Vale Allan Gyngell AO

Allan Gyngell AO

Australia has lost a rare and original foreign policy thinker and many of us have lost a good friend.

There was nothing flashy or pushy about Allan Gyngell.  He never trumpeted his very significant credentials or achievements.  He saw foreign policy as a serious business.  He thought about it deeply.  He understood and chronicled its history.  He knew foreign policy from the inside and the outside. He never strayed far from the practical but he also grasped that good policy was built on sound concepts.

Allan lived and thrived in many worlds.  He practiced diplomacy in the field.  He advised governments on policy.  He worked in a prime minister’s office during one of the more creative periods of Australian foreign policy.  He set up a think tank from scratch and built it into an influential voice.  He believed that public understanding of policy was the surest path to public support for policy.

Allan held deeply to strong values.  He was a realist when it came to how power operates on the international scene but he never lost sight of the purpose of foreign policy as a means to a more secure and prosperous nation anchored in the values of a secular liberal democracy.  He thought big whether it was Australia’s place in the world, eliminating nuclear weapons or understanding the special place of our immediate region in Australian foreign policy.

Allan had an unerring ability to get to the heart of the matter; to separate rhetoric from reality. More than most he understood the way in which history shapes perspective and anxieties.  History for Allan was not something that limited us but rather freed us to understand better how we can move beyond the constraints of the past. He was optimistic without being na├»ve, critical but always ready with a constructive alternative.

Allan would be the first to shy away from flowery obituaries.  His legacy needs no embellishment.  As a person, an adviser and a thinker he was simply among the finest of his generation.

To Cathy and his extended family, Allan’s many friends offer not only our condolences but our gratitude for knowing a remarkable person.


Peter Varghese.

Chair of Asialink, Chancellor of the University of Queensland and Former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade