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William Douglass (Bill) Forsyth (1909–1993)

William Douglass Forsyth, OBE, who died in Canberra on March 3, aged 84, was a distinguished diplomat who made major contributions to Australian foreign policy in the post-war years, notably in the United Nations and the advancement of the peoples of the South Pacific. He was a resident of Canberra for many years from 1942.

Bill Forsyth, as he was known, was born at Casterton in western Victoria. From Ballarat High School he entered the Melbourne Teachers College as a full-time student at the University of Melbourne, where he took first-class final honours in history and political science in 1932.

A Rockefeller fellowship took him to Balliol College, Oxford, where he took his B. Litt. degree, and wrote his book The Myth Of Open Spaces, which questioned the ability of Australia to absorb vast numbers of immigrants. From 1942 until his retirement in 1969 he was an officer of the Department of External (Foreign) Affairs in Canberra and abroad.

He was a member of the Australian delegation to the founding conference of the United Nations at San Francisco in 1945 and returned to become head of the newly-formed Pacific Branch of the Department.

In 1947 he was appointed Counsellor in Australia's Embassy to the United States. Again a delegate to a long series of United Nations General Assembly sessions, he also represented Australia on the UN Trusteeship Council, charged with the advancement of the inhabitants of the UN Trust Territories, including New Guinea, Papua and Nauru.

Mr Forsyth played a leading part in the six-power South Seas Conference in Canberra in 1947 which established the South Pacific Commission, and a year later was appointed the commission's first Secretary-General, resident at Noumea, for a three-year term.

From 1951 to 1956 he was Australia's Permanent Representative at the United Nations in New York, involved in all aspects of its work.

On return to Canberra he served as an Assistant Secretary in External Affairs and then as Ambassador to South Vietnam and Minister to Laos, and once again, from 1963 to 1966, as Secretary-General of the South Pacific Commission. His last post was Ambassador to Lebanon. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1955.

Bill Forsyth is survived by two daughters, Katherine and Valerie, and a son, Julian.

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'Forsyth, William Douglass (Bill) (1909–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

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