Sir Walter Crocker dies, aged 100

The Advertiser

Sir Walter Crocker, a former Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia, has died aged 100.

The one-time diplomat and World War II veteran died in the Western Hospital at Henley Beach.

Sir Walter was born in Broken Hill and studied at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 1925. He then studied at Oxford and Stanford University in the United States.

Sir Walter gained his early experience during the 1930s in the Nigerian Colonial Service, going on to work for the League of Nations in the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, from 1934 to 1940.

In 1946, he was invited to be the first chief of the Africa Section in the UN's Secretariat in New York, where he served until 1949. That year he became founding professor at the Australian National University in Canberra.

He joined the diplomatic service in 1952 and served Australia with distinction for 18 consecutive years at an ambassadorial level in India, Indonesia, Canada, Nepal, Belgium, The Netherlands, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Italy.

After his retirement from the diplomatic service in 1970 Sir Walter returned to Adelaide, serving on the council of the University of Adelaide from 1971 to 1978, the year he received his knighthood.

He was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of SA in 1973, serving in the role until 1982.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said Sir Walter had lived a "long, rich and varied life characterised by distinguished service in a variety of fields".

"I was privileged to enjoy a personal friendship with Sir Walter and I will greatly miss his deep insight, warm charm and vast knowledge," he said.


Fredrick Töben comments

I first met Sir Walter during Adelaide's 1991 War Crimes Trial protest. I had never protested before in my life, but when I heard that this near 90-year-old would appear with a placard, I decided to become a concerned citizen and join the protesters.

Sir Walter's placard read: Vengeance & Hatred Poison Communities As Well As Persons.

Mine read: Canadian - British - Australian War Crimes Trials: International ... 'Coincidence'?

On 10 November 1991 Sir Walter said the following:

"As a fourth generation South Australian, and with a life-long commitment to Australia's best interest, some of them neither fashionable nor popular, and with some professional knowledge of the circumstances of the case, I am much concerned about the way the trial has been brought about. Our Federal Government, in spite of including a number of men of undoubted integrity and ability, has agreed to the trial through giving in to the pressures of a lobby which represents very few Australians, and no Australian interests, but which is buttressed with great wealth, with exceptional self-centred persistence, and with ruthless cleverness. A connected lobby has been operating with similar effects in England, Canada and France. Its propaganda, accepted by a large segments of the mass media, has confused and misled Australians, even those normally informed."

After the protest rocks were thrown through Sir Walter's lounge window!

Since that time I have had the pleasure of regularly accepting Sir Walter's invitation to have morning tea at his home. Our conversations ranged far and wide, and I was encouraged to take notes of matters raised especially relating to the Middle East and the circumstances surrounding the founding of the State of Israel. 

The fact that I had also spent time at Minna, Niger State, Nigeria, where Sir Walter had served, some of these morning tea meetings were for me rather jovial but always instructive and insightful sessions. That Sir Walter could at his age still sustain a serious conversation for almost two hours was for me indicative of a person who had gone through life worrying about our human condition. 

Throughout my almost decade-long ordeal with the Zionist onslaught on Adelaide Institute, it was always a delight for me to be given a clear perspective on matters. Frayed nerves calmed as the wisdom of a century flowed over me. For that alone, I thank Sir Walter.  

His funeral is on Monday, 18 November, the day on which he asked me to ring him to arrange our next 'de-briefing session' concerning my up-coming Federal Court case. 

It was not to be.


My last letter from Sir Walter



624 Seaview Road,

GRANGE S.A. 5022


18th September, 2002.


Dr. Fredrick Toben,

The Adelaide Institute,

P.O. Box 3300,

NORWOOD. S.A. 5067


Dear Fredrick,


If you had time I would be interested to have your account of what happened in court (including the coming appeal case).


Your visit, therefore, would have to be about a month hence as I am tied up at the moment with urgent family affairs.


I suggest you telephone me - or if I am absent, telephone my Secretary, and fix up a time.


Yours sincerely


Walter Crocker













Outspoken statesman a man for all reasons

By Don Riddell, The Advertiser, 16 November 2002


Sir Walter Russell Crocker

Lieutenant-Governor, diplomat, academic, author

Born: March 25, 1902; Broken Hill

Died: November 14, 2002; Adelaide


Sir Walter Crocker was a Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia, distinguished Australian ambassador to many countries and uncompromising critic of his times.


He was deeply involved with both the League of Nations and the United Nations, and felt sharply the cynicism which killed one and diminished the other.


"It is a measure of the richness and complexity of his character that Sir Walter Crocker has defied all efforts to stitch neat labels on him," journalist Stewart Cockburn wrote when Sir Walter retired as Lieutenant-Governor in 1982, aged 80.


"For well over half a century he strode life's stage in so many roles — as a decorated military officer, scholar, farmer, diplomat, author and confidant of world figures whose names were household words. He has attracted innumerable friends and admirers and —through an intrepid independence of spirit — quite a few critics."


That independence of spirit was still flowing strongly on the threshhold of his 90th year when he carried a banner outside the Adelaide Magistrates Court protesting against what he called the "disastrous" decision to prosecute Ivan Polyukhovich for alleged war crimes.


Sir Walter took to many causes before they became popular.


