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Biographical summary, prepared 11 May 2020
Bruce was born on 6 August, 1945. He attended Christ Church Grammar School from 1956/62. He rowed in the First Four, played rugby for two years with the First Fifteen and was a warrant officer in the cadets. He left school without matriculating and went Jackarooing in the Kimberley. He also worked on an oil rig on the edge of The Great Sandy Desert and drove a taxi in Port Hedland.
He was conscripted for service in Vietnam in January 1966. He was a tank gunner, radio operator and M113 crew commander. He volunteered for service in Vietnam in 1967 but his unit was not sent until the following year.
While in the army he studied for his mature age matriculation and attended UWA from 1968/71. He obtained an honours degree in politics and history. He played rugby for UWA and was Arts Union President, a Member of Guild Council and Senior Student of St Georges College.
He was recruited as a Diplomat and commenced with the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1972. He was posted to Pakistan as Third Secretary.
In 1976 he was posted to South Africa as Second Secretary. The racially based system of government known as Apartheid was at its height. Bruce was appalled at what he witnessed. He decided to do what he could to help those who’s well-being or lives were at risk.
He gave black activists protection in his home from the security police. He helped students from Soweto to sanctuary across the border and he assisted prominent newspaper editor, Donald Woods, to flee the country from injury and possible death. His role was portrayed by John Hargreaves in the Sir Richard Attenborough film, ‘Cry Freedom’.
He is the only Australian Diplomat to have been portrayed in a feature length film. He also took prominent attorney, Shun Chetty, across the border. Shun feared for his life. He had defended the interests of the Biko family at the inquest into the death of black activist Steve Biko in prison. Bruce knew Steve.
Bruce maintained an extensive range of contacts with activists and artists. In 1997 he was invited as an official guest to the unveiling of a statue of Steve Biko by Nelson Mandela. Bruce met Mandela on several occasions, as well as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Dr Mamphela Ramphele, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and a Director of the World Bank. He remains friends with her.
Bruce took support money from the World Council of Churches to the dependents of political prisoners on Robben Island. The WCC was banned in South Africa and the money had to be smuggled across the border.
It was only after the release and screening of ‘Cry Freedom’ that the Department and the Minister became aware of the activities of Bruce in South Africa, which they approved and embraced.
In 1990 he founded and ran The South African Training Trust until 1993 bringing sixty black South Africans to Australia training.
In 2003 he established ‘Ifa Lethu’, an organisation based in Pretoria, to repatriate and curate black works of art taken out of the country during Apartheid. He began the collection with works he purchased from 1976/79. It now has over 700 pieces of work repatriated from around the world. A major exhibition was held in London at the time of the Olympics. He appointed Dr Ramphele to chair the Board which included musician Hugh Masekela.
In 1982 he was posted to Saudi Arabia as First Secretary and in 1983 was Charge’ at the Australian Embassy in Tehran for several months at the time of the Iran/Iraq war.
In 1986 he was posted to Pakistan as Counsellor. Shortly after arrival he met Benazir Bhutto who had just returned from exile in Britain. He was the first Diplomat in Islamabad to do so. The diplomatic community were wary of meeting her, fearing the wrath of President Zia who had murdered her father. Bruce and Benazir became good friends. He introduced her to other diplomats including the Indian, Russian and British Ambassadors. He attended her wedding in 1987. After she became Prime Minister in 1988, she bought wheat, second hand Mirage aircraft from Australia. Trade improved as a result of the relationship between Bruce and Benazir.
The Embassy in Islamabad was accredited to Afghanistan, which was under occupation by the USSR. Bruce offered to take photos of Russian soldiers and materiel when he was in Kabul. He was provided with specialist cameras by agencies in Canberra.
In 1994 he was posted to Sri Lanka as Counsellor where he came to understand the suffering of the Tamil people.
In 1995 he was appointed a Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal with the powers of a Magistrate. It was an independent body and appointments were made by the Governor General. Bruce was a productive Member of the Tribunal. He refused to undertake the directions of the Minister for Immigration who had no authority over the Tribunal. Minister Ruddock sought to limit the number of positive decisions made by Members to 20% of cases heard. It was illegal for him to do so. Nonetheless some Members complied and got reappointed.
Bruce served until 2000. Since that time, he has advocated on behalf of Refugees, East Timorese and Tamils. Refugees have been illegally held offshore for domestic political advantage. The Australian Government pays (bribes) officials in Indonesia and Sri Lanka to keep people off boats.
Bruce has written articles and opinion pieces on international relations, human rights, Refugees, domestic politics, water and climate change. He has appeared on radio and TV and was a regular guest on The Drum until a change of management at the ABC.
He has appeared before the Senate Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in relation to Human Rights in 1993 and Peacekeeping also in 1993, East Timor in 1999, Migration in 2003 and a parliamentary meeting in relation to the massacre of Tamils in 2009. In 2015 he was flown to Bremen to advocate on behalf of Tamil refugees before Judges, specialist lawyers and academics sitting in judgement on the Permanent Peoples Tribunal. They found that the government of Sri Lanka had committed genocide against the Tamil minority.
Bruce has written two books, ‘The Great Australian Blight’, a study of Australian foreign policy and ‘Pillars of Fear’, a critical examination of Australian regional defence planning. Both published by Otford Press in 2001.
Bruce farmed grapes, olives and sheep at Mudgee from 1997 to 2015.
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