Fellows Detail

Professor Brian Beddie

Elected: 1968

Discipline: Political Science

Date of Passing: 01/01/1994

Obituary:

When Brian Beddie began lecturing at the Canberra University College in 1948 there were fewer than 25 teachers of Politics in all Australian institutions. In Canberra, until the arrival of LF Crisp, he was" the department of Politics, lecturing across all areas of the discipline (with some help from MacMahon Ball who came up regularly from Melbourne University). Together with Professor Crisp he established what is now the Department of Political Science at the Australian National University - at a time when universities were starved of resources and struggling to cope with rising student numbers. In 1966 he was rewarded with the department's second Chair (in Political Theory).

He left ANU in 1970 to take up the foundation Chair in Government at the University of New South Wales, Duntroon. Once again he assumed the task of establishing a department under difficult circumstances. On this occasion the difficulty was in the uncertain relationship between academic and military traditions. Beddie's primary concern was to maintain that measure of academic independence he saw as vital for the existence of a true university. He defended this principle consistently both as Professor of Government and for a time as Dean of the Faculty of Military Studies.

His achievement in public life has been in the contribution he made to the shaping of two of Australia's most prominent educational institutions. Yet he did not set out to be an administrator. His university career began in 1938 at the University of Sydney where he studied Philosophy under Professor John Anderson. He was profoundly influenced by Anderson and equally was regarded as one of Anderson's finest students. He took several prizes at the university before beginning studies in law under a Wigram- Allen Scholarship. This was cut short by the bombing of Pearl Harbour, shortly after which Private Beddie joined the army as a gunner.

In May 1944 he was selected to join the Department of External Affairs as one of the diplomatic cadets. (The selection, he recalled, was made while the soldiers stood naked on medical parade!) In 1946 he became private secretary to Keith Officer in Foreign Affairs and set off on a trip to Bangkok to conclude a treaty of peace with Thailand. From there he was sent to Singapore as Third Secretary to the Australian Commissioner, Claude Massey. His main task here was to purchase a large house on behalf of the Department. The house in question, he discovered, had served as a brothel for Japanese officers during the war and was still in its wartime condition, complete with cubicles and plushly appointed.

At the end of 1946 he returned to Canberra, first to the Southeast Asia desk in Foreign Affairs, and then to Intelligence when HV Evatt was Minister. Finding himself at Evatt's beck and call (he recalled that he was forever hearing Evatt shouting 'Beddie, where's my bag' or 'Beddie, when's that train'), he tired of Foreign Affairs and left for Canberra University College.

His early years at the College were also spent as Warden of Gungahlin Residential College for Diplomatic Cadets. Among the members of the College at that time were Peter Henderson (later head of Foreign Affairs) and WB Pritchett (later head of Defence). In Beddie's account his job was to lecture them in politics at the CUC and try to keep the housekeeper from getting drunk in the evenings.

When the College closed in 1952 he left on a Rockefeller Scholarship for the London School of Economics, There, working under Michael Oakeshott, he began his doctoral thesis on 'Nature, Mind and Society in the Writings of Hegel, Dilthey, Rickert and Weber'. He returned to Canberra in 1955 to take up a Senior Lectureship, and to resume his partnership with LF Crisp at the ANU.

His contribution to academic life and the discipline of politics over the next tlnee decades was considerable. He served two terms as editor of Australian Outlook (1957-60), was for seven years Research Chairman of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, and acted as Chairman of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Department of Foreign Affairs from 1977-82. As a fastidious scholar who was overly critical of his own work, he was reluctant to publish much of what he wrote. But his writings nonetheless covered a wide range of topics from political theory to international relations and public administration - all in enviable depth. Of especial significance were his early writings on defence policy-making in Australia.

Yet for all this, his greatest influence was exercised in his personal contact with students and colleagues. As a teacher he took great pains in his preparation, insisting that his lectures were public lectures and had to meet the standards that might be expected by a discerning public. As a colleague and intellectual companion he was hard to match for his combination of learning, wit, and unpredictability. Like his mentor, John Anderson, he was moved neither by ideology nor by fashion - only by the spirit of inquiry.

As a man, he was an uncommon mixture of modesty and stubbornness. For himself; he shunned the limelight; but when he saw a matter of principle at issue he could test the patience of his closest allies. Yet while serious when seriousness was called for, he was never solemn. He was respected; but he was also fine company.

His last months were uncomfortable (and at times, painful) as he succumbed to leukemia and then to motor neurone disease - nursed by his wife, Ru, and daughters, Francesca and Melanie. Yet he can only be remembered as a robust man, who hated any fuss being made of him- preferring a beer (or a scotch) and conversation about politics, philosophy and the arts. About his achievements in helping to build two departments which began in tin sheds he was typically dismissive, laughing: 'I have spent my entire academic life in huts'.

Chandran Kukathas

Contact

Email: brian.beddie [at] ass.edu.au

Contact Information

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
  • +61 .2 62491788
  • +61 .2 62474335
  • secretariat@assa.edu.au

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