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Millar, Thomas (Tom) (1925–1994)

by J. D. B. Miller

Few people can have combined the functions of scholar and academic entrepreneur so successfully as Tom Millar, who established the ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC). Millar died in London on 5 June at the age of 68.

Added to his strong academic pedigree - a PhD from the London School of Economics and a Research Fellowship at Columbia University in New York, where he studied the operation of the United Nations - he revealed a talent for administrative innovation which founded one, and nourished several other, major centres of research on defence and history.

When Millar began the SDSC in 1966 he was undertaking an altogether new enterprise. His appointment followed a brilliant paper at the 1965 summer school of the Australian Institute of Political Science; but it occurred at a time when hardly anyone in Australian universities had shown an interest in defence matters, and when the growing study of global strategy, so much present in the United States and Britain, had had little impact here.

Moreover, it coincided with the widespread hardening of opposition to the Vietnam war, especially among university people, some of whom were inclined to equate the study of defence with militarism.

The time, 1966, was hardly auspicious. Yet Millar managed to find a number of academics prepared to take part in the activities of the centre - economists and physicists as well as historians and political scientists — and established valuable contacts with service people and public servants, and with similar bodies overseas.

He was helped by his own service background - he graduated from Duntroon and spent 1943 to 1950 in the Army.

He began a series of Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence, which continues to this day. When he handed over the centre to Robert O'Neill in 1970, it was well established. It has since become unquestionably the principal Australian forum on defence.

Much the same strategy and perceptivity showed themselves when Millar took over the national management of the Australian Institute of International Affairs in 1969, which he ran while still head of the SDSC.

Always a busy man, he managed to fit in a year on secondment to the Department of Foreign Affairs, periods as a visitor at the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and the chairmanship of the government's Committee of Inquiry into the Citizens' Military Forces (CMF) in 1973.

He wrote nine books: from the groundbreaking Australia's Defence in 1965 to South African Dilemmas in 1985. He did not confine himself to defence topics, but published widely on Australian foreign policy and on the global strategic balance. Australia in Peace and War (1978) was a highly authoritative study of this country's external relations.

He took charge of the Centre for Australian Studies in London at a time of approaching crisis. The Centre, established by the Fraser government, appeared likely to lose all its subsidy under Hawke. Millar did not panic. He negotiated an agreement with private sources which added the name of Sir Robert Menzies to the Centre's title and preserved its existence. It still flourishes.

Tom Millar was a friendly, outgoing man who was interested in other people as well as in books and music. He was a good colleague, prepared to take on extra responsibilities when asked. He was patient and helpful with students. He did not hide his opinions, but expressed them with moderation and was always prepared to listen carefully to other points of view. He has been missed since he went to London, and will continue to be.

Original publication

Citation details

J. D. B. Miller, 'Millar, Thomas (Tom) (1925–1994)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/millar-thomas-tom-1382/text1381, accessed 21 September 2017.

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