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Ralph Harry

Ralph Harry

Australian jurist and diplomat
Ralph Harry
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Australian jurist and diplomat
A.K.A. Ralph Lindsay HARRY
Was Esperantist Diplomat
From Australia
Type Literature Politics
Gender male
Birth 10 March 1917
Death 7 October 2002 (aged 85 years)
Star sign Pisces
Residence Forrest, Australia
Commander of the Order of the British Empire 1963
Companion of the Order of Australia 1980
Officer of the Order of the British Empire 1960
Rhodes Scholarship  
The details


Ralph Lindsay Harry AC CBE (10 March 1917 – 7 October 2002) was one of Australia's pioneer diplomats and intelligence specialists. He was recognized as a skilled diplomatic professional with a mastery of the traditional conventions and methods of diplomacy and politics. Having acted early in his career for three years as Director of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, he was also known as an insightful intelligence analyst and cryptographer. He rose to the position of Acting Head of the Australian Department of External (Foreign) Affairs and concluded his career as Australia's Ambassador to the United Nations. Ralph made a lifelong emotional commitment to the promotion of the interests of Australia and the betterment of his fellow men and women through the promotion of international law and institutions. There was little he did or said that was not aimed in this direction.

Family, youth and education

Ralph Harry was born in Geelong, Victoria on 10 March 1917 as the youngest of four children.

He was the son of Arthur Hartley Harry and Ethel Roby Holder. Arthur was at the time a senior classics master at the Geelong College, one of Victoria's oldest and most reputable public schools. The family's circumstances were modest. Ralph was brought up to be frugal, reticent and hardworking and in an atmosphere of reverence for academic achievement and the value of education.

The family was Presbyterian and teetotal. Ralph's mother was a committed Woman's Christian Temperance Unionist and became World President of the organization while Ralph was at school.

Ralph's father moved to Launceston in Tasmania in 1922 to become classics master of Launceston Grammar School. As he wanted to build a house for the family in Launceston, it was decided that his wife and the children would go to Adelaide to live with Ethel's mother, Lady Holder, the widow of Sir Frederick Holder.

Sir Frederick was a journalist and preacher in the mining town of the Burra. He ultimately became Premier of South Australia. As a consequence of his deep involvement in the Federal movement in Australia in the last twenty years of the 19th Century, he was appointed as the first Speaker of the first Federal House of Representatives in 1901 before dying suddenly, in Melbourne, during a loud parliamentary debate in 1909.

Sir Frederick was to become the most prominent role model in Ralph's life. He attributed his commitment to public service to Sir Frederick's example of tireless and effective commitment to church and State and he was, throughout his life, proud of all that Sir Frederick had achieved.

The family was reunited in 1923 after the completion of Arthur's house in Mowbray Heights, on the banks of the Tamar River.

There followed a period of tranquillity and achievement in Ralph's life. He was placed in Launceston Grammar School as a student in 1924 and was dux of his class in every year he spent at the school. Although he was a fine mathematician, his father's financial circumstances, and the bursaries that classics distinctions provided, required him to follow the non-science stream.

Ralph also found time for wide sporting involvement, representing his school in football, athletics and swimming.

Ralph left school in 1934 after receiving the award for the best all-round scholar, sportsman and leader and winning a general university scholarship. He sat for the Commonwealth public service exam and came first in Tasmania and second in Australia. He became a clerk in the Hobart ordnance stores, a job he held during his undergraduate studies in law at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. During the Hobart period, Ralph became involved in the Presbyterian church and the Australian Christian Students’ movement, and was a member of the University Student Representative Council.

Ralph graduated with first class honours in law in 1938 and applied for and was awarded the Tasmanian Rhodes Scholarship. He arrived in Oxford to undertake his BA in early 1939 after working his way to England on a cargo boat for one shilling a month. He took up residence in Lincoln College, where John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, had his rooms in the 19th Century.

As a Rhodes scholar, Ralph was expected to contribute to the sporting life of the college and found his niche in rowing. He competed in the “bumps” and succeeded in moving the College up the river. He became Captain of Boats at Lincoln and was invited to trial for the Oxford “blue” boat, but declined, to concentrate on finishing his degree as rapidly as possible with the onset of war in Europe becoming more likely all the time. He also became a correspondent for “Isis”, the Oxford University newspaper.

Ralph had been attracted to evangelical Christianity in his youth and continued that interest through University. He made a quick visit to Amsterdam and The Hague in the summer of 1939 to a World Christian Youth Movement congress. In one of his many letters to his family during this period, he recounted how he visited the Hall of Justice of the Palace of Peace on 29 August 1939, the day on which the Dutch Government mobilised its armed forces for the Second World War. He described the scene of panic on the streets during the mobilization and the desertion of the Hall of Justice. He explained to his family that, as he stood in the empty building, he promised himself that

“I for one would not lose faith in the ultimate triumph of Peace and Justice for which the Palace of Peace has been and shall again be in the centre.”