As a diplomat, he enraged convention by saying we should recognise Mao Tse Tung's China in the early 1960s and opposed what he saw as the giving away of Australia's foreign policy to the Americans, particularly over the war in Vietnam. As an environmentalist, he denounced what he saw as the selling of the "cream" of Australia's mineral wealth to Japan and the US. But he condemned the emotionalism which could not see the need to cull kangaroos or insisted only Australian trees should be planted. As an academic, he fought for the "beauty and elegance" of proper English. "Mere yabbering" broke down communication. He spurned what he called "the impudently pretentious trivialities which mark some of the social sciences".


As a human being, he loathed pornography. "What a price society has had to pay," he wrote in one of his books, Australian Ambassador, "for allowing inventions of such cultural potency as the cinema and television to fall into the hands  of illiterates and bullies, interested only in money."


Born of pioneer SA families, Sir Walter was brought up on his father's grazing property near Terowie. He went on to a brilliant  academic career at the universities of Adelaide, Oxford and Stanford, and was the first professor of international relations at the Australian National University. In World War II, he became a lieutenant-colonel in the British Army, winning the French Croix de Guerre and the Belgian Ordre du Lion. At the end of the war, he joined the volunteers called for by Lord Casey, then Governor of Bengal, to carry out relief work in the famine then ravaging the area. In 1946, he was invited to set up and head the Africa section of the new UN Secretariat in New York. He joined the Department of External Affairs in 1952 as High Commissioner to India.


For the next 18 years, he was one of Australia's most senior diplomats and acted as troubleshooter for Lord Casey, then Australia's Minister for External Affairs. He was ambassador or high commissioner to 10 other countries after India, including Indonesia, Canada, Italy, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.


He did not keep his opinions to himself. The book Australian Ambassador, published in 1971, had such revealing chapters  as 'Three thousand Cocktail Parties for my Country and Other Aspects of the Diplomat's Life'. His outspoken attitude almost certainly cost him the job of permanent head of the department.


He retired to a property at Tarlee in 1970, but was soon called upon to take on the role of Lieutenant-Governor and a position on the University of Adelaide council.


Knighted in 1978, Sir Walter never revealed his party political feelings and it was a surprise when he was one of the 12 prominent Australian citizens who co-wrote the famous 'Kenneth Myer letter' which, in 1972, urged Australians to vote the Labor Party into office after it had been out of power for 23 years. "The Whitlam Government did not turn out as most of us had hoped," he said later.


Sir Walter Crocker, whose marriage was dissolved many years ago, is survived by two sons, Robert and Christopher, four grandchildren, and nephew John, who lived with Sir Walter from the age of seven, and his two children.  





St Peter's Cathedral, North Adelaide


Walter Russell Crocker


25th March 1902 ~ 14th November 2002


Monday 18th November 2002











Dr Geoffrey Partington: Sir Walter Crocker at One Hundred



Sir Walter Crocker at One Hundred

Sir Walter Crocker has been one of the most distinguished Australians of his time. A graduate of the Adelaide, Oxford and Stanford Universities, he served in the British Colonial Service in Nigeria and the International Labour Office (ILO) in Geneva, before volunteering at thirty-seven to join the British armed forces in 1939. He served with distinction, becoming a Lieutenant Colonel, and was decorated for bravery by the Belgian government after he saved the rest of the crew from a blazing plane over the Congo. After the war Crocker became Chief of the African Section of the United Nations Secretariat in New York. In 1949 he returned to Australia to take the Chair of International Relations at the Australian National University in Canberra. He was urged by the Australian government to join its diplomatic service. He became the first Australian High Commissioner in India and later served as Head of Mission in India, Nepal, Indonesia, Canada, Holland, Belgium, East Africa (including Ethiopia as well as Kenya and Uganda) and Italy. After his retirement he returned to South Australia, where he was appointed as Lieutenant-Governor in 1973. He has recorded some of his experiences in his 1973 Travelling Back and other works mentioned below in footnotes, but at the age of one hundred he has re-appraised some of his earlier judgments. The thoughts of such a man at such an age deserve attention. This article is based on interviews with Sir Walter in late 2001 and early 2002. Tapes of the interviews are available.

Early life

Sir Walter Crocker was born in rural South Australia in 1902. His great-grandparents all came from the West of England, except for the Brays who were from Norfolk and were partly descended from Sephardi Jews. According to Sir Walter, his father was ‘an almost perfect physical specimen’ whose seven children were also fit and strong. There were many times in Sir Walter's life that it was just as well that he was tough and endurable. His early schooling, both primary and in Peterborough High School, was ‘of the excellent kind provided by the old un-Americanised South Australian Department of Education.' As a boy he read The Magnet and, like many other young Australians, had Billy Bunter, Bob Cherry and the other boys at Greyfriars School as part of his cultural world.

His parents, ‘strongly British in sentiment’ and self-styled ‘English colonials’, wished that South Australia had remained a province of Britain. When young Walter was awarded a ‘new’ Australian flag as a school prize, his father told him he regretted the abandonment of the Union Jack as the flag of Australia. Yet his parents were strongly opposed to the jingoistic pressure group in Adelaide which succeeded in changing the name of Petersburg to Peterborough and obliterating other German names. His parents introduced him to ‘conscience politics’, from which he never wavered. During the war years he, like his parents, combined strong patriotism with detestation of the ‘mounting war hate and irrationality, an anonymous mass psychosis'. In his historical studies, he came to dislike the South African War and the triumphalist imperialism associated with Joseph Chamberlain, and later mimicked in Australia by ‘the Welsh demagogue’ Billy Hughes, for whom Sir Walter acquired a lifelong distaste

At fourteen Sir Walter went to Adelaide to the preparatory section of the School of Mines, not yet part of the University of Adelaide, to which he progressed when eighteen. He was an excellent student there and went on to Balliol College, Oxford, and Stanford University. He remains proud of the provincial culture of the Adelaide of the early twentieth century, especially its musical life and intellectual standards. Mawson, Wood-Jones, Darnley Naylor, and Bragg were then professors in its university and Sir Walter found that South Australian students had a high reputation in Oxford.


