Long before Julia Gillard declared Australia was living in the Asian century, or Gough Whitlam advocated stronger ties with China, Australian diplomats were forging Australia’s post-War engagement with the Communist country.
An exhibition at the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU, China and ANU - Diplomats, Adventurers, Scholars, showcases their efforts. It features rare archival documents, ASIO files, photographs and films from the 1940s and 50s.
In this video Will Sima and Olivier Krischer discuss some of the people acknowledged in the exhibition. They include Frederic Eggleston, Australia’s first diplomatic representative to the Republic of China, and economist Douglas Copland. Eggleston was on the Interim Council that helped establish the ANU through federal parliament. Copland was the University’s first Vice-Chancellor.
A highlight of the exhibition is 8mm footage taken by adventurer William Hamilton, on his way to China in a sea plane in the mid-1940s. The footage, which goes for about 40 minutes, includes scenes from where Hamilton took off in Northern Queensland, through to Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and eventually China. It is rare because it is in colour.
When he returned from his travels, Hamilton became the University’s first accountant, staying on until the late 1970s, when he retired as registrar.
Diplomats, Adventurers, Scholars is showing at the Australian Centre on China in the World gallery from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, until 18 September.
Take advantage of exhibition tours on ANU Open Day on 29 August.