Three Duties and Talleyrand’s Dictum: Keith Waller: Portrait of a Working Diplomat

Australian Scholarly Publishing
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 Keith Waller was a pioneering Australian diplomat.  Arguably the most talented recruit to the infant Department of External Affairs in the mid-1930s, he was a suave and persuasive prosecutor of Australia’s interests, serving every Prime Minister from Lyons to Whitlam with distinction.

In 1941, Waller was sent to Chungking, where he established one of Australia’s first overseas missions. A youthful indiscretion almost ended his career there, and he returned to Australia under a cloud. Waller redeemed himself, however, winning praise for his difficult role as Secretary to the Australian Delegation to the San Francisco conference that established the United Nations.  Subsequent assignments took Waller to Brazil, Washington and Manila; as Consul General. From London, where he served as a liaison officer, Waller conveyed to Canberra Britain’s anger at its exclusion from the ANZUS Alliance. Later, as Ambassador in Bangkok, Waller sought to breathe life into the moribund South East Asia Treaty Organisation. Most of his diplomatic contemporaries eschewed administration; Waller found he had a talent for it. In the late 1950s, C.M.H. Clark immortalised Waller in print as one of External Affairs’ ‘Men in Black’, a role in which he revelled.

In 1959, Menzies chose Waller as the avuncular face of a revivified, post-Petrov relationship with the Soviet Union. Waller was one of the architects of Australia’s successful policy of ‘Confrontation’ of Indonesia in the early 1960s, which was later judged one of the Department of External Affairs’ finest hours. Appointed the first ‘professional’ ambassador in Washington, Waller bore the brunt of ministers’ insatiable need to know US thinking on Vietnam policy.  As Secretary from 1970 of a re-named Department of Foreign Affairs, Waller re-organised and modernised operations in Canberra and overseas.

Based on extensive archival research, Three Duties and Talleyrand’s Dictum paints a vivid picture of one man’s involvement in successive Australian government responses to international events stretching from Appeasement to the end of the Vietnam conflict.

‘Keith Waller [was] a consummate professional. ... More than any other Australian, he exemplified the qualities of diplomacy. Alan Fewster’s masterly portrait shows how, and in doing so enriches our understanding of Australian foreign policy.’ 

— Stuart Macintyre
Emeritus Laureate Professor of History, University of Melbourne

'A fine piece of work ... extremely well researched, lively, and a significant addition to the literature on the history of Australian diplomacy.’ 

 — Dr David Lee
Director, Historical Publications and Research Unit, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Australian Scholarly Publishing
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Published on
Apr 6, 2018
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Political Science / International Relations / Diplomacy
Political Science / World / Australian & Oceanian
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