While I wasn't to know it, this would turn out to be to a blessing, providing me with the opportunity to undergo further courses of study that would eventually lead me to a much more rewarding and personally satisfying career in academe.
In my final year at Duntroon I was captain of the 1st XI and won the annual prize for first place in tactics (I chose as my award Robert O'Neill's 1966 study of The German Army and the Nazi Party - which says something about what was on offer and my own educational naivety). In addition to sport and study, Duntroon also provided opportunities to visit places in Australia I had not previously seen (these included Jervis Bay, the Snowy Mountains and the great metropolis of Sydney which we visited on various cricket tours). It also served as the first stage in a long and happy association with Canberra, one of Australia's loveliest (and undervalued) cities. It is where I have lived and worked for the greater period of my adult life (I continue to live there although since retiring I spend more and more of my time in the Southern Highlands of NSW). It is where my three lovely children were born and grew up. Although these days some of them find Canberra a little pedestrian and provincial especially compared to their hometown of Sydney, like me they all still love it for its open spaces, bush environs, bright blue skies and seasonal colours.
I don't have a great many memories of Canberra in the 1960s not because they have been repressed but were largely non-existant in the first place. First year cadets were not allowed to leave the college grounds until they had passed a 'screed test' set by their senior classmen. This effective confinement to barracks, which lasted upwards of fourth months, served to reinforce the cloistered and largely self-sufficient life of the average 'cordie', as we were labeled by Canberrans. Combined with poor pay and a prohibition on owning cars until our final year, it meant that only those who had family, friends or sweethearts in the local community spent much time away from the College. Perhaps fearing the consequences of us mixing too much with civilians, the College authorities made little effort to facilitate any broader contacts beyond ensuring we visited the Australian War Memorial and attended, in uniform, the Anzac day dawn services. As a consequence my and most others' contact with and knowledge of Canberra was obtained primarily through sporting contacts. These occurred mainly in winter when we played in the local football competitions. This led to a familiarity with local football grounds and the inside of the Manuka and other social clubs to which we were sometimes invited after a match, but not much else (even this could be a fraught exercise as we were only permitted to enter licensed establishments if we had been granted special leave to do so).
The RMC 1st XVIII in the 1967 grand final and self receiving the medal for captaining the 1st XI in 1968.
Colour party waiting to march on to the graduation parade at Duntroon in 1968.
L/R: Brian Hewitt, Daryl Hodda, Peter Dunn, Greg Campbell and Self.
I do remember hordes of us catching an Army bus into Civic on Friday evenings in order to take advantage of late night shopping, an innovation that was not then available even to the denizens of Melbourne. After trawling through the shops and arcades we would congregate at Lumby's, a subterranean coffee house located off Garema Square, before catching the bus back to the College. Civic in those days was an austere and unwelcoming place. Its squat buildings and expanses of uncovered squares and walkways seemed designed purposely to attract the wind which carried with it fine grit from the latest suburbs being built at Woden. On weekends we would sometimes venture across the lake to Manuka which, like Kingston, then appeared to be in terminal decline. In those days Manuka was the home of Gus' cafe where you could read European magazines as you sipped your cappucino or latte (hot chocolate for me of course). It was also close to a number of hotels whose beer gardens provided a degree of sanctuary from prying officers, and to the Capitol Theatre, a grand old picture house with upper and lower viewing levels. The sheer cost and inconvenience of getting to and from Manuka meant, however, that most of us chose to enjoy our weekend movies, and hit of sugared goodies, at Duntroon itself (in a galvanised iron picture theatre affectionately known to all as 'over the hill'). Other places at which groups of 'cordies' congregated to enjoy themselves in the limited free time they had included the old boat shed and other isolated locations around the edge of Lake Burley Griffin, and the hotels and eating houses of such frontier towns and villages as Queanbeyan, Collector and Bungendore. In our first year we were were also occasionally taken by our First Class section and platoon leaders out into the wilds where we were encouraged to 'relax and enjoy ourselves'. While these impromptu drinking sessions were sometimes rewards for services rendered, such as keeping watch for patrolling duty officers as our seniors slept in, they fostered a broader sense of belonging as well as provide relief from the daily trials of Fourth Class life. They were much appreciated both as symbolic and basic human gestures.
