Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Douglas, Annie Laurie (1914–1999)

by John Farquharson

Annie Laurie Douglas, who died in Canberra Hospice on August 1, aged 84, was a long-serving officer in the old Departments of External Affairs, External Territories and Special Minister of State. She was a specialist in the affairs of the United Nations, particularly in the area of the decolonisation of UN trusteeship and non-self-governing territories. She had a role in the processes leading to the transfer of political power from Australia to Papua New Guinea which saw it become independent in 1975.

Drawing on her experience of the UN from its earliest years, she also had an advisory role in the difficult business of ending the dependent status of the Cocos Islands. She did most of the groundwork resulting in self-determination for them.

Her work in this area was recognised when she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday honours of 1978, a year before her retirement after 36 years in the Commonwealth Public Service. At a formal farewell by friends and colleagues, Sir David Hay, a former Secretary of the Department of External Territories and a pre-independence Administrator of PNG, spoke of her long service, stressing the high quality of her work and the high standards she applied to it, as well as in her personal life.

On learning of her death, Sir David, who had also been familiar with Laurie’s work at External Affairs, where her library skills were used when she was placed in charge of UN documents, said, ‘Owing to the sheer number of documents and the variety of demands upon them, chaos would have resulted had a less resolute and knowledgeable person been at the helm. In External Territories, her wider intellectual interests were engaged, first in the exacting task of compiling detailed reports for the UN of Australia’s administration of the Trust Territory of  New Guinea and the non-self-governing Territory of Papua, and later in important policy advising areas, including the important one of education. She was a wise and respected colleague’.

The little girl who had spent her earliest years on the Western Australian goldfields and who had lost her mining-engineer father in a mine accident when she was aged eight, had come a long way. Her widowed mother moved to Perth. But with six children to support life was not easy. With her mother absent at work, Laurie had to assume responsibilities in the home, apart from her schooling which she completed at Leederville High School.

But the groundwork for her later career, which led her from the halls of the UN’s New York headquarters to Canberra’s corridors of power, was laid at the University of Western Australia. There she undertook a Diploma of Commerce course before acquiring an arts degree in history and English as well as professional librarian qualifications. While studying, she worked part-time and later full-time in the university library. She remained in the library until 1943, when she applied for and was appointed to the temporary position of librarian and research assistant in the Post-Hostilities Planning Section of the Department of External Affairs. She moved to Canberra in July of that year.

The head of the section to which she had been assigned was Paul Hasluck, later to become a senior minister in the Menzies Government and Governor-General, who she had known at university. In 1946, Laurie was appointed a permanent officer of the Public Service and was posted in October that year to the Australian mission to the UN as an Acting Clerk. Her duties covered a wide field - the complex area known as ‘colonial matters’ but which formally concerned discussion of Trust and non-self-governing Territories. While in New York, Laurie was a member of the Australian delegations to two sessions of the UN General Assembly and to three sessions of the Trusteeship Council.

In 1950 she returned to Canberra and the department, where she was placed in charge of UN documents. Beyond this area her considerable knowledge of the UN was not put to its most effective use. In 1957 she transferred, on promotion, to the Department of External Territories. There her UN experience was more appreciated and she was given wider responsibilities. She acquired a wide knowledge of conditions in PNG, its administration and the problems associated with its economic and political development. She made a number of visits to PNG, occasionally acting as escort to important foreign visitors.

Upon the abolition of the Department of Territories after PNG’s political future had been settled, Laurie moved to the Department of Special Minister of State, which had assumed responsibility for the Cocos Islands and Christmas Island. With their future having still to be decided, the detailed knowledge which Laurie had acquired of the history and conditions of the islands, was again drawn upon. She was promoted several times at Territories, but her final promotion to principal executive officer in charge of the Political and Constitutional section came at Special Minister of State.

Thoroughly professional, she brought breadth of experience coupled with insight to her work, but always had time to contribute to the training of junior officers. She was a great mentor to young women trying to find a niche in the Public Service, though she herself missed out on the great improvements in career opportunities that have opened up for women officers in more recent years. It took some time to get to know Laurie, but once trust and respect were established she was warm, lively with a sense of fun while loyal and generous in friendship.

She is survived by two sisters, Mrs Dorothy Brophy (Adelaide), Mrs Maxine Waldersee (Sydney), three nieces and three nephews.

Annie Laurie Douglas, born 8 December 1914; died August 1, 1999.

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 30 August 1999

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Douglas, Annie Laurie (1914–1999)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/douglas-annie-laurie-319/text320, accessed 16 September 2019.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2019