Sue Boyd interview, 10 July 2014, 16 July 2014 and 30 July 2014

Dublin Core


Sue Boyd interview, 10 July 2014, 16 July 2014 and 30 July 2014


Guild of Undergraduates


Sue Boyd was born in Calcutta, India. She lived and was educated in Germany, Ireland, Egypt, Cyprus and Britain before migrating to Australia in 1966. Before joining the Foreign Service, she worked for three years as a journalist on the Perth Daily News and was a volunteer teacher in Zambia. She speaks a number of languages. She was Australian High Commissioner in Fiji, and was concurrently High Commissioner to Tuvalu, Nauru and Tuvalu, and Australia’s Permanent Representative to the South Pacific Forum Secretariat. Previous postings as Head of Australian diplomatic missions were Australian Consul General in Hong Kong Australian Ambassador to Vietnam and Australian High Commissioner in Bangladesh.
Other diplomatic postings were in Australian diplomatic missions in Portugal, East Germany and the Australian Mission to the United Nations in New York.

Before returning to Perth in 2003, Sue Boyd spent 35 years pursuing Australia’s international interests as a senior Australian diplomatic representative in Europe, North America, Asia and the Pacific. Following a career in international diplomacy, Sue Boyd is now an Executive Business Coach, international adviser and company director.


Boyd, Sue


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Sue Boyd


Claremont, W.A.


Interview 1: 58 minutes, 53 seconds
Interview 2: 55 minutes, 3 seconds
Interview 3: 1 hour, 21 minutes, 29 seconds
Total: 3 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Sue was born in Calcutta, India in 1946. Her father was in the British Army. After WW2 he was posted to Germany. They left Germany when Sue was six years old and were posted to Northern Ireland and later Egypt, Cyprus and then Germany again. She attended 13 different schools in 5 different countries and was used to learning different languages.
11:16 The family returned to live in England in 1959. Sue attended Sudbury Girls High School in Suffolk where she did her ‘O’ levels. Then she attended Colston Girls School in Bristol and passed ‘A’ levels in English, French and German. She gained a place at Bedford College, London University to study education but took a gap year and taught in N Rhodesia (now Zambia) with the British Voluntary Service.
17:40 Meanwhile her parents had decided to migrate to Western Australia. Sue was not happy about this and wondered what a degree from UWA would be worth. They came out on the Canberra as £10 Poms. They found it was not England overseas. There were lots of things that were different such as names for things and meal times and subtleties of language.
26:41 The family arrived in February 1966 and Sue went straight into St Catherine’s College. Everyone was new so she didn’t stand out. They had been introduced to a family in Guildford and through them they met other people. Nonetheless, it took a bit of adjusting for her parents to feel at home in Perth. They were taken to City Beach by a man from the Good Neighbour Council the first evening they arrived and got dumped in the surf!
35:57 Pat Church was the Warden of St Catherine’s College. They were cliques from girls who had been friends at private schools so Sue chummed up with Shona Robinson who had just arrived from Canberra. They both joined the Judo Club which gave them some male friends. The Club sponsored Sue for the Miss University Quest. They were judged in a day outfit and an evening outfit. It was a way for people to get to know each other. They socialised with St George’s College and had dinners at other colleges.
41:14 Sue co-organised the Miss University Quest the following year and it brought her into contact with the Guild and the Vice Chancellery. She was invited to join Guild Council as Education Officer and organised Vietnam Information Week and Sex and the Single Student Week. She also campaigned to improve the standard of education in State schools. She was elected as President in 2009. She represented the university at Sydney and Melbourne for National Union of Australian University Students’ meetings.
49:43 Kim Akerman the Aboriginal Affairs Officer on the Guild supported the Aboriginal people in Leonora when a sacred site was being desecrated. The Guild made a point of pretending to have a mining claim on the War Memorial at Kings Park before Anzac Day to make a point!
53:40 Sue led a protest in Stirling Highway as the tunnel to give students safe access to cross the road was taking too long. St George’s students did a protest and then a sit-in was organised. Pelican dubbed it “Boyd’s Passage”.

