1980s Alumni Voice: High Commissioner Susan Coles
A legal path to diplomacy
High Commissioner Coles presenting funding to
Seychelles Anti-Piracy support team Commander
Rhodes Scholar Susan Coles, a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was recently appointed Australia's new High Commissioner to Mauritius, the Seychelles, Madagascar and the Comores Islands. She graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws (Hons) in 1989.
"I spent the first year living at Lincoln College, which was an excellent way to launch into University life. At Law school I met a great group of friends and by the end of first term we did a camping trip on 'the Ghan' up to Uluru. It was a real bonding experience, and those friendships have lasted until today.
I spent a lot of time down in the law library - two floors below ground among the leather-bound law reports - and I worked part-time at the Uni Bar and Bistro. With a combined degree, my Arts tutorials were a favourite. A course on the history of ideas, taught by the legendary Hugh Stretton, made a huge impact. I took another inspiring course in Arts, 'Women in Politics', with Dr Carol Bacchi, and became involved in student politics on the Students Association, then spent a year as Union President.
I have some great memories of those times - running elections, campaigning on student issues and learning about academic leadership on the University Council.
At the time, Adelaide was the only university offering undergraduate law in South Australia. It was also the natural choice, following in my older sister Jenny's footsteps. There was a nine-year age gap between us and as a child, attending her very formal graduation ceremony in the imposing Bonython Hall made a huge impression.
My study of the history of ideas and politics opened up a world of awareness on the importance of social justice, fairness and responsibility in leadership. Intellectually, the combination of politics and law sparked interests which I was able to explore studying international, EU and human rights law later on at Oxford. Presenting arguments to University Council for enhanced security for women on campus and improved access to campus child care, shaped my commitment to the importance of empowerment of girls and young women through education and career choices.
It sounds clichéd but winning a Rhodes scholarship was a dream come true, again following in the footsteps of my sister Jenny, who was the first South Australian female Rhodes scholar nine years ahead of me.
Immediately after completing the Oxford Bachelor of Civil Law, I spent six months teaching back at Adelaide Law School before I was lured away by what I hoped would be my dream job with the UN. But when I met some Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) lawyers there in Kuala Lumpur, and learned I could practise International law for Australia, my course was set. So began five years in the DFAT legal office in Canberra and then my first posting to one of the UN headquarters in Vienna where I spent a lot of time negotiating a legal inspections regime against nuclear testing. After Vienna I moved into regional trade diplomacy in APEC with a posting to Singapore.
My most recent appointment to my first Head of Mission posting was a great honour, and I am delighted to have arrived in the beautiful Indian Ocean Island nation of Mauritius. I have welcomed the recent revival of an Australian Alumni network here and am engaged in setting up new networks in two of the other countries I cover, the Seychelles and Madagascar. It has been fantastic to meet the local Australian community here and see the quiet contribution Australians are making across law, policing, and correctional services toward ensuring improved maritime security in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood."
story by H.E. Susan Coles
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