Visit to the Australian War Memorial in 1965. L/R: Greg Campbell, Self, Bob Bensley, Bob Beer,
Peter Cosgrove, Warren Feakes, Robert Wakefield, Michael Hughes and Frank Ellis.
Kapyong Company platoon 'piss up', airport paddocks Majura 1965
At rear (L/R): Geoff McMillan (?), Col Purcell, Self, Doug Gibbons (deceased).
Front:Bruce Wallis, Bill Kernoczy, Roger Wainwright (platoon sergeant), Bruce Straker (dec).
While at College my preference had been to serve in the Royal Australian Artillery. Because I had studied science, however, I was assigned to the Corps of Signals. After graduating from Duntroon I undertook the first stage of my specialist signals training at the old School of Signals then located on the shores of Port Philip Bay in the outer Melbourne suburb of Balcombe (and where, I later discovered, my father had undergone his Second World War pre-embarkation training). Like most of my contemporaries, I was expecting eventually to be posted to Vietnam for which a good deal of my military training had been directed. But the then Minister for the Army, Andrew Peacock, had other ideas and I and two other recent graduates were directed to attend the University of New South Wales where we would undertake the final two years of an honours degree in physics (another graduate was sent to study at Yale University in the United States). We didn't know it then but this was in order to establish a pool of suitably qualified officers who could undertake doctoral studies back at Duntroon once it was formally established as a degree-granting college of UNSW. Although I had some regrets at the time about not going to Vietnam, I think in hindsight I got a much better deal. Not only would the two years at Kensington set me on a new and ultimately more rewarding educational journey, my time at the university would serve to be both eye-opening and life-changing.
The University of NSW ('Kenso Tech') 1969-70
After spending summer leave with my family I bundled my worldly goods into a brand new Hillman Hunter - my first car - and journeyed to Sydney. Along with two colleagues, Ross Sydney and Danny O'Neill, I found an apartment in the city's eastern suburbs and settled down for my first year of study. Although living in the community we were also on the books of HQ Eastern Command at Victoria Barracks in Paddington. There we were required by the Chief Signals Officer, who had little time for either RMC graduates or university students, to report in uniform each pay day and conduct a stocktake of the office's reserves of crystals used in the Army's antiquated high frequency communications network. I remember we seemed never to be able to get the same result due, I suspect in hindsight, to the intervention of a member of the CSO's staff or, quite possibly, the old man himself. An old-school officer, the CSO also insisted we all leave our calling cards at the residence of the Governor of NSW (something I never did). After a month or so he tired of our presence and waived the need to report fortnightly although he and certain other senior officers in the headquarters seemed ever interested in alleged reports of our lengthening side burns and declining dress (and presumably moral) standards.
Perhaps they had good reason as life at university was both markedly different to and largely at odds with the one I had experienced at RMC. As the majority of people studying physics were part-timers, most of our lectures were held in the evenings. This meant we were free to do as we wished all and every day. Habit and a sense of obligation led us, in the beginning at least, to spend this time studying either at home or the University's expansive and relatively new library (which had at its base a canteen that sold buttered finger buns and other treats). It was impossible of course to spend all of this time studying so slowly but surely in addition to frequenting the local beaches, I began also to take note of and attend many non-academic activities that, in the best of worlds, both characterise and enrich campus life. These included: architecture week when fantastic structures of differing size, shape and complexity would appear on, outside and across buildings and adjoining walkways; lunchtime debates and related activities in the Roundhouse in which Wendy Bacon and other protagonists would rail about the issues of the day - such as 'cops on campus', state censorship and the war in Vietnam - and harangue those, mainly engineering students, who preferred to pass their time playing cards in the wings of the building; the publication of Tharunka, UNSW's student newspaper with its fortnightly dose of adolescent humour, outrage and naivety; and Ian Brackenby Channell, a London-born sometime sociology tutor and self-proclaimed University Wizard who would harangue students outside the library about working less and having more fun (in later years, as the Wizard of New Zealand, Channell would, among other things, claim he had rowed beyond the country's three-mile limit as defence against charges of not voting in the country's general election).
