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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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John Edward Gage (1941–2007)

by Bruce Kent

After four decades of service to The Australian National University, John Edward Stephen Gage stunned his many friends by succumbing to cancer. John was a loveable colleague who ignored academic stereotypes by dressing immaculately, engaging in risqué banter and even bursting into song if the spirit moved him. He was valued for his unstinting contribution to the academic, pastoral and administrative life of the University. And his remarkable aptitude—rare among academics—for networking and outreach enabled him to play a major part in promoting European and Latin-American studies, fields that are integral to a well-rounded university and to the national interest.

John was the only child of Frank and Dorothy Gagg, who lived in a village near Hereford in the English Midlands. As a scholarship boy at Hereford Cathedral School, he seized with both hands the educational opportunity that had been denied to his parents. His prize-studded first-class degree in history, economics and politics at Manchester University instilled into him a penchant for thinking outside the disciplinary box. After his appointment to the ANU in 1969, his intellectual span enabled him to present an array of undergraduate and graduate courses on the economic history of Australia, Britain, the European Union, the Soviet Union, the United States and the Asia-Pacific. Still more offerings tackled the themes of globalisation and regionalisation, the international economy and the international commodity trade. The intellectual curiosity that inspired these voyages of discovery with his students mandated his practice of rewriting his lectures every year. His affinity for teaching was also increased by the facility for the well-turned phrase, which he displayed at seminars and conferences in later years.

The heavy teaching burden he shouldered was but one symptom of John’s commitment to the academic enterprise. His desire for meaningful interface with undergraduates prompted his prolonged chairmanship of the Economic History Departmental Committee, his stints as Sub-Dean of the Economics Faculty advising students about their courses and his role as Director of the ANU Union for over a decade. At a more exalted level were his membership of the University Council in the late 1980s and his chairmanship of the ANU Campus Advisory Committee from 1997 until his death. John’s involvement in these activities was not driven by a desire for preferment but flowed from his perception of the academic vocation in any tertiary institution worth its salt.

John’s desire to enhance the standing of the ANU, and to temper the prevailing alignment of Australia towards the Asia-Pacific region, was what prompted the networking on which he embarked in the 1990s. The multidisciplinary bent acquired at Manchester had already led him to collaborate with ANU Europeanists in a variety of disciplines to advance the cause of European studies. By the mid-1990s, intimations that Brussels was prepared to fund cultural projects abroad prompted him to seek the aid of the Delegation of the European Commission in Canberra to establish a National Europe Centre. Nye Hughes, the former European Commission Ambassador to Australia, recalls that he was persuaded by John days after arriving in Canberra in 1995 that there was ‘a crying need for a fully-fledged (Europe) centre … at Australia’s prime research university, ANU’. ‘My problem,’ Hughes remarked, ‘was to get Brussels to … put up the money to get it going and John’s was to ensure that the ANU authorities would be willing partners. I think he had the easier task!’ When this collaboration bore fruit four years later, Hughes related, ‘John broke the back of the habit of many years and deigned to have a drink! The two of us celebrated at the Charcoal Grill (in Civic) with a bottle of Krug which he had been keeping for years and the best bottle of claret in stock. He also did justice to the largest steak I had ever seen: it was vertical rather than horizontal.’ Lynne Hunter, adviser to the EC Delegation, who was heavily involved in the negotiations, reflected that the Europe Centre was tantamount to John’s baby. He was responsible for ‘its conception, the nurturing of it in the womb of the ANU and EU processes and giving birth to it in such an innovative way as to produce not one building but three’. Elim Papadakis, who held the ANU Chair in European Studies before becoming foundation Director of the Centre, has recorded that ‘John’s enthusiasm, insight and constructive approach offered an unparalleled education in how to get things done—harnessing the energy of our supporters and converting those who were indifferent or sceptical about the project’.

Nestor Stancanelli, the former Ambassador of Argentina in Australia, has a similar story to tell about the origins of the Australian National Centre of Latin American Studies. This body began to take shape in 1999 after John convened a meeting of Latin American Ambassadors and organised and addressed a number of subsequent conferences. The upshot was the signature of a Cooperation Agreement between the ANU and the University of Buenos Aires in 2005, which provides for collaboration in such areas as medical research, the study of indigenous affairs and language training. It was fitting that John figured prominently in the planning and proceedings of the first joint seminar arising from this agreement in April 2007. ‘It was a privilege,’ Ambassador Stancanelli wrote, ‘to share the coordination of the discussion with John and to participate with him as a speaker with so many friends from Australia and Argentina.’ During John’s stay in Buenos Aires, he added, ‘we had the opportunity to enjoy a tango show and celebrate his 66th birthday’.

John’s crack hardy response to his affliction in the weeks that followed was in keeping with the bonhomie and humour that infused his life. Towards the end, the wintry weather prompted a discussion of the provenance of ‘brass monkey’. On the day before he died, he could still manage a wan smile when told that he was right in insisting that it was naval gunnery slang.

John is survived by Susie, whom he married in 1992; his stepdaughter, Dimity Douglas-Byrne; his son-in-law, Chris Byrne; and his grandchildren, Chloe and Lachlan Byrne.

Citation details

Bruce Kent, 'Gage, John Edward (1941–2007)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 April, 1941


7 July, 2007 (aged 66)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

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