A career diplomat, Liz has been on postings to Paris, Dili (Timor-Leste), and Vienna and short term missions in Cairo and Bougainville. She has received language training in four foreign languages and has worked in five.
Liz grew up in the Adelaide foothills, in Belair. She was educated at Walford Anglican School for Girls, where she was School Captain. An exchange year to Denmark in the year after school kindled her passion for foreign cultures and languages. On return home, she commenced a double degree of Arts and Law.
After her first year of university, Liz was awarded the prestigious C.A.S. Hawker Scholarship, supporting her residency at St Mark’s College (1995-98). She recalls rucking for the women’s AFL team as a stand-out memory of this time, together with the brute strength of fellow residents who, in the dark of the night, picked up and carried away her diminutive first car as a prank. She made lifelong friends, and influential mentors at St Mark’s – including then Master Robin Ashwin (former Australian Ambassador to Russia). With his support and encouragement, she successfully applied for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s graduate program.
Throughout her university years, as well as excelling in her studies, Liz actively pursued extra-curricular activities – from organising the South Australian Youth Parliament, to involvement on Adelaide University’s Environmental Standing Committee, competing in Intervarsity white water kayaking and canoe polo, and regular volunteering. She also interned for then Opposition Leader Kim Beazley via the Australian National Internships Program.
After joining DFAT, Liz’s first overseas deployment was as a “civilian monitor” embedded with the Australian Army on Bougainville. One of the more memorable experiences of this posting was an emergency helicopter evacuation from the jungle while being shot at by a drunken local. It provided sharp contrast to her second posting in one of the most developed countries of the world, Austria.
From 2002-05, Liz worked at the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations (UN) in Vienna, on drug control and crime prevention issues. She negotiated for Australia on the UN Convention against Corruption and covered relations between Australia and Slovenia, Slovakia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the weekends she pursued her love of outdoor sports in the Austrian Alps.
In 2007, Liz was deployed to the Australian Embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste to cover political and economic developments. While one of the poorest nations in the world, she found it rich in culture, warmth and human spirit. In Dili she was taught to eat crab like a local by East Timorese President José Ramos-Horta. She recalls the determination of locals to stand for hours in the hot sun on election days to realise their democratic right to vote.
Liz was deployed to the Embassy in Cairo following the Egyptian Uprising in 2011.
With terrorist attacks taking place around Paris in 2015, much of Liz’s posting (2014-18) was spent in an environment of high tension. Liz reported on France’s responses to the terrorist attacks and to the Syrian war, as well as Australia’s bilateral relationships with Morocco and Algeria. Her favourite souvenirs from Paris were her two children, both born in France.
During periods in Canberra, Liz has worked in a number of areas of DFAT, including on legal issues, corporate policy, security policy (counter-terrorism) and various bilateral relationships with countries in South and South East Asia. Since her undergraduate studies in Adelaide, she has earned a Graduate Diploma of Arts (Foreign Affairs and Trade) from Monash University and a Master of Arts (International Relations) from Deakin University.
Liz is now back in Adelaide as the State Director of the DFAT SA (since 2018). She considers it a career highlight to be back home in Adelaide working alongside the SA Government and with Australian exporters, as well as supporting the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator the Hon Penny Wong) and Minister for Trade (Sen the Hon Don Farrell).
Liz considers it a privilege to have lived at St Mark’s throughout her university days. She reflects, however, that at the time cultural change was overdue to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for women. She applauds the commitment of the current Head of College, Professor Don Markwell, toward driving a cultural renewal program at St Mark’s, focused on ensuring the safety, respect and dignity of all – regardless of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Guided by this program, she is confident that St Mark’s will continue to support and foster the next generation of female leaders.
A brief Q & A with Liz Day:
What are your most significant memories of your time at St Mark’s?
High Table dinners in the main hall in our full regalia – such a contrast from the chaotic fun of uni life.
How has your time at St Mark’s influenced your life and career since?
The then Master of the College, Robin Ashwin (former Australian Ambassador to Russia), was instrumental to my pursuit of a career with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He regaled students with tales of his diplomatic adventures and had his office stacked with intriguing trinkets from his travels. He encouraged me to apply for a career in diplomacy, which was a turning point in my life.
What are your proudest professional or other accomplishments?
Being awarded a Charles Allan Seymour Hawker Scholarship that enabled me to reside at St Mark’s was an incredible privilege. The experience introduced me to a diverse array of people from far flung parts of Australia with whom I remain close friends today.
What personal qualities do you view as being most instrumental to your success?
A willingness to take on challenges, a sense of adventure and resilience.
Choose three words to encapsulate your time at St Mark’s.
Unchartered, Enlightening, Formative
If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice on that first day at St Mark’s, what would it be?
Be involved and get to know your peers – all of them! I wish that I had made more effort to connect with international students, to hear about their lives and perspectives on Australia. Fellow Collegians have made phenomenal achievements in politics, business, the arts and civic society – you never know what the person next to you at the dinner table will become. It is fabulous to be able to travel that path with them.
What was your favourite place in the College?
I have fond memories of my bedroom in the corner of the top floor of Memorial. It had windows to the north and east and was bathed in sunshine all day long.
If you could have dinner with three St Mark’s women of any generation, who would they be and why?
- Lilias Needham, an “honorary” St Mark’s woman. Born in 1900, she didn’t have the opportunity to attend university or St Mark’s College like her older brother Charles Hawker, but was integral to the College’s acquisition of Hawker House and the creation of the C.A.S. Hawker Scholarship. I would like to thank her for the opportunities her bequest provided me.
- Suzanne McCourt – former Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe; oozes integrity and would bring some great dinner party tales.
- Victoria Angove – Joint Managing Director of Angove Family Winemakers, who would no doubt enlighten us on the wine list and offer some unique perspectives on the international wine trade.
What are the most important things that should be done to promote gender equality, within Australia and globally?
Equal pay, equal opportunity, free child care, high quality education, electoral quotas for women.
Which book would you recommend we read as Collegians before graduating from University?
Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Both beautiful stories of human resilience and determination to make the world a better place.
There’s more information about Liz Day here.