He spent the rest of his life working in one way or another to realize that ideal. He maintained a profound belief in the banishment of all forms of war, poverty and oppression; but rather than repeat high principle he recognized that he would need to devote himself to particular spheres of activity where he felt able to make change. These included the promotion of collective security between nations through the United Nations; the foundation and development of regional groupings in the economic and security area; the development and enforcement of international law, particularly in trade, the rights of refugees and human rights; and the promotion of education. He was also convinced of the necessity for the involvement of youth in all of these policy arenas and was always willing to consider new and radical ideas.

Professional career

The outbreak of war complicated the completion of Ralph's studies as many of his lecturers and tutors were rushing to enlist. He was however able to complete his degree in 1940 and after an unsuccessful attempt (because of his poor eyesight) to join the British army he returned to Australia to join the recently formed Department of External Affairs. He decided in 1942 that his responsibility was to join the AIF, which he did. He served as an officer in military intelligence until 1943. Most of his wartime experience was in New Guinea. He was then recalled to the Department of External Affairs to be posted to the Australian High Commission in Ottawa, Canada where he worked from 1943 to 1945.

The Allied powers convened a conference in 1945 in San Francisco to agree on the basis for the formation of an international organization for the promotion of international peace and security. This was to bring into effect the proposals for global post-war organisation that the main WWII allies had agreed at the Dumbarton Oaks conference in the United States in late 1944. Ralph was attached to the Australian delegation to the conference led by Dr H.V. Evatt (then Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs in the Curtin/Chifley Governments) and participated in the processes by which the United Nations was established in October 1945. He became a member of the Australian delegation to the United Nations after its formation, until 1948. During this seminal period he worked on the establishment and development of the International Atomic Energy Commission, weapons disarmament in the UN Commission for Conventional Armaments, the establishment on behalf of Australia of the US-Australia Air Transportation Agreement under which Australia was granted the air routes which Qantas now enjoys to North America, the deliberations on the formation of the State of Israel and the UN Commission on Human Rights, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the United States president, Franklin D Roosevelt. His proudest accomplishments were his substantial contribution, in the UN Commission, to the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and his role in persuading the United States to make available to Australia and a small group of other nations radio-isotopes for medical research and clinical application. All of this was accomplished while he was barely 30 years of age.

After spending a further period in the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, he returned to Canberra in 1949.

The following few years were ones of intense activity in Australian foreign affairs. Decolonisation and independence had arrived in India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia; the communist revolution occurred in China in 1949; war in Korea broke out in 1950; French control in Indochina was being disputed. Percy Spender as Australian Minister for External Affairs succeeding Richard (later Lord) Casey promoted the need for a strategic alliance between the United States and Australia and Ralph was co-opted into Spender's negotiating team with instructions to prepare the first draft of the ANZUS treaty. After an intensive negotiation the treaty was signed in September 1951 and remains one of the core underpinnings of Australia's security and defence position.

Ralph's first diplomatic mission was as Consul-General and United Nations Representative in Geneva from 1953 to 1956, followed by his appointment as Australian Commissioner in Singapore from 1956 to 1957.

On the basis of his intelligence work in the AIF and External Affairs, Ralph was asked by the then Minister for External Affairs, Richard Casey in 1957 to investigate and report on the structure and operation of the recently formed Australian Security Intelligence Service (ASIS). He moved to Melbourne late in 1957 to commence work on the report, which recommended substantial changes in the financing, operating structure and accountability of the service. He agreed to replace the then Director, Alfred Brookes, and to remain as the Director of the Service during the reconstruction period. His term was completed in 1960. His connection with ASIS was only revealed with the publication in 1989 of the book “Oyster”, an exposé by Brian Toohey of the Australian security intelligence apparatus. Not even his family was aware of his activities and he kept no records of ASIS of any kind in his personal papers-unlike Casey, who maintained an extensive political diary of his intelligence involvement.

From 1960 until his retirement in 1978 Ralph continued to serve Australia with distinction in many senior posts.

He led Australia's delegations to many United Nations conferences including the ILO, WHO, UNCTAD, and ECAFE; he also led Australia's delegation to the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea which resulted in the adoption of a wholly revised Convention on the Law of the Sea. In that Conference he became the Chairman of the committee on dispute resolution and played a decisive role in the success of the treaty negotiation. He was also given responsibility within the Department of Foreign Affairs (as it had become by that time) for the management of Australia's Antarctic policy and treaty relationships and was Australia's principal negotiator of the Timor Gap treaty with Indonesia consequent on the resumption by the Indonesian Republic of the administration of East Timor.

