The imminent arrival of Robert McCallum in Canberra as George W Bush’s ambassador will rekindle memories of some of the disasters sent by Bush’s predecessors – not of course forgetting the appalling Bush choice Tom Schieffer, who tore up the diplomatic rule book by jumping head first in local politics, and he wasn’t even censured by Downer or Howard .

Crikey’s memory travels back to LBJ’s choice in Harold Holt’s days, the Texan millionaire Ed Clarke, who was larger than life and had two claims to fame: his Texan vocabulary which included “I guess we’ve howdied but aint shook” when introduced to someone and a never ending supply of yellow roses – his home state’s floral emblem hundreds of which had flown into Canberra weekly.

Then came Bill Crook, a university don and a real late night guy. He went down in the history books by inviting John Gorton to the embassy residence for a late night drink the evening of the Press Gallery Ball – Gorton accepted the invitation and took journalist Geraldine Willesse with him.

Crook was followed by Walter Rice whose only claim to fame was his much younger Swedish wife, Inger, a former air-hostess who startled the professional diplomats at the Embassy by sending a memo demanding she be referred to as “Madam Rice”. The memo landed on your correspondent’s desk who after checking its authenticity, released it and was immediately dropped off the much sought after invitation list at the embassy.

With the election of the Whitlam government, Washington got serious and sent Marshall Green to Canberra – the first professional in many years. Rumours swirled around that he was in fact CIA, which everyone assumed all the US ambassadors were anyway – but when John Kerr did his deed, suddenly Green was seen to have his fingers in the vice regal pie, which was strenuously denied at the time.

So now we have McCallum who jumped a few hurdles to get approval for the job. In any case, he’ll be here only until the next presidential elections in the USA` then the fun starts all over again.

Peter Fray

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