Significant Other

Significant Other

Anxieties about Australia’s Asian future


In 1968, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) chose the topic “Australia: A Part of Asia?” for its annual symposium. The university’s professor of history, Frank Crowley, initially knocked back the invitation to speak, declaring in no uncertain terms that Australia never had been and never would be part of Asia. When prevailed upon to take part, he maintained that Australia was an “outpost of Europe”. While he saw value in Asian studies, he did not think Australia should move closer to Asia politically or liberalise its immigration policy. All speakers at the symposium stressed the importance of Australia’s European heritage. None considered Australia part of Asia.

In 1992, Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered an address, “Australia and Asia: Knowing Who We Are”, in which he referenced Robert Menzies’ early speeches celebrating Australia’s place in the British Empire. In the 1930s, wool exports to Japan had grown, speeding Australia’s recovery from the Great Depression and encouraging speculation that the nation’s economic future lay in Asia. Despite such opportunities, Menzies insisted that Australians would always put their “blood ties” with Britain before commerce. In contrast, Keating wanted to establish Australia’s “rightful presence” in the Asia-Pacific. He was concerned that “the ghost of Empire”, faded and diminished as it had become, still stood in the way of the cultural changes needed to promote Asian engagement. He insisted that if Australia did not succeed in forging ties in Asia, it would not succeed anywhere.

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