While the CSO and his ilk would probably defer, I don't believe my extra-curricula activities and interests either radicalised or changed me in any substantive or abrupt way. They served rather to open my eyes to certain issues and concerns and help shape or confirm my understanding and appreciation of some others. The Vietnam War provides a case in point. Loyalty to the many friends and colleagues who were then serving in Vietnam, or had been killed or wounded there, inclined me against participating in the rallies and debates that were daily occurring on campus. But the arguments and passion observed combined with reports of many of those returning from the war served to underscore how we should never have been in Vietnam in the first place, how our political leaders had lied to the Australian public about our reasons for being there, and how these same leaders, and their supporters, have never admitted they were wrong or been held to account for the suffering and distress our participation engendered. In this and other ways my time at UNSW served to increase my growing interest in history and politics and, more basically, to confirm that whatever we study we should do so critically: posing questions, identifying and testing underlying assumptions, challenging conventional and constituted 'wisdoms', and offering alternative ideas, narratives, perspectives and conceptual frameworks. Such an approach of course is not restricted to history and the arts. It also underpins the study of science where researchers in the fields of particle and deep space physics - the lectures on which I especially enjoyed - have been willing, in the face of new evidence and ideas, to revise and even change completely their approach to and understanding of their subject matters.
While studying at Sydney I also met my future wife and mother of our three beautiful children. A Hunter Valley girl, Rosalie came from Scottish and Welsh stock. While some of her siblings were relatively dark-skinned - reflecting the Welsh artisans lampooned by Spike Milligan - she had a fair complexion and striking red hair. In true Australian fashion, Billy Rolfe, a RMC classmate who lost his legs in Vietnam and later served as the ADF's chief law officer, delighted in calling her 'Blue' which always evinced a smile and a sparkle in her eyes. Rosalie was training as a nurse at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown and lived in the Queen Mary Nurses' Home on Missenden Road. A somewhat austere building constructed of brick and concrete the nurses' home was recently purchased by the University of Sydney to house some of its international students. I imagine people visiting the students today would not be required to present themselves to a duty matron and then wait in a sparsely furnished ante room while the person they had come to see was 'buzzed' down from the front office.
In between lectures and nursing duties Rosalie and I would spend much of our time exploring Sydney and its outer reaches. We would go to Roundhouse dos many of which were illuminated by 'psychedelic' lightshows designed and operated by the 'lumino kinetic sculptor' Ellis D. Fogg. We together suffered through a University Wizard extravaganza in which the great man was delivered to the stage in a coffin and then regaled his largely adoring audience with manufactured and often self-referential homilies on love, life and wizardry. And as I had become interested in foreign movies, we would trot off to the Randwick Ritz and other picture houses to take in the latest in French or Italian noir. Here she would often doze off or even, in the celebrated case of 2001 A Space Odyssey - which we went to see several times - slept through the whole movie. This was not, I assured myself, because the shows were uninteresting but because she had been working on night duty where, as she neared the completion of her training, she had the added pressure of being in charge of her ward.
While relatively brief, my two years at university in Sydney were both enjoyable and rewarding at a number of levels not least in obtaining an honours degree in science. I will always be grateful to Andrew Peacock and the Army for affording me the opportunity. At the risk of being seen to be unworthy, I believe there is merit in most prospective military officers undergoing their required tertiary education at a civilian institution rather than at ADFA where they undergo what is quaintly labelled 'a liberal education within a military environment'. This is because, as my colleague Bob Hall (another RMC graduate) and I have argued in detail elsewhere, the two basic propositions contained in this phrase are at best antithetical and at worst impossible to achieve.
At Sydney's Victoria Barracks after graduating from UNSW in 1970. L/R: Ross Sydney, Mal Collie, Self and Glen Hickey.
