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Sir Patrick Shaw (1913–1975)

by David Lee

This article was published:

Sir Patrick Shaw (1913-1975), diplomat, was born on 18 September 1913 at Kew, Melbourne, fourth child of Patrick Shaw, a Melbourne-born physician, and his wife Janet Steedman, née Denholm, who came from Scotland. Young Patrick was educated at Ballarat and Scotch colleges, and at the University of Melbourne (B.A. Hons, 1935; diploma of public administration, 1939). He joined the Commonwealth Public Service in May 1936 and in 1937 transferred from the Postmaster-General's Department to the Prime Minister's Department. On 9 April 1938 at Scotch College chapel he married Catherine Helen Jeffree with Presbyterian forms. After working as private secretary to Alexander McLachlan and George McLeay, successively leaders of the government in the Senate, he was accepted into Australia's fledgling foreign service, the Department of External Affairs, in 1939.

In November 1940 Shaw was posted to Tokyo as third secretary of the newly opened Australian legation. At a time of mounting tension between Japan and Australia, he reported developments, walked to keep fit and attempted to learn Japanese. When Japan entered World War II in December 1941, the legation's staff was interned until exchanged for Japanese diplomats in August 1942. Shaw served as official secretary at the Australian High Commission in New Zealand in 1943-45. While he was in Wellington the Australian-New Zealand Agreement was negotiated and signed. In 1945 he was sent as first secretary to the Australian legation in China, located first at Chungking and then at Nanking.

Hurriedly sent back to Tokyo in 1947, Shaw replaced W. Macmahon Ball as head of the Australian mission and became British Commonwealth representative on the Allied Council for Japan. He strove energetically, albeit unsuccessfully, to prevent General Douglas MacArthur from ignoring Australia's views in making policy for the reconstruction of occupied Japan. In 1948 he acted as adviser to Dr H. V. Evatt at the meeting of British Commonwealth prime ministers in London. Next year he was appointed Australian delegate to, and chairman of, the United Nations Commission on Korea. The commission had little chance of uniting the divided nation.

After two years in Canberra, Shaw was posted to Geneva in 1951 as consul-general in Switzerland and permanent delegate to the European headquarters of the United Nations. He returned in 1953 and worked as assistant-secretary in the Department of External Affairs, helping to promote the Australia-Japan Agreement on Commerce, which was finally concluded in 1957. From 1956 to 1959 he served as Australian ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany and head of the Australian Military Mission in Berlin. During his term (1960-62) as Australian ambassador to Indonesia he became committed to the policy—still unpopular with most of (Sir) Robert Menzies' cabinet—of acceding to Indonesia's wish to incorporate Netherlands New Guinea (Irian Jaya). He also rejected widespread fear in Australia that communists were gaining the upper hand in Indonesia, and recommended the retention of friendly links between the two countries through such schemes as the training of Indonesian students in Australia.

Shaw returned home as first assistant secretary. He was deputy-secretary to Sir Arthur Tange in 1964-65, a time when the Australian government backed Britain against Indonesia's confrontation of Malaysia and supported the United States of America's military intervention on behalf of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). In 1965 he was appointed permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. His term (1970-73) as high commissioner to India and ambassador to Nepal preceded his posting in 1974 as ambassador to the United States. Relations between the two countries had soured because E. G. Whitlam's Labor government had criticized U.S. policy in Indo-China. Shaw helped to soften American antagonism towards Australia, but still presented his government's policies firmly, particularly its opposition to the expansion of the U.S. naval base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

In 1960 Shaw had been appointed C.B.E. He was knighted in 1972. Sir Patrick loved music, played golf and acquired a passion for tennis. A dapper dresser who retained into middle age a boyish look, he was punctilious about diplomatic etiquette, but his formality was leavened by an earthy sense of humour. Shaw was widely respected for the way he represented Australia and for his solicitude for younger colleagues. He died of heart disease on 27 December 1975 at Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, and was cremated. His wife and two of their three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. N. Rosecrance, Australian Diplomacy and Japan, 1945-1951 (Melb, 1962)
  • H. S. Albinski, Australian External Policy under Labor (Brisb, 1977)
  • W. J. Hudson (ed), Australia in World Affairs, 1971-75 (Syd, 1980)
  • G. Pemberton, All the Way (Syd, 1987)
  • P. Edwards with G. Pemberton, Crises and Commitments (Syd, 1992)
  • Australian Foreign Affairs Record, 46, no 12, Dec 1975
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Nov 1968, 21 Mar 1970, 29 Dec 1975
  • Australian, 29 Dec 1975
  • R. Harry, Historian Diplomat (manuscript, copy held in ADB file)
  • Ralph Harry papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Lee, 'Shaw, Sir Patrick (1913–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 September, 1913
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


27 December, 1975 (aged 62)
Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America

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