ACT News


The Embassy's Trudy McGowan back home in Canberra and awaiting next posting

While the next series of The Embassy screens on WIN-TV on Wednesday night, its "breakout star" Trudy McGowan is happily ensconced back in Canberra suburbia,  preparing for her next posting to Dubai and about to start learning Arabic.

"That should be relaxing," she said, with a laugh, in her typical, forthright manner.

Trudy won respect and fans as she appeared on the first series of The Embassy, revealing her work as the first secretary and consul at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, helping Australians travelling in Thailand.

The show takes viewers to the front line as diplomats serve to keep Australians safe and out of trouble in stunning holiday locations across Asia.

The second series starts on Wednesday night, showing more of Trudy's four years in Thailand, before she left in early 2015 to return to Canberra and a corporate job in the development policy division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

She'll be leaving for Dubai around Christmas time with husband Justin, who also works for the DFAT, and their children William, 12, and Genevieve, nine.


The job is as regional consular officer based in Dubai, but having responsibility for the Middle East and Northern African countries. The family will be there until 2020.

"I'm looking forward to it because it's going to be really different work to Thailand," she said.

"Each part of the world has its typical kind of cases. There's a lot of love-gone-wrong, people-who-didn't-have-enough-money-for-their-holidays kind of cases in Thailand whereas the Middle East is more complex. Forced marriages or business disputes or issues that affect the Middle East that don't necessarily affect Asia. That's interesting."

Trudy, 37, usually settles down with the family at their home in Weston to watch The Embassy, in the rare position to look back at the work she did and the way she performed her job.

"We sit and reminisce about the funny stuff that went on in Bangkok. Sometimes it's sad, actually, when I watch some of the cases," she said.

"You don't often get to see yourself going through that kind of thing again."

As soon as I heard there was such a thing as consular work and I understood what it was, I wanted to be a part of it and spent the rest of my career trying to get there.

The Embassy star Trudy McGowan

The former primary school teacher - whose main school was Wanniassa Hills - entered DFAT in a non-traditional way.

"I'm not your typical diplomat with honours in law," she said.

"I was a primary school teacher for a while and went on maternity leave with my son, who's now 12, and wanted to try something else. Spent a bit of time with Defence and then made my way over to DFAT. As soon as I heard there was such a thing as consular work and I understood what it was, I wanted to be a part of it and spent the rest of my career trying to get there."

And what did she understand consular work to be?

"Helping people overseas who've got into trouble that they can't possibly deal with on their own. It was the people part of the work I missed [from teaching]," she said.

"I left teaching and then I did public service work in an office on a computer and I wasn't interacting with the public. And I'm one of those people's who gets their energy and their drive from dealing with people and solving their problems. And consular work is perfect for that."

She found that every day was different in Thailand. There was no telling what kind of problems would come her way.

"Probably the cases that are most satisfying are those where people haven't done anything to get themselves into trouble. They're just a good person, like you and me, gone on a holiday, trying to have a good time, they've saved their money and taken their kids overseas and then something's happened that they had no control over, like an accident or some kind of crime," she said.

"And then you have the opportunity to step in and help those people, with knowledge that I only have because I'm in the country and I'm used to the environment, something they can't possible hope to have themselves.

"It might be the 10th time I've dealt with someone who's family member's died in Thailand but it's probably the first time, the only time for them, so it's really satisfying to help them as well.

"You see a lot of cases where people have issues that could be prevented. They lost their passport because they were careless or they rented  a motorcycle they really couldn't drive. Those cases can get personally frustrating but the cases that are satisfying are the ones that keep you coming back and renew your energy and keep you being happy doing the job."

And she revealed in the show a rapport with people, an empathy with their situation, but also  the strength needed to tell people how it is when needed.

"You can't teach personality. People need to be the right kind of person [ for this job]. And I think you know pretty soon once you start that you can or you can't do the job."

"People under pressure are trying to get places or get things that aren't necessarily right. So you pretty much have to tell people how it is. You know, the government can't pay for things. They can't pay to send you home if you've spent all your money on your holiday. Sometimes we have to be pretty upfront with things like that.

"It's like, 'I'm going to help you to get your family to help you get home but I'm not going to give you a cheque from the government. It's not something that we can do for you'."

So will the cameras follow to Dubai?

"I think I've signed off for a while. They're filming subsequent series without me, which is great. I'm happy to hand that over to someone else," she said.

"It can be quite challenging It's not often you're doing your work in front of the world but all your colleagues and all your past and present supervisors, who are sitting there and critiquing how you handled something."

Overall, it had been a positive experience opening up the embassy doors to the world.

"I've got really good feedback," she said.

"One of the nicest things people say is - because there's a lot of people who do consular work all around the world- it's really nice they say, 'Now I can explain to my mum what I do. People don't necessarily understand what consular work is but this is a good way to show the cases, the kind of work and how stressful and sometimes thankless it can be."

And Canberra is always home.

"I really like coming back to Canberra. The fresh air. Particularly going from one hot climate to another, our whole family loves the winters here.  And having a house with a garden. My kids have been good at fitting in back with their friends from before. I think Canberra is a fabulous place to come back to."

The Embassy screens on Wednesday at 7.30pm on WIN-TV.