About Dennis

Photo of Dennis Argall, wearing a beret and glasses

Dennis had been ill for a long time and experienced severe pain.  He was no longer able to walk but his beautiful mind remained as expansive and his heart as generous as ever.  Dennis chose to end his life at a time that protected his family from involvement.  He made his choice for himself but also out of love for those close to him. 

We respect his choice and love him.


How to even start describing him?

Dennis Argall was a person of multitudes, a mercurial and prolific intellect. In recent years, contributing to John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations, a journal of public policy, provided him with great joy.  

Could we use wikipedia?

Dennis used to be appalled by how Wikipedia biographies shriveled down people, privileged certain kinds of power, and erased people that weren’t in the news enough as if they weren’t real. 

He used to have tremendous arguments with Wikipedia editors about what should be in his bio, and now that he’s dead his Wikipedia entry has indeed been shrunk down to a shadow of what it once was. Erasing roles that were meaningful to him, marriages and children.

So perhaps one of the best ways to write about someone so diverse is to go through Wikipedia’s history and share with you here how he once revised his own page. 


Small modifications have been added in italics to update it a little. We haven’t changed the text to be in past tense.



Dennis Argall – from wikipedia History

Dennis Walter Argall (born 7 July 1943) is a retired Australian diplomat and senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). He was Australia’s Ambassador to China from 1984 until 1985.[1]



Argall was born in Newcastle, New South Wales. His father worked for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and he grew up in Newcastle, Sydney, and Maryborough before returning to Sydney. He attended Newington College (1955–1959)[2] on a scholarship[3] and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in anthropology at the University of Sydney.[4]

Describing himself as an unintentional serial monogamist, Dennis in 1964 married Pamela Orr. Simon was born in 1967. Marriage broke up in Rome in 1969. In 1974, Dennis married Margaret Gray (1949- 2001). Three children, Nicholas, 1975, attended his first political demonstration at two weeks of age, Parliament House Canberra 11 November, Elizabeth 1980[5] and Catherine 1983. Margaret was a career diplomat whose career also led into other areas of government and school administration. As founding secretary of the Canberra Montessori Society she lobbied successfully for a Montessori School to be established within the ACT public schools system. Margaret was killed in 2001 by a brain tumour.

Since 2009, Dennis has been partner of Helen Backhouse[6], for many years a leading figure in the community service sector in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven areas of Australia. They live in North Nowra, Australia.[7] To the delight of friends and family, Helen and Dennis got married in 2017.

Dennis was posted to Manila, Rome, and Washington DC where he was Counsellor, later acting Minister, from 1976-78. From 1972 to 1974 he worked in a policy area of the Department of Defence and then as Assistant Secretary in the Department of the Special Minister of State. In 1978 and 1979 he was senior advisor to Lionel Bowen MP, deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party in the Australian Parliament, before returning to Foreign Affairs as Assistant Secretary North Asia. Argall was later acting head of the North and South Asia Division in 1982 and 1983.

Illness shortened his appointment in Beijing. He completed a master’s degree in defence studies at the University of New South Wales College in the Australian Defence Force Academy in 1988, with a minor thesis analysing decisions made by the Australian cabinet about the relationship with China in 1980. Though returning to work for a time as head of research in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, his health deteriorated again, much later diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia, factors preventing return to regular work. In pursuit of rehabilitation he for a time secured organic registration of a very small fruit farm near Bodalla New South Wales with NASAA and a permaculture designer’s certificate, to personal and but not financial advantage.

In 2003 and 2004 Argall gave speeches critical of the Australian Government’s entry into war with Iraq comparing with the beginnings of World War 1 and expecting comparable unravelling of violence.

He has subsequently sought to assist communities in Africa with developing practical business plans for development. In 2008, he ran for mayor of the City of Shoalhaven.[8]

His papers, from the period 1984 until 1988, are held by the National Library of Australia.[9] These include writing on the 1980 Cabinet decision that gave direction to Australia’s modern relationship with China and the complex of issues at the end of 1975, during turbulent last days of the Whitlam Government concerning the ‘Korean Question’ at the United Nations and the sudden departure of all of the staff of the embassy of the DPRK from Canberra.




Leave A Note

If you knew Dennis or watched a movie in his memory, we’d love it if you could leave a note in the guest book


REcommended Watch List

The Dennis Movie Night Spreadsheet is broken up into multiple tabs. It contains movies and shorter films recommended by him towards the end of his life, ones we know he loved and ones that make us think of him

Movie Spreadsheet

Find out about future events

We’re still figuring out what to do in terms of in person and online gatherings to remember him by. We’ve created a form to make it easier:

  • For people to share ideas 
  • Help us come up with plans that work for them
  • So we can email you to tell you what we’re organising where and when.

Fill in the form