As we research James Goldrick’s 40 plus years of contributions to the Naval Review, every statistic discovered reinforces the great debt of scholarship we owe him in the UK, Australia and the US. We are indebted to Peter Hore, a shorter version of this obituary appeared online in the Daily Telegraph on 21 March 2023.
Rear Admiral James Goldrick, RAN, who has died aged 64, was that rare combination of practical seaman, notable commander and leader, and internationally recognised scholar.
James Vincent Purcell Goldrick was born in 1958 to Peter and Caroline Goldrick: his father was a naval fighter pilot who had served in the Second World War, was wounded in the Korean War, and retired as a captain, and his mother read history at Sydney University. Despite frequent moves brought about by service life, Goldrick enjoyed a loving and intellectual upbringing with a thread of naval discipline, and he attended a series of Jesuit schools which suited his precocious intellect. He followed his father into the Royal Australian Navy in 1974 when he was soon recognised as both a competent officer and a naval historian.
When in 1976 the RAN decided to complete the education of its young officers by sending them to university, Goldrick seized the chance to study for a BA at the University of New South Wales, when he began his first book, The King’s Ships Were at Sea (1984) about the war at sea in the First World War, a text which he finished while aide-de-camp to the Governor-General of Australia 1982-83, This was first of a lifetime of books, and contributions to professional journals, including the United States Naval Institute Proceedings and the British Naval Review, where between 1978 and 2022 he wrote 45 Letters from Australia under the pseudonym of ‘Master Ned’, and he twice won the (Captain) Guinness Prize for the best article. Later he gained a master of letters from the University of New England, graduated from the advanced management program of Harvard Business School, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate at NSW in 2006.
Goldrick specialised in anti-submarine warfare and saw sea service in the Royal Australian Navy and on loan service with the Royal Navy, including the patrol vessel HMS Alderney and the frigates HMS Sirius, and HMA Ships Swan and Darwin and, in 1985-86, in the destroyer HMS Liverpool. Liverpool, on deployments to the South Atlantic and exercises around Northern Europe, was not a happy ship, her base port having been changed while she was deployed, and many of her new Scottish ratings, who preferred small ships and if they were unlucky only tolerated the occasional frigate, were disgruntled. Goldrick thrived on the analysis of this difficult mixture and his cheerful presence around the ship and his invariable “G’day” followed by the sailor’s name, which he invariably knew, did much to lift the ship’s company’s morale.
He then served as the second in command executive officer of the Australian landing craft HMAS Tarakan and the destroyer HMAS Perth, and as commanding officer of the patrol boat HMAS Cessnock.
In 1992, unlike most high performing officers, Goldrick did not attend a staff course. Instead, Professor John Hattendorf encouraged him to become a research scholar in the USA where he began a long and profitable association with US Naval War College.
Next, as commanding officer of the frigate HMAS Sydney he showed himself highly competent and even tempered with a sincere interest in the welfare and advancement of his officers and sailors, observing “Your first command is about proving yourself to yourself, and that every subsequent command is about helping others prove themselves to themselves”. He could, however, be unintentionally intimidating and one of his officers quipped “It was like having Dumbledore as your captain”.
When the Australian Surface Task Group was set up, he was its first commander, and in early 2002, when the group deployed to the Persian Gulf he commanded the multinational Maritime Interception Force conducting operations to enforce UN sanctions on Iraq. He was made a member of the Order of Australia.
Other key shore appointments included officer-in-charge of the RAN’s warfare officer training where he had the opportunity to positively influence younger officers embarking on their specialisations 1988-90, research officer and later chief of staff to the Chief of Navy Australia, director of the RAN Sea Power Centre 1999-01 (for which he was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross, and Director General Military Strategy 2002-03 in the Department of Defence, Canberra.
In 2003-06 he commanded the Australian Defence Force Academy, where he influenced the next generation of officers, of all three services, through his example and his interest in their individual development. His advice was “to build an interior intellectual life sustained by wide reading, writing and critical thinking.”
He was promoted to rear-admiral and served as Commander Border Protection Command 2006-08. In 2008 he became Commander Joint Education, Training and Warfare, and he commanded the Australia Defence College (later the Australian Defence Force Academy) before retiring in 2012.
In 2013 he was advanced to officer of the Order of Australia.
The outward and visible sign of Goldrick’s meticulous mind was the steady hand with which he wrote in beautiful italic script. His passion was the specialist subject of the art of admiralty and modern naval organisation. His gift as a historian was able to put himself in the shoes of earlier commanders, comprehend their frustrations and shortcomings through lack of technology, to understand their environments, tactics and procedures, and then explain these with ease to his audience. Perhaps as importantly, he was a famous networker and a friend, mentor and shipmate to a generation of sailors, officers and academics who remember him with respect and affection.
In retirement Goldrick was in international demand as an articulate, persuasive writer and speaker on maritime and defence matters. In 2015 he was a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and in 2020 in the USA he was awarded the prestigious Hattendorf prize for academic achievement. On his return from the USA, Goldrick felt unwell and so began many rounds of treatment first for lymphoma and then leukaemia. He met his treatment with politeness to the caring staff and great fortitude. Professor Geoffrey Till wrote he had an indomitable spirit and deserved much better fortune.
Usually affable, once, when cut up by a driver in the middle of nowhere, unexpectedly crossing the T, he let the other driver and his passengers know in no uncertain lowerdeck language what his heritage was.
At the university of NSW he met Ruth Wilson, who was then studying to be a librarian, and they married in 1989. In the words of a classmate, Commodore Roger Boyce, who helped them move into their first house, “it was the meeting of two great libraries.” Ruth survives him with their two sons.
Rear-Admiral J V P Goldrick, AO, CSC, RAN, born August 8, 1958, died March 17, 2023.