Jeffery: A Top Soldier But Invisible GG

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As Michael Jeffery left Government House at the end of his term, a 60-year-old Papuan piped a haunting farewell.

It was an apt end to the soldierly Jeffery's time as Australia's 24th governor-general.

The piper was Sergeant-Major Michael Pissa, musical director of the PNG Defence Force, who'd served under Jeffery in the Pacific Islands Regiment more than 40 years earlier.

He had come to Canberra as one old soldier paying his respects to another.

Jeffery, who rose to the rank of major-general and is credited with saving the crack Special Air Services Regiment before a second vice-regal career, first in Perth and then nationally, always seemed a soldier first and foremost.

In his five years as GG, the tall, erect man of conservative social views who inspired great loyalty from old comrades-in-arms, worked hard, yet made little apparent popular impression.

Media descriptions like the "Invisible GG" and polls showing few Australians knew who he was, frustrated him.

Philip Michael Jeffery, who died on Friday aged 83, was born in Wiluna, Western Australia, on December 12 1937.

At the age of 16 he went to the Royal Military College, thác bản giốc graduating in 1958.

He had postings to Malaya and PNG, where he married Marlena Kerr of Sydney, with Pissa playing at the wedding.

They had three sons and a daughter.

In 1969, he was a company commander in Vietnam, where he won the Military Cross.

Jeffery went on to command the 2nd Battalion regiment, based in Wewak, before becoming commander of the SAS in Perth in 1976.

Jim Wallace, a later SAS commander, said it was a fraught time for the regiment.

Post-Vietnam, a Fortress Australia doctrine was developing which meant the army was under pressure to contract and the SAS - with no champions in Canberra - looked set for the chop.

Wallace said Jeffrey, one of the few army officers who could think laterally, carved out a new role for the SAS in northern surveillance.

"He was responsible for ensuring the survival of the SAS Regiment," Wallace said.

Jeffery's rise continued - first as Director du lịch thác bản giốc of the Army's Special Action Forces, then head of Australia's counter-terrorism coordination authority.

In 1985, he commanded the army's first division and in 1990 became deputy chief of the general staff.

In 1993, shortly after retiring from the army, he became governor of Western Australia.

As governor until 2000, Jeffery was occasionally criticised for his conservative social views, especially on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage.

He was also praised.

State Liberal Norman Moore said he travelled everywhere, including to some of the tiniest outback settlements.

Jeffery brought great discipline to Executive Council by wanting to know the detail of every measure before he'd sign it, Moore said.

In 2003, after Peter Hollingworth resigned as GG because of the furore over how the former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane had dealt with sex abuse cases, John Howard called on Jeffery.

The appointment of the first career Australian soldier to the post was widely seen as safe.

He'd had a thorough vice-regal road test and his social views were broadly in line with the prime minister's.

However, he denied that Howard gave him any sort of instructions.

Jeffery stayed resolutely clear of anything that smacked of political partisanship, even though he almost certainly felt more strongly about the dangers of climate change and water shortages - matters that engaged him strongly after his term ended - than his prime minister.

He occasionally flirted with controversy, like saying he'd like to see abortion reduced to zero and lamenting the high rate of marriage breakdowns.

And very late in his term, during the bad-tempered 2008 Indian tour of Australia, he lamented the loss of grace and courtesy from cricket.

That annoyed Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting, but was backed by Kevin Rudd, the new PM.

Around this time a Brisbane Courier-Mail columnist wrote that Jeffery had "risen without trace" and would head any list of least-known Australian public figures.

That provoked an uncharacteristic reply from Jeffery's official secretary.

Malcolm Hazell listed the GG's workload since his appointment, including making over 850 speeches, attending 1,100 events throughout Australia, hosting 750 official functions, and receiving the credentials of over 130 ambassadors and high commissioners. He also presided over 121 meetings of Executive Council, assented to over 760 pieces of legislation, received over 500 callers with many representing the 180 organisation of which he and his wife were patrons, and represented Australia in 16 countries.

Perhaps Jeffery's problem, if problem it was, came from his preference for spending time with ordinary people who were doing worthwhile things rather than the newsworthy or celebrated.

As he said in a rare interview: "The big thing you can do - and there's not enough of it - is looking people in the eye and saying thanks for making a contribution through being a Meals on Wheels person or a volunteer ambulance driver or a violinist in a youth orchestra, or whatever".

Jeffery was succeeded as GG by Dame Quentin Bryce.

Current Governor-General David Hurley, a former military man, paid tribute to Jeffery.

"As a nation, we give thanks for Michael's extraordinary lifetime of service. He was, by every measure, a great Australian."