Remembering Jim Molan
18 Jan 2023|

Major General Jim Molan—outstanding soldier, leader, statesman, strategist, pilot, linguist, politician, patriot and author—passed away peacefully on 16 January. At 72 years young, Jim lost his last campaign with his loving wife Anne and their family by his side. As with everything in his life, Jim faced cancer with courage, determination and good cheer. He made the most of every moment throughout his life.

Deservedly, Jim’s life and his many achievements have been acknowledged by our national leaders and recorded in our media, as is right and proper for such a distinguished human being as Jim was. There is no need for me to repeat the many well-deserved accolades here. Instead, we all harbour and cherish our own memories of Jim’s remarkable life, which, above all, was one of service before self. Right up to the end, Jim continued to work hard for his family and all Australians, living the legacy of our Royal Australian Regiment’s motto ‘Duty First’, and always living by the motto of the Corps of Staff Cadets, doctrina vim promovet (‘learning promotes strength’).

Jim and I met as fellow Duntroon classmates in 1968, and we continued as close friends throughout our parallel military careers, linked as well by our similar family circumstances and constant relocations. Very aware of Jim’s battle with cancer, our fellow classmates feared the worst and yet, when the news broke of Jim’s death, I instantly recalled Mark Twain’s comment on the false report of his own death: ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration,’ he wrote. I had wished it was the same for Jim. Numbness. Disbelief. My good friend was too resilient. He had so much more on his to-do list.

Throughout his full life, Jim made many friends. Hailing from a large Catholic family in the Melbourne suburb of Ivanhoe, and an Essendon supporter, Jim was forthright in his views and firm in his opinions, which were not always agreed by others. There was never any doubt about what Jim thought or his respect for the people around him. He was a good arguer, and an even better listener, always paying attention to the opinions of others. People might have disagreed with Jim, but I have never known anyone (not even non-Essendon supporters) who did not like and respect Jim Molan after sharing time with him.

Jim had a great way of connecting with and empowering people. Wisely, he kept his friends close and his foes even closer. Jim was envied by many of us as one of those rare ‘great blokes’—industrious, knowledgeable, talented and with a great sense of fun. Among our classmates and their families, Jim was sometimes known as ‘Lloyd Nolan’, after being incorrectly named by the Canberra media on winning an Aussie Rules award as a cadet. Some thought this misnaming was poetic justice for an Essendon supporter.

Jim’s emotional intelligence and cultural awareness guided his success. He led and empowered others, and he was highly regarded by all the nationalities with which he worked. As a young platoon commander in Papua New Guinea he was revered by his soldiers. Jim was the head of the Australian Defence Staff in Indonesia during the fall of President Suharto and the East Timor crisis, and he and his team were tireless in supporting the Australian embassy as it managed the repatriation of non-essential personnel.

But it was his ability to engage with his Indonesian military counterparts that greatly contributed to the success of Australia’s intervention in East Timor in 1999. As I set about putting together the UN force elements in New York, Jim’s brilliance as a military diplomat was the key to INTERFET’s success. Many young Australians who served in East Timor are alive today because of Jim’s negotiation skills.

And later, as a major general working with the Americans in Iraq as chief of operations, Jim’s attention to detail and his deep care for the welfare of his troops enhanced his own reputation as a commander and the Australian Defence Force’s reputation as a professional military.

As a senator for New South Wales and a deeply committed Australian, Jim campaigned for our country to have a national security strategy, but his early death left this work unfinished. While he and I may have collegiately differed about the content, we were in total agreement on its need for the future security of our country and the wellbeing of our fellow Australians. Let us all hope that his wishes will be fulfilled, and that his legacy is a safer and more secure Australia.

Vale, Jim Molan. You have departed this mortal life prematurely, but never from our hearts.