Interview 2

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Impressions of campus. New Arts building and theatre spaces. Hackett Building. Nedlands and Park Road. Very good teaching staff. Her degree came second to her role as Guild President. Enjoyed English and Drama. Politics introduced in 2nd year set up by Professor Gordon Reid. Studied the unit with Kim Beazley. Bob Hetherington was their initial lecturer. Majored in English and Politics. Did Geology to do a science subject but Professor Rex Prider did not encourage female students. Sue found Psychology useful. Ali Landauer invented the system of landing lights at airports. He also taught about the transmission of DNA. Judith Laszio from Psychology was very encouraging and provided a study space for Sue in her house.
14:40 Social life was on campus but also outside with family and friends. There were always balls and dinners through different university faculties and colleges and also through the Guild. They used the Embassy Ballroom in William Street and the Pagoda in South Perth. There was a big focus on drinking which she found a little uncouth. Steve’s was a great meeting place.
20:03 PROSH was not as big thing then. Sue was very involved with Camp for Kids. Sport was a big part of student life both as a player and a supporter.
26:02 Relationship between Guild President the Vice-Chancellor, Stanley Prescott who used his intermediary Mr Angeloni to avoid confrontation. It had been proposed that the Guild President should be part of the Senate and Sue was the first Guild President to do this. At this time the demands of being Guild President were onerous and it was proposed that the Guild President should be given a year off from their studies and that they should receive a payment. Kim Beazley was the first Guild President who was salaried in 1970. The size of the university was growing but also students were becoming very politically active around the world. The Guild President was a public figure. There was a sense of change in the air. The network of student politics throughout Australia proved to be helpful in Sue’s later career. University broadened her horizons.
35:45 The student power was used to get rid of a bad teacher in the Economics and Commerce Department. It was decided that a student representative should be on each Academic Faculty Committee. The university now rewards teaching excellence. It is now core to the university’s focus.
38:48 By now, Sue was beginning to realise that teaching might not be the career for her. She did teaching practice at Tuart Hill and Hollywood Hill and enjoyed the teaching but was dismayed by staff politics and many of the children did not want to be at school. Sue had done vacation work for WA Newspapers and at the ABC and she could have worked for both of them. Tim (Kendrew) had been accepted into DFAT subject to his examination results and Sue decided to apply and was accepted. It was serendipity. David Irvine and Peter Cross from UWA were also accepted. There was a 3 day interview process in Canberra. What DFAT were looking for

