Her Excellency

As a senior diplomat, Margaret Twomey has learnt to expect the unexpected. That means everything from coups to cyclones, writes Val McFarlane.

Margaret Twomey in the High Commission grounds in Suva Margaret Twomey in the High Commission grounds in Suva. Image: Konrad Thorpe

She’s across the Russian classics, knows the right protocol for every occasion, and is attuned to the smart chat heard in diplomatic circles across the world. She’s a model of calm and tact.

Even so, Margaret Twomey’s temperament is sometimes tested.

Such as in February this year, when Cyclone Winston smashed into Fiji with devastating results. Entire villages were wiped out. More than 40 people were killed.

As Australia’s High Commissioner in Suva, our most senior diplomat in Fiji, Twomey (BA(Hons) 1984, St Mary’s College) has vivid memories of the day Winston struck.

All communications were lost. “We didn’t know what had happened to people on different islands, it was just silence. It was quite disturbing and eerie,” she recalls.

While traumatic for all involved, the disaster was an opportunity for Twomey to do what she does best: get things done.

The career public servant’s no-nonsense approach – coupled with a sense of humour – has propelled her rise through the diplomatic ranks, with postings in Belgrade, London, East Timor and Russia, as well as two stints in Fiji.

It’s not always been a smooth ride, and not just because of the forces of nature.

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