Sir Walter enjoyed his years at Balliol. Long weekend walks around the Oxfordshire villages led by Kenneth Bell, his tutor, punctuated weeks of intellectual stimulation in which A. D. Lindsay, Master of Balliol, played a leading part. In his 1981 Travelling Back Sir Walter wrote that ‘Lindsay largely destroyed Balliol', but he now considers he was far too harsh in that judgement, made largely from his conviction that Lindsay had made a dreadful mistake in appointing the Hungarian exile Thomas Balogh as a Fellow of Balliol. Sir Walter had known Balogh in Geneva, where he was considered a poor economist and a predatory womanizer. Sir Walter still considers that Lindsay was often a poor judge of character, but admires his Christian Socialism, fighting spirit and disdain for worldly gain.

Many of Sir Walter's contemporaries who later became famous, such as Alec Douglas-Home and Hugh Gaitskell, were not outstanding at Oxford. Lionel Curtis, full of altruism and concern for international good causes, influenced his career path. As a result of spending time with people like Curtis, Sir Walter formed, he now fears, too sanguine a view of the concern felt by the British as a whole for the rest of the world, including the British Empire itself. He was disappointed that Gilbert Murray, then Regius Professor of Greek and perhaps the most famous Australian of his time, expressed no interest whatever in Australia

Among people who influenced Sir Walter when at Oxford was an elderly Quaker lady, Mrs Ellis of Scalby in Yorkshire, whose late husband had been a prominent Asquithian Liberal. She became sympathetic to the Labour party and gave Ramsay MacDonald his court uniform when he became prime minister. She aroused in Sir Walter interests in politics and spiritualism he had not felt before. Despite the losses of war, the England of the 1920s was still confident that it had developed the best civilization this imperfect world had known. It took as great a pride in its writers and creative artists, scientists and engineers, as in its explorers and worldwide empire. It took the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler to shake that confidence, although the systematic denigrators, led by Lytton Strachey, were already eating at its moral foundations. Sir Walter’s admiration for most, though by no means all, things British was perhaps enhanced by visits to France, where he found, among much to admire, far more selfishness, discourtesy, chauvinism and intellectual fakery than in Britain.


Sir Walter went in 1928 for two years to Stanford University as a Fellow of the (British) Commonwealth Fund. He was struck by the contrast between the Stanford students, many of them puritanically minded, ‘working their way through college’ and eating in huge cafeterias in which they were served mainly by other students, and life in the Oxford colleges. The buoyancy of Stanford exhilarated him at a time when America was approaching the height of the stock market boom. Herbert Hoover was a local Stanford man and had huge local support in his successful presidential campaign. After the slump, the ‘Engineer of Prosperity’ was turned upon as a fraud. Sir Walter was impressed by the intellectual energy of Stanford, apart from its Education School

At Stanford he made radical friends such as Murray Luck, Sherwood Eddy and Norman Thomas, then Socialist candidate for the American Presidency. In America he came to dislike ‘professional Irishmen’ and ‘professional Indians’ who made a good living from inflated accounts of British misdeeds in their native lands, and ‘professional Englishmen’ who sought to impress with exaggerated versions of what Americans called the ‘British accent’. From Hearst and McCormick he learned how vile the yellow press can be, the Ford Works in Chicago showed him that Chaplin’s Modern Times was not much of an exaggeration, and New York revealed to him how witty and clever many Jews are and how much some other groups hate them.

When at Stanford, Sir Walter intended to become a demographer and he specialised initially in East Asian demography. After his two years in the United States, he went to Japan, where he finished The Japanese Population Problem, which forecast that population growth in current Japanese political conditions might lead to aggressive expansionism. It was praised by H. G. Wells but did not make Sir Walter’s fame or fortune. He returned to Britain via Siberia and Russia, where ‘hunger and dirt were the main trials’, even for a traveller who had prudently taken with him a supply of dry biscuit, chocolate, cheese and raisins. The trains were slow and frequently broke down. In Moscow he did not see a single smiling face. He judged that ‘what was achieved in the forty-five years since then…is one of the marvels of my life time’, although the ‘cost of the achievement’ was ‘one of the horrors of the last couple of centuries’.


Soon after his return to England, Sir Walter joined the British Colonial Service in Northern Nigeria, thanks in part to Sir Ralph Furse, a friend of his old Balliol tutor, Kenneth Bell. Furse embodied all the qualities of courage, intelligence and integrity he admired most. He was based in Kano, the capital of the Hausa, whose language he mastered more quickly and thoroughly than the European languages he spoke. All his extensive travel was on horseback in a countryside like that of the Bible. He found most of the Hausa cheerful, good natured and tolerant, many adventurous and enterprising. Hausa women were renowned among neighbouring peoples for their looks and liveliness. Also impressive were the British District and Assistant District Officers, such as Richard Warner. The British Colonial Service had a few ignoble careerists and back-biters, but most of its officers were imbued with the best of the public-school spirit and sought to serve rather than line their own pockets. As a result the system of ‘Indirect Rule’ developed by Lord Lugard worked fairly well, much better than its successor regimes. Far from inflicting upon the populace double exploitation, the system enable westernization and modernization to take place at a moderate and digestible rate under the joint auspices of traditional and imperial authorities. Sir Walter met in Nigeria two women he greatly admired: Margery Perham, ‘the most remarkable woman’ he ever knew closely, and Audrey Richards, another eminent Africanist.

