Vale Philip Alan Selth OAM (21 October 1949 – 3 May 2020, aged 70 years)
PNGAA members will be deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Philip Selth on 3 May 2020.
Philip was a keen historian and prolific writer having published in various encyclopaedias and journals. He was an avid biographer, having made numerous contributions to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Philip was a great supporter of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia Inc and, in 2017, spoke about the Coastwatchers at three events for the PNGAA in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
In these addresses, Philip mainly spoke about two WWII Coastwatchers, Jack Read and Paul Mason, of whom Admiral Halsey said that the intelligence they signalled from Bougainville had saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal had saved the South Pacific. He also referred to the life of John Murphy.
At the time of his death he had done considerable work on the biographies of Coastwatchers, John Murphy and Jack Read, who served in Papua New Guinea.
Philip had come across the former New Guinea Patrol Officer Captain John Joseph Murphy during his writing of a biography of Eric Miller QC, whose wife was Murphy’s cousin. Defended by Miller QC, Murphy was honourably acquitted of all charges after being court martialled on charges of treacherously giving information to the Japanese after being landed on New Britain to set up a coast watching station. This story inspired Philip’s curiosity about the prosecution and verdict and lead to Philip spending the past eight years researching Murphy, together with various stories of the Coastwatchers, as one lead to another.
This research also lead Philip to have hundreds of files locked away in Archives disinterred for the first time since they were put away at the end of the war, and to trace relatives who often had little, if any idea, of what their relative had really done during the war.
Philip had become the ‘go to’ person for anyone interested in PNG Cadet Patrol Officers, having collected information and written on at least 300 of them.
Philip was a great friend and colleague to many in the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia Inc (PNGAA) who will miss him and his enthusiasm and passion for Australian/Papua New Guinea history.
Philip was the former Executive Director of the New South Wales Bar Association from November 1997 to October 2016. He was made a life member of the New South Wales Bar Association on 6 October 2016 and a Life Member of the Australian Bar Association on 30 April 2016 having served the ABA from 1998 including as CEO from February 2015.
The New South Wales Bar Association has said:
‘During his 19 years with the Bar Association Philip was a tireless advocate for the NSW Bar and enjoyed the trust and respect of the many Presidents, Attorneys General, senior public servants and Bar Councillors with whom he worked over the years. He was instrumental in building the Association into the organisation it is today, and played a major part in the development of the Legal Profession Uniform Laws.’
Previously Philip was senior officer in the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office; Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Social Security; Queensland Public Sector Management Commission; and Pro Vice Chancellor (Planning and Administration), Australian National University and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.
Philip was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia, recognising his significant service to the law, through the NSW Bar Association, to public administration, and to the community.
Philip is survived by his wife Frances and son Alexander. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends and his many colleagues.
Our thoughts extend to his family in their loss.