1971-83: Back to Canberra, more study and some changes in direction
After finishing university I was promoted to Captain and posted to 2 Signal Regiment at Watsonia Barracks in Melbourne's north-west. I lived in the Watsonia Area officers' mess until our marriage, at Waverley in Sydney in September 1971, after which we rented an apartment at nearby West Heidelberg. While at Watsonia I was flagged to go to Vietnam as commander of a detachment that would provide communications back to Australia during the withdrawal from the country of our main forces. Going there depended, in turn, on the civil contractors from Collins Communications company getting ready and working the equipment needed to carry out our role. They never did and so I didn't go even though I had to endure for a second time - I and my colleagues had attended one while at RMC - a preparatory battle efficacy course at the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra in southern Queensland. While relatively short, my stint at 2 Signal Regiment enabled me to experience Army life and to meet and mix with officers who had not been through Duntroon. By year's end the prospect of serving in Vietnam had dissipated and I and two of my UNSW classmates - Ross Sydney and Malcolm Colley - were directed to undergo doctoral studies back at RMC (which in the intervening period had finally become a degree-granting college of the university).
After we packed up our meagre possessions, Rosalie went back to her parents' home at Lake Macquarie in central NSW and I headed along Lake George and thence to the Canberra suburb of Campbell. There I was temporarily quartered in the former servants' rooms located upstairs at the rear of Duntroon House. Built by the Scotsman Robert Campbell as his family residence in 1833, the house its extensive gardens and surrounding land were acquired in 1911 by the Australian Government as the site for the country's premier officer training establishment. During my four years as a cadet at RMC I had my class and sporting photos taken in front of its spacious verandas but never gained access to the building itself. Now I was living there and for the next three or so years could dine in the expansive mess area that looked out across the rear verandas and sections of the garden. My most vivid memory of the place was not its polished wooden walls, portraits of commandants past and present or the silver tableware brought out during formal mess functions, but the two large daphne bushes that grew either side of the stone steps that led up to the front entrance. In early spring these would be covered in blooms the perfume from which would ebb and flow through the whole of the house and beyond.
My working space was far less salubrious, consisting of a tiny office and a larger laboratory area located on the ground floor of the physics building that sat on the slope that extended from the rear of 'Cork Block' up to General Bridges grave and the adjoining road that led sightseers to the summit of Mount Pleasant. Under the able direction of my supervisor and long-time RMC academic, Ted Dennis, I would spend a fair proportion of my time back at the College camped in this enclosed space, much of it getting my experimental apparatus (pictured on the left) ready and, in the usually short times it was working, taking measurements. My doctoral research was in the field of solid state physics and involved the examination of secondary ions sputtered from the surfaces of metal crystals that were bombarded by different gaseous ions. It followed on from work done on the spatial distribution of sputtered atoms conducted by my supervisor and a number of other researchers and both confirmed and extended their findings. As an interesting aside, the perennial question of when to stop experimenting and start writing was solved in my case by a bout of hepatitis A which I suspect I contracted from a hamburger bought at a greasy spoon on a trip back from Sydney. Although feeling well, I was quarantined in the RMC hospital to which Rosalie and our first-born, Michael, were required to wear masks during their daily visits. With nothing else to do for a number of weeks, I set about sketching out a first draft of my thesis which, on discharge from hospital, I duly presented to my astonished yet delighted supervisor.
After a month or so at Duntroon House I was provided via the ACT public housing scheme, which in those days was accessed by members of the military, a second floor unit in the Stuart Flats opposite the Manuka shops. Rosalie joined me soon after and we began our lives as south Canberrans. After settling in she found work at Canberra Hospital initially as a theatre sister and a year or so later a trainee midwife. As I had done at UNSW, I sought to balance my study of physics with other curricula and non-curricular activities. The former included becoming involved in the work on militaries and society led by my future colleague in the Politics Department at ADFA, Hugh Smith, and Paul Mench who had been my adjutant while a cadet at RMC and, sadly, died on a hiking expedition in Queensland in 1980. My non-curricular activities included attending foreign, especially in those days Italian, movies at Electric Shadows and the Coomb's lecture theatre at the ANU. We also bought a yellow MG convertible in which we would cruise around the lake with the top down during Canberra's balmy summer nights (we sold the car after Michael was born in 1974).
