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Sydney Morning Herald

Tales of diplomacy and adventure earned through a life less ordinary

Tales of diplomacy and adventure earned through a life less ordinary - Epsilon Gilchrist Books montage_col LARGER

Photograph: 1941 Hugh Gilchrist as an Army officer, serving in New Guinea

Sydney Morning Herald.

Date: November 16 2010

Hugh Gilchrist, 1916-2010.

Hugh Gilchrist gave Australia long and distinguished diplomatic service, in peace and war, at home and abroad. In retirement, his three-volume work, Australians and Greeks, made a unique contribution to Australian-Greek relations and to the Greek community here.

He will be remembered as a modest man of high intellectual ability, generous and kind-hearted, with a dry wit and a strong sense of irony, sometimes sardonic but never malicious. He was a masterly raconteur with a remarkable gift of mimicry.

Hugh Gilchrist was born on August 8, 1916, in Sydney, the eldest of five children of Sydney Gilchrist and his wife, Laurette Garland. Hugh grew up in the family's Double Bay house built by his grandfather in 1887 and went to Cranbrook School as a boarder. At school he started learning ancient Greek and began a life-long love of the classics.

Gilchrist graduated in arts and law from the University of Sydney and in 1936 was editor of the student newspaper, Honi Soit, with an editorial staff that included Judith Wright, Nigel Lovell, Forbes Carlile and latter defence secretary Bill Pritchett. He also directed, with James McCauley, the students' annual revue, with assistance from, among others, Gough Whitlam, Chips Rafferty and Donald Horne. He served on the student representative council and collaborated in the foundation of the National Union of University Students.

Gilchrist worked briefly as a newspaper reporter after completing his articles at law and before joining the army. He served throughout World War II in Australia and Papua New Guinea. He was a subeditor of the army magazine, Salt, under Major Mungo MacCallum, and organised education and entertainment for off-duty troops, from practical classes in chemistry to transferring Isadore Goodman's grand piano from Port Moresby over the Owen Stanley Ranges in a DC aircraft for a concert in Lae.

In October 1945, Gilchrist joined the then Department of External Affairs as second secretary in the political intelligence section. He was appointed to the High Commissioner's Office in London in 1947, then seconded to the Australian delegation to the 1948 United Nations General Assembly in Paris.

As delegation secretary, he successfully managed the sometimes challenging requirements of Dr H.V. Evatt, who was both president of the assembly and an exacting delegation leader. Early in 1949, Gilchrist was assigned to the United Nations Special Committee on the Balkans. He spent the last seven months of the Greek civil war in Athens and Salonika and touring the northern frontiers in jeeps and trucks sand-bagged against mines. All these experiences yielded a rich fund of anecdotes that delighted his colleagues for years afterwards.

In 1949, Gilchrist was transferred to the Paris embassy and the following year married Elizabeth Richardson of Adelaide, who was working in the US Marshall Plan office in Paris.

From Paris, Gilchrist went to Jakarta in 1950, first as secretary, then charge d'affaires. Back in Canberra after four years abroad, he worked successively in the Pacific and United Nations branches of the department, before serving from 1955 to 1959 in South Africa. He believed South Africa's apartheid regime at the time diverted world and national attention from the plight of Australia's indigenous people.

Gilchrist's first head-of-mission appointment was as high commissioner to Tanganyika, now Tanzania, with a roving commission to visit and report on 10 countries. During four years in Dar es Salaam, he witnessed the process of decolonisation throughout east Africa and Malawi's then president, Dr Hastings Banda, once tried recruiting him as a secret agent. He also served as an Australian representative on the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation and assisted in drafting the UN Convention Against Racial Discrimination.

After another two years back in Canberra, in 1968 Gilchrist was appointed ambassador to Greece. He served in Athens for four years, learning modern Greek and exploring all facets of Greek culture. After retirement, while researching Greek records, he discovered by chance he had been awarded the Grand Cross of St George by the Greek government after leaving Athens.

His last overseas posting was as ambassador to Spain, from 1976 to 1979 , although much of his time was taken up with international legal conferences in New York and Vienna. In Madrid, he began to fear the water used by more than 40 million tourists a year in Spain might one day become a cost-benefit issue for the country and that future world conflicts would be around water as well as oil.

Gilchrist's last appointment in Canberra was as first assistant secretary. He served as head of the Legal and Treaties Division, responsible for policy on French nuclear tests in the Pacific, law of the sea negotiations, Antarctica and extradition matters. He also served as legal adviser to Australian delegations to the United Nations and represented Australia at the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly.

Retirement did not mean indolence. Gilchrist spent four years on the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts and began a history of Australian-Greek relations, from beginnings to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1953.

As well as letters, diaries and other archival material, the documents included a fascinating collection of old photographs from both countries.

The first volume of Australians and Greeks won a National Heritage Trust Award in 1994. In 1998, the Greek Archdiocese of Sydney awarded Gilchrist its Gold Cross of St Andrew, in 2004 he received the Australian-Hellenic Council's Nike Award and in 2006 the Silver Medal of the Academy of Athens.

Gilchrist was a spirited pianist and once played pieces from the musical The White Horse Inn to guests at the original White Horse Inn on Austria's Lake Wolfgang. In later years he travelled to visit family in France and joined the Friends of the ANU Classics Museum. He was a founding member of the Canberra Wine and Food Club in 1953 and often attributed his longevity to his appreciation of Australian reds.

Hugh Gilchrist is survived by Elizabeth, children Athene and Julian and grandchildren Zoe, Gabriel and Ariana. Another daughter, Yolanda, died in 2000.

David Anderson

As has been noted elsewhere, "it is testimony to the quality Australians & Greeks, that all three volumes have remained in print, since the date of publication."

Tales of diplomacy and adventure earned through a life less ordinary - 1941 Hugh Gilchrist as an  Army officer, serving in New Guinea

Volumes I, II, & III are

Available from:
Angelo Notaras
Atom Industries
PO Box 513, Rozelle NSW 2039
Fax +61 2 9810 6691

Email order, here


Email order, here

Price: A$60 each incl GST and air post and packing to anywhere in the world.

To gain an insight into Hugh's motivation for writing Australians and Greeks

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