Fred Smith is a diplomat with a difference. Described as “Australia’s secret weapon” in international diplomacy, he was the first Australian diplomat sent to work in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province in 2009, and the last to leave.
But it’s his second career as a folk singer and musician that captured the hearts of many when he wrote a song about the death of Australian soldier Ben Ranaudo, who was killed in July 2009.
“Dust in Uruzgan” struck a chord with Australian troops serving in Afghanistan, and a second song, “Sapper's lullaby”, became an anthem for soldiers and their families.
“I think most guys who serve in these environments would like to think that if something happened, they would be remembered,” he said.
“We never went anywhere without the protection of sappers: combat engineers travelling at the front of the patrol – a dog, metal detector, and 60 kilograms of body armour – crawling along at about a metre a minute, carefully scouring the ground.
“It’s very dangerous and difficult work, and we lost seven sappers in our time in Afghanistan, including two on the morning of 7 June 2010: Darren Smith and Jacob Moreland…
“That was the first double casualty we’d experienced there in Uruzgan, and it was at the beginning of a very difficult summer for us.
“I felt the grief around the base, and two days later I went to their ramp service ... It was just devastating to see these caskets and these young faces in the photographs …
“I went back to my office that afternoon to write a cable to the Foreign Affairs department, and ended up writing ‘Sapper’s lullaby’ instead.”