He was appointed as Australia's Ambassador to Belgium and the European Community from 1965 to 1968; to South Vietnam during the war years of 1968 to 1970; to the Federal Republic of Germany from 1971 to 1975; to the United Nations as Australia's permanent representative from 1975 to 1978.

After his retirement he was invited by Sir Garfield Barwick, whose acquaintance he made as Foreign Affairs Minister, to become the Director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. He discharged that role until 1981. During his tenure at the Institute he also was a member of the Australia Day Committee.

Ralph was a curious, careful, kindly and studious man. He was a fine bridge player, a keen gardener, cook and preserver; a passionate devotee of cryptic crosswords and mathematical puzzles. He followed international affairs and was regularly consulted on the history of Australian diplomacy and foreign affairs.


In 1960 Harry was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). In 1963 he was raised to Commander level (CBE).

In 1980 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), "for public service, particularly as a diplomatic representative".


Throughout his life Ralph maintained an interest in the synthetic international language Esperanto, which he began to learn as a student in 1937. He was an active evangelist for the Esperanto cause, and a prolific Esperanto writer, conference-goer, lexicographer, translator, administrator and a committed promoter of the potential of an international language to bring down the barriers of suspicion and intolerance that exist between nations.

His most notable contribution to Esperanto and its cause was when he was serving as the Australian Ambassador to the United Nations in 1977. NASA, the US space agency, had programmed the launch in that year of two space probes, Voyagers 1 and 2, which were designed to take and send back to earth images of the outer planets, then continue beyond the solar system after escaping the sun's gravitational pull to become the first man-made objects to leave it. NASA and the cosmologist Carl Sagan decided to create identical golden records to attach to each probe that were designed to tell the story of the Solar System, and mankind, should one of them ever come into contact with extraterritorial intelligent life. Engraved on each record was, among other things, a soundtrack containing a compilation of 54 peace greetings to the universe recorded in different languages by various UN delegates. Ralph succeeded in persuading the UN and NASA to accept a message in Esperanto. It is located third-last on track 3 of the golden records and says (translated):

“We strive to live in peace with the peoples of the whole world, of the whole Cosmos.”


Before the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, when he was serving as Australia's ambassador to West Germany, Ralph translated into Esperanto several important UN documents, including the Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He edited a modest booklet with sport related terms in Esperanto and their translation into English, French and German. For decades he collected specific Australian expressions and published the first Australian English-Esperanto dictionary. Ralph also wrote an English-Esperanto bridge (card game) dictionary, a review of Peter Benson's Comprehensive English-Esperanto Dictionary (CEED, 1995) and a collection of familiar quotations ("flugilhavaj vortoj", literally "words with wings") from languages around the world, with their Esperanto equivalents.


Ralph was the main translator of the "Aŭstralia Antologio" ("Australian Anthology", 1988) which brought excerpts of Australian literature to the Esperanto-speaking world. Inspired by the well-known Esperanto-cabaretist Raymond Schwartz, he published humorous short stories and memories from his professional life in many Esperanto periodicals. They were collected in the reader "La Diplomato kiu Ridis" (1997) ("The Diplomat Who Laughed").

Activities within the Esperanto movement

Although Ralph declined positions in the international Esperanto bureaucracy, he presided over the Australian Esperanto Association (AEA) in 1960–61 and then for several years after his retirement in 1977. He was member of AEA's examination commission and funded several of its projects. With Ivo Lapenna, former president of UEA, he worked together in the Internacia Esperanto-Asocio de Juristoj (IEAJ) and contributed to its organ Internacia Jura Revuo (IJR), mainly on topics of international public law. In 1967 he was honoured by the Universal Esperanto Association with a rare membership in the Honora Patrona Komitato.


  • 1990: (kun V. Gueltling) Auxstralia-Esperanta vortaro – Australian-esperanto dictionary. 3a eld. Bentley 1990. 54 p. – 21 cm. ilus.
  • 1997: La diplomato, kiu ridis. The Esperano as a pdf, 77 p.
  • 2000: (kun Brian Fox). Australian and New Zealand Esperanto Dictionary. Australian and New Zealand words not in other Esperanto Dictionaries. 4a plil. eld. Auxstralia kaj nov-zelanda Esperanto-asocioj, 2000. 98 p. – 21 cm (cx. 2.000 kapvortoj kaj esprimoj).


  • 2002: Short biography and picture of Ralph Harry written by his son John Harry.
  • Obituary by Trevor Steele in the UEA review "Esperanto" (Rotterdam), n-ro 1154.
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 24 Jun 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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