Public diplomacy

'Wife and Baggage to Follow': DFAT launches a social history of women and wives in Australia's foreign service

6 November 2013

'Our stage was the world; the sets were numerous, colourful, varied, exciting. The cast included leading ladies, numerous actresses in supporting roles, many more with bit parts. All were part of the production, and each role was important.'

Diana Hall

So begins Wife and Baggage to Follow, by Rachel Miller, an account of the lives of women in Australia's diplomatic corps from the early 20th century until the 1990s. It is largely anecdotes about postings - firsthand accounts of the lives and times of women who followed their husbands, with cultural exchanges, diplomatic achievements and hardships - but it also outlines important milestones in the history of women in the foreign service.

The first cadet intake to include women was in 1943, where three female cadets were selected from a field of 1500 applicants. In recognition of this groundbreaking advancement, 1943 recruit Diana Hodgkinson received a letter of congratulation from the League of Women Voters 'on behalf of all women'.

Following the removal of the marriage bar in 1966 women on took more and more important roles. In 1999, at the very end of the 20th century, women recruits into DFAT outnumbered men.

In 2013 Australia has a female foreign minister, DFAT has 26 female heads of mission overseas, and a high proportion of the organisation's deputy secretaries are women.

Launched by DFAT's Secretary, Peter Varghese AO, Wife and Baggage to Follow also highlights the role of officers and spouses in the Department who established greater support for families and improved conditions of service. Today, DFAT has a Families Network which helps families with the challenges of moving to and from Canberra.

Rachel Miller accompanied her husband on seven postings over four decades. She collaborated with the department in researching and writing the book as part of DFAT's long and proud history of departmental publications.

Wife and Baggage to Follow is available from bookstores and from Halstead Press by emailing halstead@halsteadpress.com.au

Cover of Wife and Baggage to Follow