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Still Calling Canberra Home: Jane O’Dwyer

Emma Macdonald

It was our federal parliament that lured Jane O’Dwyer from one side of Australia to the other and our Australian National University that has kept her here. 

But in between those two monumental institutions is a love for ordinary Canberra—the golden afternoon hour on Mount Ainslie, snow on the Brindabellas, kangaroos in the driveway—that make Jane believe she will always return. No matter what.

The newly announced Vice-President of Engagement and Corporate Affairs at the Australian National University (ANU) has come a considerable distance since she first alighted the plane from Perth in 1997, bound for the office of a Labor frontbencher.

But a life of international postings and relentless relocations was pretty much assured when she met Marco Salvio, a graduate bound for a career within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Within a few short years of falling in love at an Australian Republican Movement fundraiser at Tilley’s, Marco was posted to Tokyo and Jane took a leap of faith to quit her job and follow him. He proposed en route at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel.

Fenway Park in Boston home of the Redsox

Not content to be simply a diplomatic spouse, Jane launched herself into a Masters in Journalism, studying Japanese at Sophia University, and 
then joining the English edition of Japan’s largest newspaper as a staff writer.

When the couple returned in 2005, Jane accepted a position at the ANU and began rising through the ranks. But within a few years, an overseas adventure called again, this time a dual posting to Washington—where Jane established an ANU office at the Australian Embassy. Then it was back to Australia before Marco was posted to Rome as Deputy Head of Mission.

Italy in Cafe Peru

“I took long service leave and lost myself in the eternal city, while hosting a non-stop parade of friends who came to stay.”

They’ve been back a year now, and Jane’s new appointment
 will make it harder to uproot in
the future. But that’s not the only reason. Despite her West Australian blood, Jane pretty much fell in love with the national capital the minute she laid eyes on it.

“There is no city in the world like this. It’s crammed full of smart people with a large proportion dedicated to contributing to our nation, to research and to education. We are surrounded by a stunning natural environment and have our pick of all the wonderful things a capital city offers but in a setting like no other.”

She also describes connecting with the community—recalling an epiphany one night at a political staffer’s group house when she was surrounded by “young political staffers, academics and newly-minted public servants. Everyone there was smart, engaged in the world around them, interested in understanding and wanting to be a part of it all. I felt like I had found my tribe.”

Now her tribe is even smarter.

“Every day I arrive on campus feels like such an enormous treat. ANU is a really special place—it’s incredibly open and stimulating to be part of the community here. I don’t know any other place where you work alongside 75-year-old professors who have changed our nation and 17-years-olds who will change our nation.”

Japan with Marco and Akko

Not that Jane isn’t thankful for the extraordinary privilege of diplomatic life.

“The moment you get to the airport on your way to posting
is the most amazing feeling. I always feel a strange mixture
 of peace and excitement. The lead up is exhausting—packing, working through the long DFAT posting manual and filling out
 all appropriate forms, saying too many farewells, wondering what life will be like in another place, trying to learn a new language.

With Susan Ryan on the day she got her Hon Doc.

“The first three months are always fabulous, then reality kicks in and you go through the usual culture shock and adjustment that comes with making a new home and settling into a routine. You then go through exactly the same thing in reverse coming home.”

But juggling two careers is increasingly a challenge.

“I think it is getting more difficult for DFAT as women rise up the ranks 
and have to ask their partners to sacrifice careers or job security, and more DFAT officers have spouses who equally value their own careers.”

Snowmaggedon in Washington DC

When asked where she sees herself in five years Jane says 
“as an even more rusted-on Canberran! Hopefully still at ANU but likely getting ready for our next overseas adventure…”

And further down the track? She hopes to find herself “Back in Ainslie, probably wondering where the last decade went.”

This article originally appeared as part of our STILL CALLING CANBERRA HOME article in Magazine: Home for Autumn 2018, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author