Where are they now - James Buttigieg (SPC 1994-99)
author: Lorrie Liston
The College recently reconnected with James Buttigieg (SPC 1994-99) who prepares for, and leads, the Australian Government’s response during an international crisis as the Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Crisis Management and Contingency Planning area.
Where has life taken you since leaving SPC?
After finishing school, I did a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) at Monash University. Following university, I took up a graduate job at the Department of Defence, where I worked on international military policy. This job gave me a range of amazing experiences, including to work with the Australian Defence Force, seeing a lot of Australia, and being sent to Tarin Kowt in Uruzan Province, Afghanistan for six months in 2011. On that deployment I had the privilege of working alongside Australian and US military personnel during operations in Afghanistan. Since then, I’ve joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Since joining DFAT I’ve had the honour of being an Australian diplomat posted to Kabul, Afghanistan in 2014-15 and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea from 2016-19. Two very different countries, both of which were amazing and where I had personally rewarding experiences. I returned to Australia from PNG in May 2019 when I became the Director of the department’s Crisis Management and Contingency Planning area which prepares for, and leads, the Australian Government’s response during an international crisis.
What are your fondest memories of your time at St Patrick’s College?
Some of my fondest memories centre on the strong school spirit and the dedication of the teaching staff to push students’ thinking beyond their own bubble. To make us think about the broader world and our place in it. The strong sense of social justice within the school community very much shaped me, and it remains a key part of me to this day. Also, while not the most athletic during my school days, I did do a few years of rowing. I absolutely loved it, and the strong sense of community around that cohort. I reckon the love of fitness I’ve now developed can be traced back to those days of rowing.
Which teacher from your time at SPC had the greatest impact on you? Why?
I’d have to say Mrs Narella McDonald had a big impact on my life. She pushed us to think beyond the world in front of us and to expand our minds to the world at large. I think my deep interest in foreign affairs and the way the world works stems from her French classes and her desire for us to critically think about what’s put before us. She made us strive for big things and encouraged an expanded view of all subject matter. Lessons I still hold to this day.
How has your education shaped your professional life?
The great education I received at SPC has been fundamental to where I am today. Being taught the importance of strong communication skills and critical thinking, while also cognisant of your impact on fellow humans, has shaped my ability to work in complex and difficult environments.
How has your time at SPC shaped your personal values and your family life?
I have a strong sense of social justice. To that end, equality is very important to me. My views and values on things such as the absolute need for marriage equality and gender equality have been shaped by not only my own circumstances but the strong sense of social justice I developed through my formative years at SPC.
If you could pass on one message to the students of today, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to think about what you want to do in life to make a positive impact. Thinking about what you want to do, and not what you want to be, will allow your imagination to explore all the options out there. Once you’ve done that, you’re free just to go from there.