Sir Walter spent six or seven weeks out of every eight over huge areas inhabited by the Hausa, Tiv, Idoma, and the nomadic cattle-rearing Fulani. It was a hard life: malaria, dysentery and chronic malnutrition all helped to ensure that less than half of his colleagues lived long enough to draw a pension. Hard drinking was the destructive solace of many, but he was resistant to the temptation. He pays tribute to the civilising influence of Islam, especially in regard to alcohol. The Islamic areas he supervised had had few cases of violence and none of murder or rape during his time. There was no lack of violence, however, during the building of the Kauna-Minna Railway, for which Sir Walter was the responsible Political Officer, Tribal groups employed on the scheme, such as the Berri Berri, Yoruba and Gwari, were often in group conflict after minor individual disputes about gambling and women. He wonders now why Islam has so often intensified in intolerance during the last half century as urbanization and higher education have increased, whereas Christianity, broadly speaking, has become more tolerant and liberal, perhaps to excess.

When first in Nigeria, Sir Walter met missionaries he admired, such as the discordant siblings, Walter and Ethel Miller, but he sympathised with Lugard’s view that Christian missions usually caused needless strife. Later in life, especially when he learned of the courage of Christian converts among the Kikuyu in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising and realised that the western influences, both good and bad, were bound in time to penetrate Africa, he became more favourable to Christian missionary work. In 1934, after a severe bout of malaria, he decided to resign from the Colonial Service. He felt highly critical of some superior officers, but later, after he realised that the opportunists and time-servers there were far fewer than in most other occupations and places, he wondered whether this had been a right decision.


In 1934 Sir Walter took a post in the International Labour Office, part of the League of Nations apparatus in Geneva. He had been appalled at the losses suffered during the First World War and believed that the League might help to prevent another war. He recognised later that he ‘turned out to oversimplify things’, but he never regretted that he had done his best to make the League work.

The recently appointed head of the ILO, Harold Butler, was a high-minded and intelligent Englishman who disliked scenes and failed to fight hard enough for even the most vital of causes. Butler was succeeded by an American, John Winant, whose tenure of office led Sir Walter to wish Butler had remained in Geneva. Winant had a striking patrician appearance and had been elected three times as Governor of Vermont. He was an expert on the American Civil War and, presenting himself as a Lincoln for the twentieth century, was considered by Republican leaders as a possible presidential challenger to Roosevelt. Sir Walter, as his Chef de Cabinet, found Winant ignorant of the work of the ILO and too idle to learn about it. Winant was also rude and inconsiderate to subordinates. Winant was obsessive about espionage and told Sir Walter that in America he curtained his windows to obstruct possible photographers in the pay of the Democrats, or even rival Republicans. Winant succeeded Joseph Kennedy as American Ambassador to London, but Harry Truman dismissed him. Soon afterwards he shot himself. Close acquaintance with Winant helped to make Sir Walter sceptical of American politicians, although he never imagined that so untrustworthy a man as Clinton could ever become American President.

Sir Walter still believes that with greater resolution in a few key posts, the League and the ILO might have had a much greater effect. There were far more self-seeking officials in Geneva than there had been in Nigeria, with Avenol, Secretary-General from 1933 to 1940 in the lea, but the delegates were usually worse than the permanent officials. Many delegates became almost full-time residents of Geneva and reduced their life expectancy by eating and drinking far too much. At the ILO Sir Walter met a wide variety of employers, government officials and trades unionists, the last group ranging from people genuinely concerned for the under dog to those determined to maintain selfish and anti-social labour monopolies. Geneva was full of high-minded idealists, cranks and crooks. Sir Walter tells of two opposed groups of feminists: one demanding special protection laws for women, the other insisting that every such law is unfairly discriminatory against women.

Geneva was then a fine city in which to live, and the Swiss as a whole impressed him with their sobriety, good sense and physical energy. However, journeys into Italy and Germany filled him with increasing alarm at the weakness of will of the French and British governments. In this situation, Sir Walter became a night-bird and a left-winger. The first did not last long and left him with a detestation for nightclubs and saxophones. The attraction of left-wing thought lasted longer. His new friends included Andrew Rothstein, Balliol educated correspondent for the Moscow Tass, the sister of Palme Dutt, the leading British communist intellectual, and Nicolle, leader of the Popular Front government in Geneva between 1936 and 1939. In the winter of 1937-8 Sir Walter decided to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, but an American friend who preceded him to Spain sent back reports of factionalism and disintegration and advised him to stay in Geneva. Sir Walter joined the Left Book Club, although in later years he regretted its widespread influence and wondered how he had let himself be blinded by intellectuals such as Gide, Wells, Romain and Shaw to the evils of Soviet policy. He had for a few months great hopes of the Labour Party, but its strongly pacifist elements helped to ensure that Britain rearmed at snail’s pace and so encouraged Hitler and Mussolini.

