THE RYDGES POST
Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, retired army, has taken up his vice-regal role. The outgoing GG, Dame Quentin Bryce, brought a lot of dignity, grace, class and contemporary significance to the office. While, as a republican, I'm not comfortable returning to the days of knights and dames, I can only applaud Tony Abbott’s appointment of Peter Cosgrove.
I don’t think Australia has seen such an extraordinary man who also pulls off an amazing feat – to appear absolutely ‘ordinary’. He carries with him a sense of larrikinism that often defined him in his youth, in tandem with a sense of trust, honesty, leadership and responsibility that defined his public life.
The public record is huge – distinguished army officer who won the Military Cross in Vietnam, rose through the ranks to be the Chief of the Defence Force, Australian of the Year, head of the task force following the devastation of Cyclone Larry and had a Townsville suburb named after him in recognition. He has also served on the board of Qantas and as Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University.
As the Australian War Memorial says in its biography, “In every respect Peter Cosgrove demonstrated that he is a role model. The man at the top displayed those characteristics we value most as Australians – strength, determination, intelligence, compassion and humour.”
Without having met our new GG we can just tell that his is the one thing we Australians most like in a man – he is simply a good bloke.
The ABC put together a Peter Cosgrove timeline from his birth in 1947 to now and it makes for a delightful read. A few things I didn’t know that made me warm even more to Cosgrove the man… at age five he was sacked as an altar boy for being naughty… being a bit lazy at school he had to repeat the leaving certificate (the then HSC)… he attended Duntroon Military College (1965) where a superior described him as being “Untidy, disorganised, unfit and generally late”… he met his wife, Lynne, on a blind date. Lynne asked her mother to answer the door and, if the blind date didn’t come across well, to tell him that Lynne was ill. When his future mother-in-law answered the door, Peter laid on sufficient charm to be ushered in with a very warm welcome – he greeted her saying, “Oh hello, you must be Lynne's older sister. I'm Peter, is Lynne ready?”…
Peter proposed to Lynne over the phone from an army base in Singleton – this was in 1976, the days when you dropped 20 cent pieces into a phone and pushed a button to get more time – he only had 40 cents and when that time was up, the local operator cut in with, “Do you wish to extend?” – he told her that he had just proposed but hadn’t received an answer and, an hour and a half later, they were still talking (probably with an eavesdropper or six)… the Cosgroves have three children...
In 1997 Peter returned to Duntroon, as commandant, probably a little more organised and punctual this time… and when he retired from active service in 2005, he paid a private visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and, in his own words, "I stood at the foot of the tomb and I placed a wreath and stood back and gave a salute, which is traditional, and the only words that occurred to me at that moment ... was 'I did my best, mate'."
When appointed GG, Cosgrove made the point that he would not be controversial, saying, “I think your responsibility is to shine light, not generate heat.” He said that he was humbled and honoured to be offered the role and told journalists, "My approach to this job will be of course as I've approached all those times when I've been asked to serve Australia. It will get my total commitment, all the energy I've got, good humour, and with an unfailing optimism that this is a great nation which will only get better."
Along with unfailing optimism, it is people like Peter Cosgrove who make a great nation better.
Photos ABC News