An artistic tribute to Australia’s first female High Commissioner to Sri Lanka

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COLOMBO – Renowned Sri Lankan artist Raja Segar paid tribute to former Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Tonia Shand AM, with a new painting unveiled at Australia House  on Tuesday (2) morning.

The painting depicting Shand lighting an oil lamp at the opening of the Segar Exhibition in Colombo, honours the memory of Shand who passed way in July 2020, and her enduring impact on and connection to Sri Lanka.

The painting depicting Tonia Shand lighting the oil lamp for a Segar Exhibition at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery in 1988

The painting was formally unveiled by Merill Fernando in the presence of Australian High Commissioner, David Holly.

Segar reflected on the ‘great impact’ Shand had had on his art and future successes, remembering her as a great connoisseur and supporter of Sri Lankan art. He recalled her engagement with the ‘simple day to day life of ordinary people in Sri Lanka’, including through her avid collection of his greeting cards of the same.

Close friends of Shand, Dilmah Tea founder Merrill Fernando, remembered her as “warm, always sincere and incredibly astute, the perfect representative for a nation with those same characteristics”.

Supported by her husband Ric, she was a legend in the diplomatic community and represented the best of Australia in Sri Lanka, he said, adding that as a vibrant personality whose presence was always larger than life, she would have loved the vivid portrayal of her ‘illuminating’ a Segar Exhibition.

Fernando spoke of Shand as a “warm human being who brought enormous credit to Australia’, and expressed his ‘eternal’ gratitude to her and Australia for their support in helping him make Dilmah tea the number three tea brand in the world.

Family member Fiona Shand sent a tribute which was read at the ceremony, stating that “Sri Lanka was Tonia’s last official overseas post for DFAT and one of the greatest enduring loves of her life, aside from [her family] Ricky and Brigitte. She would be deeply honoured by this acknowledgment and the beautiful work by Raja Segar, as she was by the naming of the Tonia Shand meeting room in the High Commission in Sri Lanka”.

As Australia and Sri Lanka look forward to 75 years of diplomatic relations in 2022, the presence of Segar’s work in the High Commission’s Shand Room symbolize the strengthening friendship Tonia contributed to building between Australia and Sri Lanka, a statement from the High Commission in Colombo said.  “Built on our shared values and personal links, the growing collaboration ranging from education to trade and defence to COVID-19 response, are but a few examples of our rich friendship,” it added.

Tonia Shand AM,  Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka 1988-1991

Tonia Shand AM was a pioneering Australian diplomat, who served as Australia’s first female High Commissioner to Sri Lanka from 1988-1991. Witty and well-loved, her determination and work ethic saw her overcome barriers to blaze a path for women in Australia’s and the global foreign service – a legacy which we continue to benefit from today, the statement said.

During a varied international career, Shand built a reputation for her vivacity, intelligence and genuine interest in people and their circumstances. In Sri Lanka, she travelled throughout the country to understand its diverse character and became known for her social cricket matches.

“Ms Shand ‘loved Sri Lanka and its people’, and the deep relationships she built are emblematic of our countries’ long-standing ties,” the High Commission noted.

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