Sir Walter believes that, if the League had focused on Europe, where it exerted influence, rather than diffusing its attention over continents it could hardly affect one way or another, and if Britain and France had been firmer in 1936-7, much later suffering might have been avoided. But Baldwin was more engaged with the Abdication Crisis than with the threat of Hitler, and the French feared another Somme or Verdun. Later Sir Walter appreciated just how difficult had been the choices faced by Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, a man for whom he felt sheer hatred in the months before war began. The Nazi-Soviet Pact and opposition to the war against Germany of some of old Left friends, loud in peace in their anti-fascism, revealed clearly the differences between the venial faults of Baldwin, Chamberlain and Attlee, and the wickedness of the totalitarian powers and their ideologies. When he left Geneva to volunteer for service in the British Army, some of his Geneva friends derided him for helping to prop up British imperialism.

During Writers’ Week in Adelaide in March 2002 one of the speakers was Frank Moorhouse, author of two novels based on a fictitious Australian woman employed in the League Secretariat during the 1930s. During question time, I asked him whether he was aware that just a short distance from where we stood lived a man who had been in Geneva at that time and had considerable knowledge of the workings of the League. Mr Moorhouse slapped me down with the assertion that Sir Walter had been in Geneva with the United Nations during the 1950s, an irrelevance to the story of his heroine.

When the European war broke out in 1939 Sir Walter was in Japan, trying unsuccessfully to persuade the militaristic government to pay its debts to the ILO. He returned to Geneva to complete his Far Eastern mission and then prepared to go to England to join the armed forces. He had not driven far into France when the great German break-through took place to the north and huge numbers of refugees were fleeing south and west. He managed to reach the coast at Bordeaux and to board an already overfull boat which took him to Falmouth. The speed and efficiency with which he was given an identity card, ration book and gas mask impressed him.

At war

Whilst awaiting enlistment, Sir Walter stayed at Balliol with the Master, A. D. Lindsay, through whom he was put in contact with an officer recruiting for a new para-military cum intelligence unit. He was accepted and went up to the western highlands of Scotland for intensive and ferocious, in some cases sadistic, training in dirty tricks and sabotage. Before the end of training, however, he was summoned to London where Quinton Hogg, Lindsay's opponent in the famous Oxford by-election of 1938, interviewed him. Hogg, later Lord Hailsham, recruited him for a special operation in Ethiopia, but in the meantime he was to supervise ship loading at London Docks at the height of the Blitz. He never reached Ethiopia because the maverick Wingate was given control of operations in Ethiopia and rejected all the recruits made by his predecessor. Sir Walter found himself bound once more for West Africa.

Sir Walter was sent to work in the murky world of intelligence. The Vichy French forces were expected to attack British possessions in West Africa, whilst Freetown was a key link in British communications, as, out at sea, German submarines and warships were a grave danger to British shipping. As chief of army intelligence and counter intelligence, he soon found as many problems with rival British and Free French, and later American, agencies as with Vichy and German intelligence. In a milieu made familiar by Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge, he became doubtful whether much useful information was being provided even by his own operations, let alone those of free-wheeling romantics, whose funding often remained a mystery and whose activities made neutrals and allies doubt the prospects of British success. Sir Walter was sent to the Belgian Congo in 1942 to wind up an inefficient British Military Mission. He had also to build a communications line between the Congo and the Nile, since it was feared then that Rommel might seize Egypt and British forces would have to fall back on the Soudan. This did not come to pass, so none of Sir Walter’s efforts there were of much avail. However, he met the remarkable Governor of the Belgian Congo, Pierre Ryckmans, and was decorated by Belgium for his gallantry when a small plane in which he was flying over equatorial forest caught fire.

After a spell back in England, mainly spent in topographical work, he was sent out again to West Africa, this time to Dakar to work with our new French Vichy allies. He was able to check on the accuracy of intelligence reports two years earlier when Vichy had been the local enemy. He found a friend in Dakar in Theodore Monod, founder of the Institut Francais d’Afrique, a polymath of high integrity as well as intellectual power. Sir Walter interpreted for De Gaulle both when the general was despised by most of his enemies and allies and when he had become a force to reckon with.

Although Sir Walter encountered much courage, self-sacrifice and decency during the war years, he had no doubt that civilization had been deeply eroded and that Britain’s former position in the world had gone for ever. He feared, too, that the wickedness of the Nazi, Fascist and Japanese regimes might discredit even non-totalitarian forms of conservative thought, whereas the evils of Stalinism left radical thought largely unscathed. He disliked wartime hero worship of Churchill, although he failed to note that this could not have been so very deep, given the results of the 1945 General Election. Later in life, Sir Walter’s opinion of Churchill improved, partly because of the affectionate character of the Winston-Clementine correspondence and partly through Clare Sheridan’s testimony to his high artistic abilities.

The United Nations

After the war Sir Walter returned for a few months to South Australia and recharged his batteries as he worked with his father on their Parnarnoo sheep station. In 1946 he accepted an invitation from the United Nations Secretariat to become first Chief of its Africa Section. He found the UNO had all the vices and weaknesses of the League of Nations in magnified form, but few of its virtues. It was ‘a talking shop of unprecedented size and futility, spawning a huge, ill-disciplined, ever-growing and costly bureaucracy’. . Overcrowding became worse as the UN staff expanded from 300 to 3000 officials within the first six months of Sir Walter’s appointment, and continued to increase. In early days it took on average three people to do in the UN what one did in the League of Nations, not itself highly efficient. As time went on, far more than three were needed. The Norwegian Trygve Lie, the first UN General Secretary, proved an inept leader, but a great boaster. Among other early success he claimed was ‘to have solved, in less than two years, a crisis which had been more or less acute for the last 2000 years’, that of Palestine. Lie was proud, too of UNO’s solution to the Kashmir problem.