Rosalie and our three children - Catherine, Brianna and Michael - at Googong Dam outside Canberra in 1979.
Graeme and the kids at Namadgi National Park in around 1981.
A family Xmas at Griffith in around 1983. Clockwise from Self in the centre: Michael, Daryl Cheeseman, Daryl's twin sister, Jillian,
Meredith Cheeseman nee Purdy, Rosalie, Brianna, Noel Cheeseman and Catherine.
After completing my PhD in 1975, I was again promoted and this time sent to work in the Army's Operations and Plans Division in the Russell Offices complex that sits on the lower reaches of Mount Pleasant and looks out across Lake Burley Griffin towards Red Hill in one direction and Black Mountain in the other. Needless to say the windows of my office - which I shared with another major - looked in the opposite direction and onto an inner compound containing a senior officers' car park. Three years later I was posted to the newly established Defence Communications System (DCS) Division where I served both as a military staff officer and, after resigning my commission in 1981, a civilian engineer. When I joined DCS it was situated not at Russell Hill but in the Anzac Park West building which was a mere stone's throw from the lake. This enabled me each morning to ride my bicycle from Griffith around the lake to work. In those days there were very few cyclists and none of the lycra-cladded speedsters who today threaten carnage at the various blind corners of Canberra's extensive cycle-ways. Indeed there were no established bike paths of any significance, or places to safely lock up your bike while at work. To minimise the chance of having to walk home, I would chain my unassuming machine to the rails that graced the entrance steps to the building in the process annoying those who were responsible for its upkeep. A year or so later DCS Division was relocated to Russell Hill. I continued to ride my bicycle to work and in the absence of any rules to the contrary, would enter through the boom gate and leave the machine in the inner compound that, once again, my office looked out on.
Both then and before, I found Russell Offices a strange place to work. It was full of (mostly male) officers who did not want to be there and all too often were either under- or mis-employed. There were no computers then or an internet to consult during idle moments so people turned to other interests or activities to help cope or fill in time. A few conducted clandestine businesses from their offices. Some would spend their lunchtimes running or walking. Others would traipse down to the Russell Hill canteen. Some would play bridge or participate in organised sports. One poor soul headed out into the bush and bashed out laments on his set of bagpipes. Like me, many used their free time to study, in my case politics part-time at the ANU. As my studies progressed from Australian to bureaucratic and institutional politics I began to see Russell Hill in an altogether different light, less a site of depression and woe and more an interesting case study in which to apply the theories and insights I was reading about. This interest was sharpened by the fact that during this time, Australia's military and defence structures were being radically altered. In line with the recommendations of the 1975 Tange Report, the earlier, loosely federated organisational structure was being replaced by a more streamlined and integrated form in which power and authority would lie with its key civilian and joint service elements rather than the single services. Australia's defence policies and practices were also under review as we sought to come to terms with our defeat in Vietnam, the subsequent end of the Cold War and the imminent ascent of the so-called 'Asian century'. My interest and growing expertise in the politics of Australian defence was also aided by my discovery of the departmental library which was located in the bowels of Building F and could be accessed via the tunnel that connected Building F to my own building on the other side of Sir Thomas Blamey Square. While small, the library contained a treasure trove of papers and documents on the Tange and other relevant reports which formed a valuable resource for my MA qualifying sub-thesis on the evolution of Australia's defence organisation. My intention was to develop and expand this preliminary research as part of a Master's thesis but in 1983 I was offered an opportunity to work as the defence adviser to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence whose defence sub-committee had been tasked to inquire into and report on 'the capability of the Australian Defence Force to fulfil its role, with particular reference to force structure and command and control arrangements'. While I had grown accustomed to working within the cloistered and sometimes dysfunctional Russell Hill environment, this was too good an opportunity to pass up so, in early 1984, I left Defence and became a public service consultant attached to the staff of old Parliament House.
