WHEN a massive earthquake erupted on the north-east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, Lilydale’s Murray McLean had to spring into action.
It was a busy Friday afternoon in Tokyo and Mr McLean, Australia’s ambassador to Japan, knew he had his work cut out.
‘‘When the earthquake struck we were having a meeting in the embassy office. We were fairly used to them in Tokyo,’’ he says.
‘‘After it started, it got bigger and bigger, to the point where it was extremely frightening.
‘‘It lasted five minutes and got increasingly bigger. We were hiding under our desks.’’
As ambassador, Mr McLean had to track down Australians living in the enormous city.
‘‘We had high-profile visitors at the time — four or five members of parliament and important businessmen. Some people don’t register with the embassy, so it was hard. The fact that no Australians were killed proved to me that miracles do happen.’’
On Saturday, the father of two was recognised for his service to Australian trade relations with Asia and for ‘‘significant leadership and co-ordination roles’’ following the disaster, which cost 15,839 lives. Mr McLean has owned a house in Lilydale with wife Kate for the past five years, and during his tenure in Tokyo he would return to the Yarra Ranges during major holidays.
Mr McLean said that in his 42 years with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade — he also spent time in Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore and Washington — the Japan quake was the hardest to deal with. ‘‘Oh, there’s no doubt about it,’’ he says recalling the 9.0-magnitude quake.
‘‘It was a multifaceted crisis and stress levels were extremely high.
‘‘We were working 24/7 for weeks on end with very little time for sleep.’’
He says the Australian relief efforts, by both the government and everyday people, were well received in Japan.
‘‘All credit to the Australians, who opened up their hearts and wallets at that time.
‘‘There was a huge Australian process, and the sentiment [Japanese] people saw was genuine.’’
Since handing over his role in July 2011, he now chairs the Australia-Japan Foundation and works as a vice-chancellor’s professorial fellow at Monash University.
Mr McLean said Australia’s relationship with Asia was ‘‘absolutely crucial’’ and he was keen to see Australian children learning an Asian language.
Yarra Ranges' other Australia Day honours recipients
TWO other Yarra Ranges residents gained national honours, receiving medals of the Order of Australia.
Jules Mark Feldman, Olinda: Mr Feldman, 93, co-founded Modern Magazines Pty Ltd in 1953 and became editor-in-chief of many magazines still published today. They include Australian Golf Digest, Rugby League Weekly, Australian Cricket and Hi Fi Review.
Anthony Douglas Jordan, Woori Yallock: Dr Jordan has owned and directed many wineries locally, interstate and overseas. He is a current board member of Wine Australia and is a judge at international, national and regional wine shows.