Ralph Harry helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and wrote the first draft of the ANZUS treaty.
Ralph Lindsay Harry, AC, CBE Australian diplomat 1917-2002
"Fifty years ago a young Mr Ralph Harry sat down with the NATO
Treaty and quietly drafted what was to become the ANZUS Treaty," began a
story in The Financial Review September last year. By then Ralph
Harry was 84 and the last living member of the group of diplomats and
politicians who negotiated ANZUS.
The Department of Foreign Affairs was launching a volume of ANZUS documents and the man whom The Financial Review
called "the unsung hero of the ANZUS pact" was guest of honour. He
explained that, using the NATO treaty as a guideline for what he
thought Australia would be able to get away with, he wrote the ANZUS
Treaty and then set it aside.
The documents, continued The Financial Review, "record that
after returning from talks with the US representative, Mr John Foster
Dulles, the then secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Alan
Watt, said in Mr Harry's presence that the US was prepared to look at a
"'What a pity we don't have a draft. I think we could be in
business,' Mr Watt had said. At this point Mr Harry produced his draft,
like the proverbial rabbit from a hat. The rest, as they say, is
Harry, who has died aged 85, was recognised by his peers and
political masters as a consummate professional diplomat with a mastery
of the conventions and methods of diplomacy and politics. Having acted
for a period as director of ASIS, he was also known as a skilled
intelligence analyst and cryptographer. Little escaped his gaze and, to
the discomfiture of many, nothing he observed was ever forgotten.
Underlying these formidable formal skills, however, was a life-long
emotional commitment to the betterment of his fellow men and women
through the promotion of international law and institutions. There was
little he did or said that did not have this aim.
Ralph Lindsay Harry was born in Geelong, Victoria, on March 10, 1917,
the youngest of four children - his siblings were Egbert, Millicent
and Marjorie - of Arthur Hartley Harry and the former Ethel Roby Holder.
Arthur Harry was at the time a senior classics master at Geelong
College, one of Victoria's oldest and finest public schools. The
family's circumstances were modest and Harry was brought up to be
frugal, reticent and hardworking, with a reverence for academic
achievement and the value of education.
Harry's father moved to Launceston in 1922 to become classics master,
then headmaster, of Launceston Grammar School. He wanted to build a
house for his family in Launceston; the family in the meantime went
to Adelaide to live with Ethel's mother, Lady Holder, the widow of Sir
Frederick Holder. Sir Frederick was a journalist and preacher who became
premier of South Australia and, as a consequence of his deep
involvement in the federal movement in Australia, was appointed speaker
of the first federal parliament in 1901. He died suddenly during a
parliamentary debate in 1909.
He was to become the most prominent role model in Ralph Harry's
life. Harry attributed his commitment to public service to his
grandfather's example of tireless commitment to church and state and
was, throughout his life, proud of all that Holder had achieved.
The family was reunited in 1923 after the completion of Arthur's
house in Mowbray Heights, on the banks of the Tamar River. Harry became a
student at Launceston Grammar School in 1924 and was dux of his class
in each of his years there. He also represented his school in football
Although Harry was a brilliant mathematician, his father's poor
financial situation, and the bursaries that classics distinctions
provided, required him to follow the non-science stream. Another result
of his family's straitened circumstances was poor early nutrition, which
badly affected his eyesight.
Harry left school in 1934 after receiving the school's award for the
best all-round scholar, sportsman and leader, and a general university
scholarship. He sat for the Commonwealth Public Service exam and came
first in Tasmania and second in Australia.
During his undergraduate studies in law he worked as a clerk in the
Hobart ordnance stores. He also became deeply involved in the
Presbyterian church and the Australian Christian Students' movement, and
was a member of the University Student Representative Council.
Harry graduated with first-class honours in law in 1938 and was
awarded the Tasmanian Rhodes Scholarship. He arrived in Oxford to
undertake his BA in early 1939, after working his way to England in a
As a Rhodes scholar, Harry was expected to contribute to the sporting
life of the college and found his niche in rowing. He became captain of
boats at Lincoln and was invited to trial for the Oxford blue boat, but
declined. With the onset of war in Europe increasingly likely, he
wanted to concentrate on finishing his degree.
Harry made a quick visit to Amsterdam and The Hague in the summer of
1939 for a World Christian Youth Movement congress and was there when
Germany invaded Poland. In letters to his family, he recounted how he
had stood in the deserted Hall of Justice of the Palace of Peace,
established after the 1914-18 war. It was August 29, 1939, the day on
which the Dutch government mobilised its armed forces, and he swore
that, "I, for one, would not lose faith in the ultimate triumph of
peace and justice for which the Palace of Peace has been, and shall
again be, in the centre."
He spent the rest of his life working to realise that ideal. He
maintained a profound belief in the banishment of all forms of war,
poverty and oppression, but rather than simply state high principle, he
recognised the need to devote himself to specific spheres where he felt
able to make a change.
These included the promotion of collective security between nations
through the UN, the foundation and development of regional groupings in
the economic and security area, the development and enforcement of
international law, particularly in trade, the rights of refugees and
human rights and the promotion of education. He was always willing to
consider new and radical ideas.