Sir Walter disapproved of placing the UN HQ in New York. Its first home was in a former armaments factory and subsequent locations were little less of a travesty, and depended much on the influence of property developers. Many UN delegates suffered severely from the racial discrimination against non-white people still common in American life in the 1950s. Most of the early officials were American, mostly from the East Coast and many of them Jews. Very few had earlier experience of international organisations, or of the recent war.

Sir Walter believes that Israel would not have been created in the form in which it emerged had the UNO been placed elsewhere than in New York, the centre of feverish activity of the well-organised Zionist lobby. He sympathised with the sufferings of the Jews under Hitler, but could not see how that justified dispossession of Palestinian Arabs. The anti-Arab campaign was first presented as an anti-imperialist movement directed principally against the British, who wished anyway to give up the Mandate and get out of Palestine. The second stage was to denounce the ‘Arab invasion of Israel’. In the post-war years the Jewish lobby had a fervent friend in the Soviet Union. Thus the Jews had both super-powers on their side, as well as Evatt, at the time critical decisions were made. Sir Walter admired Harry Truman, but deplores his announcement in May 1948, despite concurrent debate in UNO about the future of Palestine, that the United States would henceforth recognise an independent state of Israel. Truman wanted the Jewish vote in the forthcoming presidential election, but was also influenced by his old partner in Independence, Missouri, Eddie Jacobson, ‘a passionate Zionist’ according to Dean Acheson.

Not only were Count Bernadotte, Lord Moyne and many others thought hostile to Israeli interests murdered by Zionist terrorists in Palestine, but intimidation was practised on UN staff in New York. Sir Walter was appalled by a full-page manifesto in The New York Times under the name of the playwright, Ben Hecht, addressed to Irgun and the Stern Gang:

Every time you blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail, or send a British railway train sky high, or rob a British bank, or let go with your guns and bombs at the British betrayers and invaders of your homeland, the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts.

Sir Walter is well aware that the Palestinian Arabs were also deceitful and willing to break peace arrangements, and that western policies today cannot be based on the way in which the state of Israel was created, but he finds insufferable the self-righteousness of many Jews on Palestine-Israel conflicts.


Life in the UNO in New York so depressed him, that in 1949 Sir Walter accepted an invitation from Sir Douglas Copeland, its first vice-chancellor, to return to Australia to take the Chair of International Relations at the new Australian National University in Canberra. Sir Walter subsequently regretted this decision, although he does not suppose he would have been much happier had he accepted another offer to become Professor of History in the University of Adelaide. It did not take him long to realise that Copeland and other promoters of ANU had exaggerated its merits and had no clear idea of what they wanted, except to tempt Howard Florey and Mark Oliphant back to Australia. Sir Walter admires Oliphant for his exertions after leaving Thebarton High School at fifteen but considers he was listened to with excessive respect on matters in which his knowledge was shallow.

ANU had been sold as a prestigious research university of the type of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, but its library and research facilities were for many years very poor and its main distinction the high salaries paid to a generally mediocre academic staff. Sir Walter spent a lot of time at ANU in committee work that was largely fruitless, although he thinks the institution would have been even worse had he not blocked some schemes then floated. The consolations were that he made good progress in his studies in international affairs, enjoyed the semi-rural atmosphere of Canberra, and profited from the company of several colleagues in medicine and science, although not from many in social sciences.

Australian Diplomat

When R. G. Casey first invited him to become Australian High Commissioner in India, Sir Walter declined, because he felt he had given ANU too little service, but persistent renewal of the invitation and the failure of ANU to show improve led him to accept in 1952. He served as Head of Mission in India, Nepal, Indonesia, Canada, Holland, Belgium, East Africa (including Ethiopia as well as Kenya and Uganda) and Italy. Although his eighteen years as a diplomat were of absorbing interest, he soon abandoned any hope of influencing Australian foreign policy or persuading his political superiors to be less subservient to American policy. He opposed anti-Beijing policies and warned against support for authoritarian leaders simply because they seemed to be solidly anti-communist. Many vaunted anti-communists, such as the Emperor of Ethiopia, turned to the Soviet Union for further arms and alms as soon as they did not get everything they wanted from the West. On the positive side was Lord Casey’s success, in which Sir Walter played an important part, in developing the Colombo Plan and making Australia better known in South and South East Asia.

Indian life both fascinated and appalled Sir Walter.. He felt elevated by contacts with Rajagopalacharia, ‘the most striking human being’ he has met, J. P. Narayan and Krisnamurti, but was constantly aware of colour and caste consciousness, subservience of women, shameless beggary, and deceit and corruption at nearly every level of life. One Indian leader was actively spreading the lie that Britain was inciting East Africans against Indians at the same time he was importuning every influential Briton he met to help him get his son into Cambridge. Sir Walter saw through the pretence of peacefulness adopted by Nehru and his successors and correctly forecast India’s development of nuclear weapons. On the other hand his earlier pessimism about India’s capacity to feed a growing population has so far proved wrong

Indonesian corruption was even more extensive than Indian. In addition Indonesia was a dangerous place for diplomats, several of whom were mobbed and beaten-up and one, the German Ambassador, killed. A milder complaint was that Indonesian officials who promised to attend a function often failed to attend or attended accompanied with a host of relatives and friends all expecting a meal. The crafty and lecherous Sukarno took the lead in Third World cajoling for expensive personal presents, as well as ‘Aid’ which went into his pockets and those of his cronies. He wrecked the economy and polluted the younger political elite around him. Sir Walter also deplores the way in which the United States, despite Sukarno’s support of Japan during World War II, long supported him as the most plausible alternative to communism in Indonesia. Sir Walter feared that Sukarno might use the West 'Irian' issue to consolidate his power by populist anti-imperialist rhetoric against the Dutch. In consequence he favoured handing over the then Dutch New Guinea to Jakarta, Now he considers he was wrong, although even in retrospect it remains difficult to decide which was the greater and which the lesser evil in the choices open to Australia.

