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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ballard, Bertram Charles (1903–1981)

by David Lee

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Bertram Charles Ballard (1903-1981), diplomat, was born on 22 January 1903 at Toorak, Melbourne, eldest of three children of Charles William Ballard, a shorthand writer and accountant from London, and his Melbourne-born wife Ethel, née Whitham. He was educated at Scotch College (dux 1919-20) and at the University of Melbourne (BA, 1924; LL B, 1925; MA, 1926), where he graduated with first-class honours and the Dwight [q.v.4] prize in French. On 2 May 1927 he was admitted to practise as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Moving to Horsham in 1928, Ballard managed the practice of the solicitor H. Balfour Cathcart and acquired considerable experience in the conveyancing of land. Next year he returned to Melbourne to practise at the Bar. His fluency in French and expertise in property law equipped him to become Australian government solicitor in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). Arriving there in 1934, he handled the land claims of Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd, of Australian settlers and of the Presbyterian Church.

In August 1940 Ballard was appointed Australian official representative in New Caledonia. His instructions were to report on political and economic conditions in the colony and to encourage its continued wartime co-operation with both the British Empire and Australia. At that time most of the settlers in Noumea supported the Free French movement, while the governor and senior military officers remained loyal to Vichy. The Australian government instructed Ballard to discourage local efforts to overthrow the administration for fear that if Australia were asked to restore law and order, or establish a protectorate, the intervention might anger the Japanese and provide them with a precedent for seizing French Indo-China. Ballard contributed to a peaceful outcome in September when, countering the presence of a French sloop commanded by a pro-Vichy captain, the Royal Australian Navy escorted Henri Sautot, a Gaullist official, to Noumea to take over the government.

By 1943 Ballard was anxious for a change and applied to join the fledgling Australian diplomatic service in the Department of External Affairs. After heading the department’s international co-operation section in 1944-45, he was to serve continuously overseas for the rest of his career. He was political observer in Japan (1945-46), political representative and later Australia’s first consul-general in the Netherlands East Indies (1946-47), counsellor in the Australian embassies in Paris (1947-48) and Moscow (1948-49), and Australian permanent delegate to the European office of the United Nations in Geneva (1949-51).

On 6 May 1952 Ballard presented his credentials as Australia’s first minister to Thailand. In 1955 he was appointed minister to Israel, a country about which he presented consistently sympathetic reports during the Anglo-French effort, encouraged by Israel, to prevent the Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal. While in Tel Aviv, he occasionally startled the local populace by riding a motor scooter with the Australian flag that usually adorned the embassy’s car.

Aided by his fluent French, Ballard travelled extensively in West Africa as Australian high commissioner to Ghana in 1960-62. His last two postings were as high commissioner to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1962-65 and as ambassador to Sweden from 1966. Although he retired in 1967, he later revised the British laws of the New Hebrides, where he was also employed as a consultant to the Department of Foreign Affairs on Australian land interests. He took up the church organ and was thereby able to fulfil his passion for baroque music. Ballard never married. He died on 15 July 1981 at Kew, Melbourne, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939-1941 (1952)
  • A. Watt, Australian Diplomat (1972)
  • Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vols 4, 5, 8, 10, 11 (1980-2001)
  • J. Lawrey, The Cross of Lorraine in the South Pacific (1982)
  • J. D. B. Miller, interview with B. C. Ballard (typescript, 1975, National Library of Australia)
  • B. C. Ballard papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

David Lee, 'Ballard, Bertram Charles (1903–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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