Editor reflects on encounters with Sir Peter Cosgrove

 

FILE PHOTO (December(?) 1999): Major General Peter Cosgrove is whisked ashore from HMAS Melbourne in Dili Harbour after a brief visit. Photo by Corporal Brian Hartigan for ARMY Newspaper.

 

General Sir Peter Cosgrove officially retired today as Australia’s 26th Governor General, handing the vice-regal responsibilities to General David Hurley.

I first became aware of the then Major General Peter Cosgrove in September 1999. It was one of those “I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing” moments.

I was ironing cams in my bedroom and heard ‘that voice’ on the TV in the lounge.

He was standing on the tarmac at Dili Airport talking to journalists.

Even before I saw his face, I called out to my wife in the other room – “Mark my words – that man will be Governor General one day”.

I met him several times, and each one is seared into my brain.

I photographed him several times in several situations in East Timor – in deep negotiations, chatting with troops, laughing with journalists, like a kid in a candy shop when some Wallabies brought the Rugby World Cup over for a visit and the consummate host when the Tour de Force Concert came to town.

Two of my favourite photos of Major General Peter Cosgrove, both taken at Batagude, East Timor during respites from negotiations over border protocols. Photos by Corporal Brian Hartigan for ARMY newspaper.
Two of my favourite photos of Major General Peter Cosgrove, both taken at Batagude, East Timor during breaks from negotiations over border protocols. Photos by Corporal Brian Hartigan for ARMY newspaper.

At Batugade, near the East/West Timor border, I witnessed his ‘photographic mind’ in action for the first time. His entourage of officers were poring over the details of a rather thick ‘agreement on border protocols’ he was about to sign with the Indonesian military. He quizzed them on several contentious amendments, analysing how their answers affected other clauses and sub clauses – in his mind, without ever looking at a word on paper.

Years later, I photographed him sitting on a tiny stool in a classroom full of 6-7-year-olds in Queenbeyan, NSW, answering 6-7-year-olds’ questions on East Timor – and he knew every single one of their names, because they had sent him a class photo while he was in Dili.

I interviewed him for ARMY Newspaper before he retired as Chief of Defence Force in 2005.

Then, more years later, both of us dressed in civilian attire, I held a door open for him as he left a wedding I was photographing. He looked up to thank me, then said – “you were one of mine – how are you doing?”

I would have followed that man through the gates of hell, no questions asked. And I know I wouldn’t have been alone.

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

4 thoughts on “Editor reflects on encounters with Sir Peter Cosgrove

  • 14/07/2019 at 11:15 am
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    I completely concur. Some years back, my wife Jenny and I did a walk through of Old Parliament House in Canberra. As we were leaving down the steps at the front, I noticed a throng of people walking up. There was The Great Man himself. He was accompanied by then Prime Minister, Johnny Howard and a handful of minors. As they approached, I couldn’t help my myself and said: “G’day Sir”. He stopped and approached us both and simply said: “Vietnam?’ I said: “Yes Sir, 69/70.” He shook my hand, then shook Jenny’s and asked her: “Is he behaving himself”? She replied: “Most of the time.” A brief conversation then took place before it was politely interrupted by a cough from one of his minders. He said; “We have to move on. you take care.” Johnny Howard smiled, and he too shook our hands before they all disappeared up the stairs. That made our day!

    Reply
    • 14/07/2019 at 11:18 am
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      Thanks Denny. That’s an awesome story – brings a tear to my eye.

      Reply
  • 03/07/2019 at 2:40 pm
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    Hi Brian
    Just a quick line to say I really enjoyed your reminiscences about Peter Cosgrove. He certainly has served this country well over the years and in several roles.

    How are you recovering from your last encounter with the heart surgeon?
    Hope you are not overdoing things. Listen to your wife when she tells you to behave yourself! I’m sure our wives know us better than we know our own capacities.
    One last thing — have you heard of a new “dedicated Pacific Support Company which will work with our South West Pacific Island neighbours”?
    It was mentioned in a speech given by Lt General Rick Burr, to a US symposium in Hawaii, May 21, 2019. Apparently it is an Australian army unit but no details given.

    All the best from Bob McIntyre.

    Reply
    • 03/07/2019 at 3:10 pm
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      Hi Bob.
      Thanks for the feedback. Yep, the “Great Ozzie Cossie” was one of a kind. Pity there are so few of his calibre around.
      The heart is recovering well – no complaints. Though the loss of fitness etc from the down-time is taking a while to regain. Don’t let the wife hear you heap praise – it might go to her head. And for god sakes don’t let her hear that she knows best about our abilities 😉
      That said, Mrs H is my rock. I’d be lost without her. And I have told her so.
      I didn’t hear that thing about the Pacific Support Company – but there does seem to be a lot of chatter about the Army being too small – and about Australia ‘stepping up’ in the Pacific. Could be interesting times ahead.
      Thanks again and stay safe.

      Reply

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