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A look back at Australia’s Chiefs of Defence Force (Part Three)

As General Angus Campbell, AO, approaches one year in the role of Chief of the Defence Force, Defence Connect is going to examine the history of the position since Sir Phillip Bennett assumed responsibility for Australia’s defence in 1984.

The Chief of the Defence Force has primary responsibility for the command of the ADF, with the role arising from section 10 of the Defence Act 1903, where the Chief of the Defence Force commands the ADF under direction of the minister. 


The Chief of the Defence Force is also the principal military adviser to the minister and provides advice on matters that relate to military activity, including military operations.

Previously, the position was known as Chief of Defence Force Staff, between 1976 and 1984, and before that was called Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, which began in 1958 with Lieutenant General Sir Henry Wells.

However, this article will focus on the individuals who filled the "Chief of the Defence Force" role, with part one featuring Australia's last two Chiefs, and part two featuring their three predecessors, including Sir Peter Cosgrove.

Admiral Chris Barrie, AC

ADML Barrie joined the Royal Australian Naval College in 1961 at 16 years old, as a cadet midshipman.

In his early training, he served in HMA Ships AnzacVampire and Melbourne, which included deployment to the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, and was soon followed by postings to the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, and HMS Excellent.

ADML Barrie was a member of the commissioning crew of HMAS Brisbane and, in 1969, served on the vessel during a seven-month deployment to Vietnam, where she operated on the gunline with the US Navy, providing naval gunfire support to land forces ashore.

He would then be appointed to Commanding Officer HMAS Buccaneer from 1969 to 1970, followed by postings as Operations and Navigating Officer on HMS Eastbourne, HMAS Perth and HMAS Duchess, Executive Officer on HMAS Vampire and later as CO of HMAS Stuart from 1983 to 1984.

ADML Barrie then served as Director RAN Surface Warfare School and CO of HMAS Watson, and in 1990-91 was posted to India to work as Defence Advisor.

Following his promotion to Commodore in 1991, ADML Barrie served as Deputy Maritime Commander and Chief of Staff at Maritime Headquarters in Sydney.

In 1994, he was promoted to Rear Admiral, and from 1996 to 1997 ADML Barrie served as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, before being promoted to Vice Admiral and being made Vice Chief of the Defence Force from 1997-1998.

In July 1998, ADML Barrie was promoted to Admiral and assumed the post of Chief of the Defence Force, where he served until 2002 when he retired from the Navy.

ADML Barrie's military service was recognised when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1994, promoted to an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in June 1998 and became a Companion to the Order of Australia (AC) in January 2001. 

General John Baker, AC

GEN Baker entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1954, graduating three years later and securing entry to the Royal Australian Engineers, with his first regimental posting being a one-year appointment in Papua New Guinea, followed by a year-long posting to Hawaii as an exchange officer.

In 1970-1971, GEN Baker was attached to the 1st Australian Civil Affairs Unit during the Vietnam War, where he was mentioned in despatches. 

This led to his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 1971.

GEN Baker was promoted to Colonel in 1979, and in 1982, Brigadier.

It was as a Brigadier that GEN Baker was tasked with conducting a study "of the existing ADF command arrangements in order to recommend further development to meet likely requirements into the 21st century for both low and high levels of operations", by then Chief of the Defence Force General Peter Gration, which led to the highly-influential Baker report, which still remains the seminal work on command and control int he ADF.

In 1992, GEN Baker was promoted to Lieutenant General, and three years later, was promoted to General and appointed Chief of the Defence Force, a role he would serve in until 1998. 

Admiral Alan Beaumont, AC

ADML Beaumont joined the Royal Australian Navy College in 1948, aged 14, and graduated three years later in 1951.

His original training consisted of stints with the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy, before his promotion to Lieutenant in 1956.

Three years later, ADML Beaumont completed a Torpedo Anti-Submarine Specialist course with the RN, which lasted a year, and later would serve periods of exchange with the RN and US Navy as a specialist in ASW.

In 1962, ADML Beaumont was Commanding Officer of HMAS Ibis.

Promoted to Lieutenant Commander, ADML Beaumont served on-board HMAS Brisbane as Executive Officer during her seven-month deployment to the Vietnam War in 1969 (coincidentally with another future Chief of the Defence Force, ADML Barrie).

Following this deployment, ADML Beaumont was promoted to Commander, and was posted as Officer-in-Charge to HMAS Watson.

Between 1972 and 1973, ADML Beaumont would serve as Commanding Officer on HMAS Yarra, and then on HMAS Vampire between 1978 and 1979.

Following these postings on vessels, ADML Beaumont would then see several staff postings in Canberra, including Director of Underwater Weapons, Follow-on Destroyer Project Officer, Director of Naval Plans, Director General Naval Plans and Policy and President of Officers Selection Boards.

In 1982, ADML Beaumont was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service as Director of Naval Plans.

Five years later, he was appointed Chief of Staff to the Flag Officer Naval Support Command, before his promotion to Rear Admiral and appointment as Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Development), and in 1988, was posted to Assistant Chief of the Defence Force (Personnel).

The next year he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours List, before being promoted to Vice Admiral in 1989 and assuming the role of Vice Chief of the Defence Force, a position he was in until 1992.

In 1992, ADML Beaumont became the first person to receive three awards of the Order of Australia following his appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in the Australia Day Honours List.

ADML Beaumont was appointed to Admiral in 1993 and commenced his appointment as Chief of the Defence Force from then on, where he served until his retirement from the RAN in 1995.

A look back at Australia’s Chiefs of Defence Force (Part Three)
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