This period was also marked by considerable change on the home front. With the expected arrival of our second-born and first daughter, Catherine, in around Xmas 1976, Rosalie and I began searching for more spacious accommodation where our strong preference was to remain in the leafy suburbs of Canberra's south. We purchased a small ex-government house that was located a few streets from our unit and a short walk from the Griffith shops. Like many of its kind the house was a bit run down. It was on a smallish block and, with only primitive heating and no insulation, was boiling in summer and freezing in winter. We saw these limitations more as challenges than deficiencies which led me in particular to develop and hone my second abiding interest in life: gardening. As Rosalie was the more practiced and accomplished plantsperson, my early efforts in this pursuit focussed on garden layout and construction, the latter also providing a welcome break from my desk-bound life in Parliament and later on in academe. Our third and youngest child, Brianna, was born in 1978. By the time she began school, it was apparent we would either have to extend or sell up and move elsewhere. With the help of the payout I received when I left the Army, we took the former option. While the extension provided the children with their own bedrooms and us with a front veranda, carport and inner courtyard, it also removed most of the garden including a beautiful crab apple whose early blossoms had signalled the end of successive Canberra winters. Although the area available was now much reduced, it took some time to reproduce a garden that both suited and was in harmony with our new dwelling. We lived there throughout the childrens' schooling and sporting years, made friends with a number of our neighbours and, Rosalie especially, became involved with the broader Griffith community. The house was sold after she and I separated in the late-1990s. It was pulled down in 2017 and a grey brick monstrosity built in its place with no room for even the barest of gardens. The destruction of the house came as a shock to all of us, a sad reminder that nothing in life (or gardening) is permanent.
Michael, Catherine and Brianna in their Griffith Primary School uniforms and the girls on the roof of the back shed with their cat 'Magpie'
who, somewhat eerily, appeared shortly after my father, Laurie Cheeseman, died of a heart attack at Dandenong in 1987.
The children during a visit to Bendigo with their grandmother, Elsie Cheeseman nee Hickmott, and first cousin Cassandra Cheeseman.
A view from above of the house in Griffith. The photo was taken by Bri with Michael keeping watch from the kitchen window.
Old Parliament House (1984-7)
The appointment of specialist advisers to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs was a Labor Party initiative which sought to diversify input and enhance the committee's capacity to understand and interrogate institutional and other policy submissions. The original intention was to have a specialist foreign policy as well as a defence adviser. The former position was never filled in part because they were unable to find someone acceptable to both major parties. As a consequence I ended up working on a major review of Disarmament and Arms Control in the Nuclear Age (over 700 pages in length and tabled in 1986) as well as two reports on defence: the 1984 review of The Australian Defence Force: its structure and capabilities, which pre-figured many of the themes contained in the 1986 Dibb Review and Labor's 1987 Defence While Paper; and the 1987 report on The Management of Australia's Defence, which examined how Australia's higher defence organisation had evolved over the period following the publication of the 1975 Tange Report.
Needless to say it was a busy time. In addition to briefing the committee and its sub-committees on Australia's defence and foreign policies, I attended all of the the committee and relevant sub-committee meetings, attended and prepared questions for the various public hearings and departmental briefings, and drafted the bulk of the ensuing reports. This last task was normally done by the sub-committee secretaries who were sometimes assisted by public servants seconded for the purpose from the relevant departments. The secretaries of the defence sub-committee during my time there were both Vietnam veterans. The first was Peter Gibson MC, who had served there in the early 1970s with the 2nd Battalion RAR. He was followed by Alan Stephens who had served in Vietnam in the mid-1960s as an Air Force liaison officer. A pilot by training, Alan also studied history and strategic studies at the post-graduate level at the ANU and UNSW Canberra. He was later on the staff of the Air Power Studies Centre and served for a time as the RAAF's official historian. Currently a Fellow at both UNSW Canberra and the Sir Richard Williams foundation, he and I became good friends as well as colleagues and have continued to catch up, usually at Tilley's Devine Cafe at Lyneham, to talk about history, politics and Australian rules football. Given their high administrative load and the multiple reports under consideration at the time, both Peter and Alan were only too happy to leave much of the detailed research and report writing to me. I was also happy with this division of responsibilities as it meant I could influence the focus and scope of the committee's inquiries as well as its conclusions and recommendations. While the committee members and chairs had their particular interests and concerns, most knew little about either the subjects under consideration or the debates and arguments that surrounded some of the options and issues that were being canvassed. Their political affiliations combined with their heavy parliamentary and electoral duties meant they also had little time to read much less digest the voluminous submissions and other material that was submitted. They too, therefore, were happy to allow the detailed leg-work to be done by the committee staff and their advisers.