Interview 3

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 How did the degree from UWA help with Sue’s future career? All the subjects she studied have had their uses as did being Guild President.
04:12 Women in the Foreign Service were pioneers. DFAT were still resisting women being in Foreign Affairs as they thought they just got married and if they did – they were required to leave the service. The women in the service had to prove that women could do the job. There are some good women in the service like Frances Adamson who is ambassador to China. In Sue’s day women only went to places that were safe but were not in Australia’s policy focus so it was hard to gain promotion. A great deal of work was done to change institutional discrimination. Sue was on the first EEO committee making policy changes regarding married couples, children and aged parents and expectations on wives to be social organisers. It was a time of great change and Sue was an agent for that change.
12:30 Sometimes being a woman was an advantage. Sue was able to access the wives in Islamic countries for example. There were difficulties sometimes when it was expected that the High Commissioner would be male! You had to prepare them beforehand that they would be meeting a woman.
15:29 A degree from UWA is now worth a lot and people have heard of the university. UWA is in the top 100. Sue is now involved in the Senate.
16:30 DFAT influence government and look after the welfare of their citizens’ overseas particular in times of crisis such as the recent MH17 crash in the Ukraine. There was an air crash in Fiji on the first weekend of Sue’s arrival there. On another occasion she had to assist 3 young men who had been caught smuggling gold into Bangladesh. Working in the field the diplomats get to know people informally and can make ‘deals’ on issues.
26:14 Being ‘on the ground’ gives the High Commissioner a great deal of power. Sue was asked to assist on the Pacific Solution. She knew that Fiji did not really want to host asylum seekers due to many issues they had and managed to persuade Canberra to let them off the hook. Canberra consults with people on the ground quite frequently. The best ambassadors are people who can think for themselves and read the situation.
32:00 Sue had developed many of her cross cultural skills through her upbringing but also through her UWA degree and meeting international students. Between postings Sue would visit different universities to recruit staff. She maintained her networks in Perth and at UWA. The university changed over time and each Vice Chancellor put a different stamp on UWA. Deryck Schreuder pushed for UWA to be international. He asked Sue to talk to the Deans and invited her to be part of a working group to participate in this initiative. From that, the Dean of Engineering invited her to do a final year lecture on internationalism and cross cultural situations especially in situations. She was able to discuss failures and successes such as the Mỹ Thuận Bridge in Vietnam.
39:08 Deryck Schreuder arranged for her to receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters in 2002 and introduced her as being one whose conversation contained a mix of high policy and low humour. In 2003, Sue retired and came back to Perth. She was offered a board appointment on Gold Corporation. She was on the board for 3 years. Meanwhile in 2004, she was invited to join the UWA Senate. 4/23 of the Senate are independent of the university. Members are only allowed a 4 year term so Sue is in her last term.
43:05 Sue is now an Executive Business Coach which is very rewarding. She also mentors students. There are more women now in the upper echelons of business in Perth. The coach works confidentially with the client.

Track 3
00:00 In 2004, the Senate prepared for the Centenary which straddled 2011-2011. They put aside $10,000 from the Senate reserve every year from 2004 to celebrate the centenary. They appointed a Centenary Planning Committee chaired by June Jones who appointed Virginia Rowland as Executive. When’s June’s term on Senate expired in 2006, Sue Boyd took over the job. Three sub committees were established to work on the target audiences: (1) the internal audience of UWA; (2) the external audience and (3) the alumni. The purpose of the celebration was to celebrate the university which was created to serve the interests of the people of Western Australia.
05:25 They had originally thought about celebrating over the three years and sent out a request for ideas. It was important to get everyone in the university involved and excited about the Centenary. They decided that they needed an iconic event which became Ted Snell’s idea of “Luminous Night” festival which was to be a gift to the people of Perth.
10:08 They decided to celebrate landmarks over the three years rather than run the celebrations over 3 years – 2011: founding, 2012 arrival of staff and the main celebration in 2013. The Luminous Night kicked off the Perth Arts Festival and was the night the alumni were invited to campus. The public were invited to campus and it was hoped there would be flow on from the opening of the Festival on Matilda Bay. About 15,000 were expected but about 40,000 people came. People are still talking about it.
16:33 The University gives back campaign involved the different faculties doing a project in regional WA. There were some marvellous projects put on by the Business School (Pilbara); Arts Faculty music project in the Kimberley; Medical Faculty in Kalgoorlie and the Education Faculty Astrofest in the wheat belt.
22:00 There were other projects – the founding families, the Guild dinner and publication; the Centenary History book; a film; a phone app; the 100 Treasures of the University. It was a huge success. The university won a CASE award – a Grand Gold Award for the Centenary. It worked because the whole university were engaged with it and they gave it their all.
26:22 Ms Madeleine King was a UWA person who was appointed to pull the Centenary together and a job that Sue could not do as a volunteer. She established a Facebook and Twitter account and was invaluable to the success of the campaign.
28:48 There is a policy document for the next time. It was suggested it should be within the next 25 years (2025) and that a dedicated staff be appointed.



Boyd, Sue, “Sue Boyd interview, 10 July 2014, 16 July 2014 and 30 July 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,