Barrie Dexter

Department of Aboriginal Affairs Australian National University John Ryan (diplomat)

Barrie Dexter

Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs
In office
9 January 1973 – 20 January 1977
Personal details
Born
Barrie Graham Dexter

(1921-07-15)15 July 1921
Kilsyth, Victoria, Australia
Died13 April 2018(2018-04-13) (aged 96)
Canberra, Australia
NationalityAustralian
OccupationPublic servant

Barrie Graham Dexter CBE (15 July 1921[1] – 13 April 2018) was an Australian senior diplomat and public servant in the Department of External Affairs and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

Early life

Born on 15 July 1921, Dexter was brought up in a series of Anglican vicarages and educated on a scholarship at Geelong Grammar School. His father had fought in the Boer War.[2]

Department of External Affairs

Dexter joined the Department of External Affairs as a cadet in 1948. He graduated from his cadetship alongside Neil Currie and Rowen Osborn.[3]

Dexter went on to become a senior diplomat in the Department of External Affairs (called Department of Foreign Affairs from 1970 to 1987) with a number of postings including:[4][5][6][7]

His "experience in countries with indigenous and ethnic minorities" resulted in him being appointed to the Commonwealth Council for Aboriginal Affairs, formed to advise on national policy.[8]

Commonwealth Council for Aboriginal Affairs (1967–76) and Department of Aboriginal Affairs

Following the referendum in 1967 which removed provisions in the Australian Constitution which discriminated against Indigenous Australians, the Prime Minister Harold Holt invited Dexter to join the anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner and H. C. Coombs to form the Council for Aboriginal Affairs (CAA) and advise on national policy. The Prime Minister also asked Dexter to be the Head of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. The Council for Aboriginal Affairs (CAA) was a triumvirate, comprising Dexter, Coombs and Stanner.[9] The Council for Aboriginal Affairs led Australian policy on Aboriginal development, landownership and identity politics for almost a decade.

Dexter wrote that, when Holt drowned in December 1967, the advantages that the Council for Aboriginal Affairs had hoped for by being part of the Prime Minister's Department did not eventuate. The next Prime Minister John Gorton was not interested in Aboriginal affairs, and his department was unfriendly. Gorton subsequently appointed W.C. Wentworth as Minister-in-charge. Later when William McMahon became Prime Minister, the Council for Aboriginal Affairs became part of what Dexter called "an improbable creation", the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. Dexter wrote that Wentworth "would have liked to see us dissolved" but despite strong opposition from some parts of the Government, the Council for Aboriginal Affairs succeeded in developing an evolving stance on Aboriginal development, landownership and identity politics, its relationship with successive departments, ministers and prime ministers and also emerging indigenous bodies. The Council had a deep and complicated involvement in indigenous policy formation.[9][10]

Dexter held that position through successive political regimes, including the Whitlam Government, which began to implement much of the program Dexter, Stanner and Coombs endorsed: land rights, the movement to outstations, increased social welfare and community-based economies.[11] Dexter also employed Charles Perkins to the role of Research Officer.[12]

The Council for Aboriginal Affairs was to function as a powerful, almost clandestine, agency that exercised considerable influence over federal Aboriginal affairs for more than a decade.[13]

The Council and Dexter were instrumental in the development of Land Title policy for Australia.[14]

Dexter was the inaugural Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs from its creation in late 1972 by Gough Whitlam, until his retirement from the Department in 1976. He returned to diplomatic duties.

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1981.[1][15]

ANU Conference in 2005

In 2005, the Australian National University commemorated the centenary of the birth of W.E.H. Stanner, one of its late professors of anthropology, with a conference discussing his lifetime achievements. Dexter presented on the pivotal role of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs.[9][16][17]

Personal life

Dexter was the fifth son of the Rev. and Mrs. W. E. Dexter, of East Malvern. Barrie married Judith McWalter Craig of Perth in 1950. His father performed the marriage ceremony.[18]

Dexter was the Honorary Secretary of the Turner National Football Club for many years.[19]

Dexter died in Canberra on 13 April 2018 at the age of 96.[20]

Books and publications

In 2015 Dexter published a memoir titled Pandora's Box about the Council for Aboriginal Affairs 1967-1976 in which he detailed his service in the pursuit of a better deal for Indigenous Australians under six prime ministers from Harold Holt to Malcolm Fraser. His book was widely publicised.[21][22]

References

  1. ^ a b AIATSIS Archived 5 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Juddery, Bruce (19 March 1969). "'Ambassador' for the Aboriginies". The Canberra Times. p. 16.
  3. ^ Beaumont, Joan; Waters, Christopher; Lowe, David; Woodard, Garry (2003). Ministers, Mandarins and Diplomats. Melbourne University Press. p. 51.
  4. ^ J.S.Legge, ed. (1971). Who’s Who in Australia 1971. XXth Edition. Melbourne: The Herald and Weekly Times Limited. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
  5. ^ J.S.Legge, ed. (1973). Who’s Who 1973. 125th year of issue. London: Adam and Charles Black. ISBN 0-7136-1348-3. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
  6. ^ J.S.Legge M.B.E., ed. (1977). Who’s Who in Australia 1977. XXIInd Edition. Melbourne: The Herald and Weekly Times Limited. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
  7. ^ W.J.Draper, ed. (1980). Who’s Who in Australia 1980. XXIIIrd Edition. Melbourne: The Herald and Weekly Times Limited. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
  8. ^ "Portrait of Barrie Dexter, secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, 1973". Photo. Australian Information Service. 1973. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  9. ^ a b c Melinda Hinkson; Jeremy Beckett; Jon Altman; Barrie Dexter (2008). An Appreciation of Difference: WEH Stanner, Aboriginal Australia and Anthropology. Aboriginal Studies Press. ISBN 978-0-85575-660-4.
  10. ^ Rowse, Tim (2000). Obliged to Be Difficult: Nugget Coombs' Legacy in Indigenous Affairs. Cambridge University Press.
  11. ^ Altman 2008, pp 274–8
  12. ^ Robin Hughes (1998). "Charles Perkins". Full Interview Transcript. Film Australia. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  13. ^ G. Foley (15 November 1999). "ATSIC: Flaws in the Machine". The Koori History Website. Archived from the original on 19 February 2010. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  14. ^ Dexter, Barrie (1971). Commonwealth policy in relation to land and related matters. Barrie Dexter papers. Menzies Library, Australian National University, Canberra.
  15. ^ It's an Honour
  16. ^ W.E.H. Stanner (24–25 November 2005). "W.E.H.Stanner – Anthropologist & public intellectual". An Appreciation of Difference: WEH Stanner, Aboriginal Australia and Anthropology. Canberra: Australian National University. Archived from the original on 17 May 2006. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
  17. ^ Australian National University; Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (2005). W. E. H. Stanner: Anthropologist and Public Intellectual. Australian National University. A two-day symposium to mark the centenary of the birth of W. E. H. Stanner 24–25 November 2005.
  18. ^ "Flying Visit from Perth". The Argus. 30 May 1950. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  19. ^ "Turner National Football Club". The Canberra Times. 29 March 1950. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  20. ^ Barrie Dexter: diplomat and pioneer in Aboriginal affairs
  21. ^ Barrie Graham Dexter (2015). Pandora's Box: The Council for Aboriginal Affairs 1967-76 (Softcover). Keeaira Press. ISBN 9780992324117. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  22. ^ Daley, Paul (29 May 2015). "When two old foes opened Pandora's box, it unleashed an unlikely reconciliation". The Guardian.