Although the Marshall Plan, apart from its unfair exclusion of Britain, and the Colombo Plan, to which Australia made massive contributions, both worked well, Sir Walter found that by the late-1950s more aid was abused than used well and he fears the situation has worsened since. In Indonesia he frequently found expensive machinery and tractors provided from aid money lying around, scarcely used. Third World politicians preferred cash or credit to goods, although sales of most aid items could be diverted without too much difficulty to their private accounts. Nehru, who was not corrupt, constantly had offers of hydro-electrical schemes, fertilizer plants, docks, etc. thrust upon him on his travels. The same happened with Sukarno who was corrupt.

As High Commissioner in East Africa, Sir Walter also found ample evidence of fraudulent use of Aid money and political hypocrisy nearly equal to that of Sukarno. One African politician who frequently addressed international assemblies on human rights married an African American when studying in the United States. After they had had several children, he decided it would be advantageous to marry a young local girl. After a marriage ceremony attended by about a thousand people, the bride and groom flew to Geneva to address the World Council of Churches on the importance of families. Sir Walter never changed his mind on opposition on international grounds to Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1936, but he admits that Italian rule generally benefited Ethiopians, and that Eritrea, much longer under Italian rule, was the only part of the new Ethiopia that was clean or orderly. Haile Selassie, no less a dictator than Mussolini, used most Aid money to buy weapons but also made indignant conference speeches, once in company with the Pope, on the evil of diverting wealth into armaments. In the former British East Africa, the new rulers vied with each other in the speed in which they could undermine the economies they had inherited. White settlers were given a hard time, but Indian ones a good deal worse.

In some western states Sir Walter was struck by the difficulty of getting good and able people into politics, but Canada when he first went there seemed more fortunate than most. He admired the ability and integrity of men such as Lester Pearson, whose judgement on international affairs was, unfortunately, weak, Vincent Massey and Louis St. Laurent, but generational change was for the worse, the Conservative Diefenbaker proving inept and the Liberal Trudeau untrustworthy. However, Canadians as a whole still struck him as being typically more moderate and sensible than their American equivalents, despite unreasonable hatred felt by many French-Canadians for British-Canadians.

Sir Walter admired the speed with which the Netherlands recovered from German occupation and the loss of Indonesia. Its constitutional monarchy seemed stable and its diplomats were mannerly and intelligent. Luns, the Foreign Minister and a gifted raconteur, was a good friend, as were Pieter Geyl the historian and Paul Rijkens of Unilever. The musical life of the Dutch cities was very high. However, whilst Sir Walter was at The Hague, Dutch governmental expenditure began to rocket and the country was affected badly by the youth cults sweeping the western world. In Spaak Belgium had a Foreign Minister of even greater ability than Luns. Sir Walter believes that if Spaak had become its first general secretary, as the British had hoped, the United Nations might have enjoyed greater success, but the Russians, supported by Evatt, blocked Spaak’s chances.

Although beset by problems of disunity, crime and misgovernment, Italy proved the most congenial of Sir Walter’s diplomatic posts. The language, tolerance of human failings, and industriousness of most Italians, and the beauty of much of the countryside, if the road traffic could be avoided, outweighed for him the inefficient bureaucracy, slowness and uncertainly in administration of justice, and widespread political corruption. He found the Italian communist leaders better than those of other countries and better than the leaders of the parties favoured by the Americans.

Life as a diplomat, whether at UNO or in an embassy, grew worse as the number rapidly increased of sovereign states and their representative. Wasteful and useless receptions and cocktail parties multiplied: whole regions, let alone villages, could have been fed at the cost of diplomatic activity in a single capital city. The general level of intelligence and integrity among diplomats fell; some used their immunities to engage in smuggling, even of very dangerous commodities. In any case, as the number of their diplomats expanded, air travel and speedy systems of communication gave governments rapid contact with a wider world and reduced their need of diplomatic advice, very little of which they were inclined to follow. Many Australian Foreign Ministers spent far too much time on their travels, without engaging seriously with any significant issues, as did many state politicians. Many improvident and incompetent travellers regarded Australian embassies as travel agencies, potential employment exchanges and sources of help when they got themselves into avoidable scrapes. In 1970 at the age of 68, Sir Walter retired from the diplomatic service. He farmed for some year in the Alma Hills, but on moving to the city of Adelaide he accepted appointment as Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia.

Hopes and fears

Sir Walter usually excludes his private life from outside gaze, but he believes now that some of the pessimism expressed in his 1981 Travelling Back arose from distress at desertion by his wife and his fears for his sons, Christopher and Robert, in the wake of a broken marriage. As those boys became men he was proud to call his sons, he overcame that distress as but his outlook on the future has not become glibly optimistic. Over the years Sir Walter never showed fear of pain or physical danger, but he does not believe that others should suffer unnecessary pain and he was for many years President or Patron of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in South Australia.