There were upsides of course. As well as visiting all of Australia's capital cities, I got to tour our military bases at Darwin, Cairns and Townsville as well as the Tindall Air Base outside Katherine in the Northern Territory. I was hoping also to tour Pine Gap and Nurrungar although our proposed visit there never eventuated after Jo Valentine, the Nuclear Disarmament Party and later Greens senator from Western Australia, became a member of the joint committee. Together with members of the defence sub-committee I did fly from Perth out into the Indian Ocean where we landed on the United States aircraft carrier, the USS Kittyhawk, for a short visit before flying back to Perth and thence to Canberra. My principal memories of that little jaunt were the loud cheering by the cabin crew after we safely landed on the carrier and the distinct feeling of weightlessness immediately after being catapulted off the ship. At a more mundane level, I also appreciated the office and working arrangements made available to me. As those who worked there would remember, old Parliament House in its final years was a veritable rabbit warren with barely enough room for the politicians much less the myriad staffs, media contingents and others who were needed to keep the place running. To lessen the overcrowding, large numbers of parliamentary staff, including those from various joint and house committees were quartered in other buildings. Thus in the first year I was there we had our offices in the Hotel Kurrajong, a beautiful old garden pavilion style building designed by the Scottish-born Commonwealth Chief Architect, John Smith Murdoch (who also designed old parliament house), and built in the mid-1920s as hostel accommodation for those Commonwealth public servants who were being relocated from Melbourne to Canberra. Some 15 minutes walk from Parliament House, it was quiet and relatively secluded, an ideal location for reading and writing, with the added bonus of being not too distant from both Kingston and Manuka. In the latter part of my time with the committee we were housed in East Block which was also designed by John Smith Murdoch. Closer to old Parliament House and thus better suited to the needs of the committee secretariat, it was also busier and more cramped than our offices at the Hotel Kurrajong. It did have one advantage, however, in that it adjoined the House of Representatives' rose gardens and surrounding parklands, perfect spaces in which to stroll and reflect on wordsmithing and other matters.
Although busy, my time with the joint committee was an enjoyable and generally productive one. As it had at Russell Hill, it also enabled me to compare the practice of politics in Australia with the different academic theories of how it does and should work. In this case I eventually concluded that while they deal with most areas of government policy, parliamentary committees have relatively little influence on policy outcomes except where the committee's recommendations support the positions favoured by the executive and/or its bureaucratic advisers. This is especially so in the case of defence policy where senior departmental and military officers have their own considerable interests to protect against meddlesome 'outsiders'. Governments and the parties that form them tend have a different, if no less self-serving, view of the role of parliamentary committees: as vehicles to employ, utilise and, in some cases, sideline restive backbenchers, and for taking the heat out of, or being seen to be addressing, political crises or conundrums. This is not to dismiss the need for, or potential importance, of parliamentary committees. They do provide a means of monitoring how public policy is being made and taxpayers' money is being spent. They provide for public input into national policies and practices and the broader conversations that underpin them. For the politicians involved, they provide an opportunity to specialise in an area of public policy which could deliver more informed decisions (and facilitate ministerial aspirations). Perhaps most importantly, they provide an opportunity for politicians from different parties and of differing philosophical persuasions to work together towards a common understanding of various issues of public concern and how best to deal with them. In short, to practice the art of politics but in an environment that is not impeded by the constant demands of the 24-hour news cycle or the confected theatricals of question time.
1988-2005: A career change and return, of sorts, home
To be continued ...
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