The head of the National Security College started out as a journo on a local paper - The Northern Star in Lismore, to be exact.
"I began my working life as a cadet journalist on a country newspaper, covering everything from floods and local government to murder trials, corruption cases, environmental issues and road accidents," Rory Medcalf said.
Since then, his career has zig-zagged, as he put it - and that, he thinks, is a very good thing. "I hope that this award can help encourage next-generation thinkers and policymakers to opt for unorthodox careers," he said.
"Too often in Australia, careers have been limited to just one avenue such as diplomacy, bureaucracy, politics, journalism, academia or business and it has been difficult to move between these paths."
And unorthodox his career has been, as a journalist, an academic, an intelligence analyst and a diplomat, working in what he calls the "grey zone" between government and public debate.
He combined seven years as a journalist with study and then, in 1996, joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade where he worked on the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This was hands-on work under Paul Keating, involving the detail of how the danger of nuclear war could be diminished.
Even at that rarefied level, his background as a journalist, straight from school, helped.
"It emphasised the importance of engaging with people and not just with ideas," he said.
"It's learning about people and politics from the ground up."
Since DFAT, he has worked in different areas straddling broad strategy but also immediate problems.
He worked as an analyst with what was then the Office of National Assessments (which became the Office of National Intelligence). He was also an Australian diplomat, including a posting to New Delhi and a secondment to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
And now he is a professor and head of the the Australian National University's National Security College which trains between a thousand and two thousand government officials a year. They come from 17 departments and agencies, from defence and intelligence through to foreign affairs, home affairs, the prime minister's department, health, industry and the electoral commission.
As China rises and world power shifts, the role of the college is important, he feels.
"There's never been a more important time to understand national security. My role is to work at the nexus of policy, academia and the public debate, and to help lift Australian understanding and capability."
He is proud of his connection to India, a connection he continues through what he calls "informal diplomacy".
"For Australia to make the most of its human potential, we need more creative career pathways that allow people to with ideas to transfer their experience across institutional boundaries. I hope that my career is a step in that direction."
He said that, in addition to his leadership role with ANU, his eight years with the the Lowy Institute think-tank were formative in his work developing the Indo-Pacific as a framework for foreign policy.
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