He did not become hail-fellow-well-met in retirement any more than in youth and thus he stood in sharp contrast to the typical Australian public figure. It would be hard to find an Australian so far removed from the larrikin ‘Ocker’ type’ and his critics consider him aloof and over-fastidious. He disdains the excessive attention Australians pay to sport and derides the very notion of a ‘footballing great’. He once admired the ABC, but regrets the way that, following the BBC in Britain, it has suffered sharp cultural decline. Although its advocates extol it as a protection against Americanization, Sir Walter considers that the ABC bears great responsibility for Americanising, indeed Clintonising, Australia Genuflection by politicians and educationists before our debased pop music and cinema industries appalls him. He deplores, too, the continuing collapse in university standards, especially in the arts and social sciences. He dislikes the prevalence of the worship of sex, money and power in Australia, on all sides of politics, with Labour politicians such as Bob Hawke among the worst in cultivation of the ostentatiously rich and immoral. Fascination with wealth and vice has become worse as Australians have rejected most forms of traditional hierarchy.

Sir Walter is saddened by the way in which generous impulses are often reduced to Buzz Words and sometimes perverted to evil ends. 'The Stolen Generation' is among the Buzz Words he most resents: compassion for the continuing wretchedness of many Aborigines has been twisted into hatred of those men and women who tried hardest to integrate and assimilate Aborigines more fully into Australian life, so that they might share its benefits. In West Africa he approved of the French policy of sharing the best of French culture with Africans and he acknowledges the improvements in morality and civility that Islam brought in its train when it overcame primitive animism. Sir Walter deplores the way in which grants of Land Rights have reduced the willingness of many Aborigines to work. Like many idealistic young Australians, one of his nieces resolved to devote her life to teaching Aborigines, but after two years in a school in Port Augusta she decided current post-Hasluck policies were of little or no value. On returning to Adelaide, she found that general educational policy was almost equally misguided and became a nurse instead.

Sir Walter is a lifelong internationalist and he acknowledges that many immigrant groups have contributed valuable elements to Australian life. However, he deplores the way in which Multiculturalism, too, has become a mindless ‘Buzz Word’, which implies that there are no limits to capacity for cultural diversity and no need for immigrants to accept the common core of values on which our civil society is founded. He has known many people of high spiritual quality who were Buddhist, Muslim and of other many other religions, and is well aware of imperfections in Christianity, but he believes that Christian teaching remains as close as we can get to spiritual understanding and that much that is best in our way of life is the product of various strains in Christian tradition. He regrets the way in which ethnic hatreds have been imported into Australia. He considers the Howard government mistaken in risking the enmity of Indonesia, with its 200 million population, by backing the claims to independence of East Timor. On the other hand, he applauds John Howard's determination to stop illegal immigration into Australia.

The distrust of American political leaders he acquired after World War II remains with Sir Walter. He is concerned by their apparent belief that major wars may be winnable without massive use of ground troops. He retains some of the sympathy with the Beijing government that led him as a diplomat to urge its recognition on Canberra for several years before that policy was adopted. He considers the Chinese leaders to be less simple-minded and more realistic than their American equivalents.

During his long life Sir Walter discovered feet of clay among many people he once admired, such as Belloc, Yeats, Cockroft, Nils Bohr, Montgomery, Jung and Bertrand Russell. But he tries to judge people by their best, not their worst: he admires Bacon as one of our deepest thinkers, despite meanness and treachery in his life. And some people became even more admirable in his eyes as he came to know more about them, such as John Woolman, Pestalozzi, Elizabeth Fry and Father Damian.

Some have tagged Sir Walter as ‘right-wing’ or ‘conservative’, but he remains above simple labelling. In 1972 he signed an open letter calling on Australians to support Whitlam’s challenge to MacMahon, although later he entertained regrets at that decision. Although he considers Sir Thomas Playford the most able state premier he has known, he also liked ‘old’ Labour people such as Chifley, but not Evatt, in Canberra and Wright and Corcoran in Adelaide. He judges people by their personal qualities and voted for Bob Catley, the ALP federal candidate for Adelaide, against the Liberal Trish Worth.

Among Australian politicians of his time, Menzies naturally looms largest. Sir Walter acknowledges his considerable capacities and dignity, and the absence of corruption in his administrations, but thinks he was too compliant to American pressure, failed to ensure an adequate political succession in his own party, and underestimated Casey, with Paul Hasluck by far his most capable and estimable colleague. Both Casey and Hasluck disdained the cutthroat competitiveness and double-dealing which seem necessary for political success in Australia, and no doubt in many other places. Menzies’s personal initiatives in international affairs generally proved dismal failures, although they were much less dangerous than the schemes of Evatt, increasingly afflicted by 'megalomania, resulting in mental decay at the end'. Sir Walter has little regard for Malcolm Fraser's willingness to diminish Australian sovereignty and reduce its capacity to defend itself against invasion or illegal immigration.

Much of his pessimism about the world around him today is modified by his wonder at the advances made by the human race, especially since our ancestors developed speech. Within his own lifetime, medical advances have greatly reduced the pains suffered by in day-to-day life, although many people seem ungrateful for these benefits and seek ways of postponing death indefinitely. The universe also expanded enormously in our minds as telescopes such as that at Mount Wilson were built and microscopes penetrated the former surfaces of life. Given the disasters our ancestors overcame, from ice ages to plagues such as the Black Death and the world wars of the twentieth century, Sir Walter would not have us concede to despair.


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