Harry completed his degree in 1940 and after an unsuccessful attempt
to join the British army returned to Australia to join the recently
formed Department of External Affairs. In 1942, he joined the AIF, in
which he served as an officer and intelligence analyst until 1943,
mostly in New Guinea. He was then recalled to the department to be
posted to the Australian High Commission in Ottawa, Canada, where he
worked from 1943 to 1945.
In 1945 the San Francisco Conference was convened to agree on the
Charter for the United Nations. Harry was attached to the Australian
delegation, led by Dr H.V. ("Doc") Evatt and participated in the
processes by which the UN was formed. In 1948 he became an Australian
delegate to the UN - that same year Evatt was elected president of the
UN General Assembly.
During this seminal period, Harry worked on the establishment and
development of the International Atomic Energy Commission; weapons
disarmament in the UN Commission for Conventional Armaments; the
establishment, on behalf of Australia, of the US-Australia Air
Transportation Agreement, under which Australia was granted the air
routes to North America now enjoyed by Qantas; the deliberations on the
formation of the state of Israel and the UN Commission on Human Rights,
chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Harry's proudest accomplishments were his substantial contribution,
in the UN commission, to the drafting and adoption of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, and his role in persuading the United
States to make available to Australia, and a small group of other
nations, radio-isotopes for medical research and clinical application.
All of this was achieved while he was barely 30 years old.
After a further period in the Australian embassy in Washington, DC,
he returned to Canberra in 1949. The following few years saw intense
activity in Australian foreign affairs. Decolonisation and independence
had arrived in India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia; the
communist revolution occurred in China in 1949; war in Korea broke out
in 1950 and French control in Indochina was being disputed. Percy
Spender, Australia's minister for external affairs from 1949-51,
promoted the need for a strategic alliance between the US and Australia
and Harry was co-opted into his negotiating team with instructions to
prepare the first draft of the ANZUS treaty. After intensive negotiation
the treaty was signed in September 1951 and remains one of the
underpinnings of Australia's security and defence position.
Harry's first diplomatic mission was as consul-general and UN
representative in Geneva from 1953-56, followed by his appointment as
Australian commissioner in Singapore from 1956-57.
In 1957, on the basis of his intelligence work in the AIF and
external affairs, Harry was asked by Richard (later Lord) Casey, who had
succeeded Spender as minister for external affairs, to investigate and
report on the structure and operation of the recently formed Australian
Security Intelligence Service (ASIS). He moved to Melbourne late in
1957 to begin work on the report, which recommended substantial changes
in the financing, operating structure and accountability of the service.
He agreed to replace the then director, Alfred Brookes, and to remain
director during the reconstruction period. He completed his term in
Such was his concern for the security of ASIS that his connection
with it was only revealed with the publication in 1989 of the book Oyster,
an expose by Brian Toohey and William Pinwill of the Australian
security intelligence apparatus. Not even his family had been aware of
his involvement and he kept no records of ASIS in his personal papers,
unlike Casey, who maintained an extensive political diary of his
From 1960 until his retirement in 1978 Harry continued to serve
Australia with distinction in many senior posts. He led Australia's
delegations to many UN conferences including those on labour, health,
trade and development and economics.
He also led Australia's delegation to the Third UN conference on the
Law of the Sea which resulted in the adoption of a wholly revised
Convention on the Law of the Sea. In that conference he became the
chairman of the committee on dispute resolution and played a decisive
role in the success of the treaty negotiation. He was also given
responsibility within the Department of Foreign Affairs (as it had
become) for the management of Australia's Antarctic policy and treaty
Harry was Australia's ambassador to Belgium and the European
Community from 1965-68; to South Vietnam during the war years of
1968-70; to the Federal Republic of Germany from 1971-75, and to the UN
as Australia's permanent representative from 1975-78.
After his retirement he was invited by Sir Garfield Barwick to become
the director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, and
served in that role until 1981. He was appointed CBE in 1963 and AC in
Throughout his life Harry maintained an interest in the international
language Esperanto. Ignoring the sceptics - including those in his own
family - he was an active evangelist for the Esperanto cause, and a
prolific Esperanto writer, conference-goer, lexicographer, translator
and administrator. He was a committed promoter of the potential of an
international language to bring down the barriers of suspicion and
intolerance between nations.
He wrote several books on Esperanto, as well as The Diplomat Who Laughed
(1983), his first book, which he hoped would "do something to combat
the peril of beastly seriousness in the diplomacy of the '80s", The North Was Always Near (1995) and No Man Is a Hero (1997).
Harry was curious, careful, kindly and studious. He was a fine bridge
player, a keen gardener, cook and preserver, as well as a passionate
devotee of cryptic crosswords and mathematical puzzles. He continued to
follow international affairs and was regularly consulted on the history
of Australian diplomacy and foreign affairs.
Harry's wife Elsie died in 1994. He is survived by his three
children, John Harry, Penny Clarey and Virginia Braden Woolley and their
families. John Harry