PAMELA GUTMAN (1944 – 2015) Milton Osborne – TAASA Review June 2015


This article was originally found in the June 2015 edition of TAASA Review (Volume 24, Issue 2, Page 30).

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At a time when there is increasing interest in Australia’s developing ties with Burma (Myanmar), the death on 31 March of Pamela Gutman brings to an end the life of the first Australian scholar to complete a doctorate in Asian art and to do so in relation to Burma. The fruits of this research were eventually contained in her highly praised book, Burma’s Lost Kingdoms: Splendours of Arakan, published in 2001.

To record these blunt facts tells little of the effort involved in her carrying out research in Burma in the 1970s, when the government was resistant to foreign scholarship, and travel in Arakan could only take place with the assistance of a military escort. Yet Pamela overcame the difficulties research in Burma posed, which involved translating Sanskrit inscriptions and becoming highly knowledgeable about obscure numismatics.

She also played an early part in governmentto-government relations. She was invited to dine with the then Burmese president, Ne Win, to advance the cause of an Australia-Burma cultural agreement, an event, as she was able to recount, that involved being admitted to Ne Win’s residence only after she had been examined through a periscope at the residence’s guard post. At a time when opportunities for full-time employment in universities were limited, Pamela worked in the Department of Immigration and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which included working in association with Professor Ross Garnaut on Australia and the Northeast Asian Ascendancy. Her involvement in Australia’s growing links with Asia ranged from being Deputy Director of the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific at the University of Sydney, to being the founding Director (International) of Asialink...