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Beddie, Brian (1920–1994)

by Ian Wilson

Brian Beddie was the co-founder of the Political Science Department in The Faculties because Professor Fin Crisp, with whom he shares that distinction, was still working for the Government when Brian had to launch the teaching program in what was then Canberra University College in 1948. The degree offered was a University of Melbourne one, and in the early years the courses were modelled on those of the Melbourne department.

Even then, the Department had responsibility for providing "cadet" diplomats from External Affairs with academic training in international relations and this was a particular interest for Brian, who had left that career for academe. He had been recruited while serving in the Army in 1944 but, after some challenging and distinguished work in postwar Thailand and Singapore, decided that there were better things to do than attempt to cope with the redoubtable Dr Bert Evatt as Minister. Brian was also warden of the Gunghalin Residential College where the cadets were housed and when, after a particularly rambunctious party involving some very senior ANU academics, the flagpole was chopped down, and none of those responsible found particular inspiration from George Washington, Brian's diplomatic skills were very handy.

Fin and Brian built up the Department during the difficult 1950s and 60s, when resources were scarce and much of the fabric distinctly tatty. In 1966 Brian gained the second chair in the Department, designated for political theory. In 1970 he moved to the foundation chair in Government in the Faculty of Military Studies at Duntroon, under the aegis of the University of New South Wales. There he was able to build another department and led it until his retirement.

These key decisions, to leave External Affairs and then to leave ANU, stemmed in part from what he took from his mentors - John Anderson at Sydney and Michael Oakeshott at the London School of Economics, where he did his doctoral work. He had a firm devotion to the academic life and saw it as a vocation, although he hated pretention too much ever to have phrased it in that way. He defended it against bureaucratic pressures from government and university administrators alike and his biggest battles were for academic independence in what was then a hostile military culture. It was to his credit that he was successful and retained the respect of all. He also firmly believed that an academic post was one of trust and that the equality and responsibility it involved were best exercised in smaller departments where hierarchy could be minimised.

He also retained a strong commitment to the development of an informed dialogue on Australian foreign policy. His several periods as Editor of Australian Outlook, some of his teaching, his work with the AIIA and his close contacts with old colleagues in Foreign Affairs and Defence attest to that objective.

Brian continued to be engaged by the "big issues" of his times - how the tragedy of Nazi Germany and the travesty of Stalinism could have happened and how they could be averted in future. He was quietly proud of the expertise his daughter Fiona developed in Russian studies and greatly enjoyed a retirement trip to the Soviet Union during her Moscow posting, even though his health was already failing.

Brian Beddie has a place with the founders of The Faculties. His ability to lift a debate, deflate pretence and quickly locate the central point in discussion will be missed at seminars, but so will his enjoyment of friendships and company. His wife, Rue, and daughters have our sympathy but also our thanks for their support of a noted academic, leader and friend.

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Citation details

Ian Wilson, 'Beddie, Brian (1920–1994)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/beddie-brian-94/text94, accessed 25 November 2017.

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