The role of Australian foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s was summed up by Robert Menzies as Australians saying ‘useful things at the right time to the Government of the United Kingdom’.
Department of External Affairs
It was not until 1935 that a Department of External Affairs was established under its own permanent head, Lieutenant Colonel W R Hodgson. In 1937 (Sir) Keith Officer was appointed as Australian Counsellor attached to the staff of the British Ambassador in Washington to provide some direct feedback to Australia. Also in 1937 the External Affairs Department prepared its own memorandum on the international situation for use by Australian delegates at the Imperial Conference that year.
The Australian Department of External Affairs was established under its own permanent head, Lieutenant
Colonel W R Hodgson, in 1935. By 1937 the Department had progressed to attaching an Australian Counsellor to the staff of the British Ambassador in Washington to provide some direct feedback to Australia. This letter is from George Pearce, Minister for External Affairs.
Foreign Policy Under Menzies
In In 1939, with war looming, Prime Minister Robert Menzies made a reassessment of Australia's foreign policy. In a broadcast to the Australian people he said:
What Great Britain calls the Far East is to us the near north…little given as I am to encouraging the exaggerated ideas of Dominion independence and separatism which exist in some minds, I have become convinced that in the Pacific Australia must regard herself as a principal providing herself with her own information and maintaining her own diplomatic contact with foreign powers. [Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, p. 24]
While Menzies did qualify this statement by asserting that Australia should not act in the Pacific as if it were 'a completely separate power' but rather as 'an integral part of the British Empire', it was a step towards recognising Australia's interests.
THE FIRST LEGATIONS
By 1940 Menzies was under pressure to establish a Legation in Washington and Richard Casey was appointed Australian Minister in March. Australia’s second diplomatic appointment was Sir John Latham, a former federal politician and Chief Justice of the High Court, as Australian Minister to Japan. Next, Sir Frederic Eggleston, lawyer and Commonwealth Grants Commission Chairman, was sent to China as the Australian Minister.
At the suggestion of the Canadian Government Major-General Sir William Glasgow was appointed in 1940 as Australian High Commissioner to Canada and subsequently high commissioners were sent to India and New Zealand and representation was established in the Soviet Union, Noumea and (briefly) in Singapore.
By 1945 there were 26 Australian diplomatic staff based in Canberra and 25 overseas.
| Prime Minister Robert Menzies (1939-41;
JCPML. Records of the Government hotographic
| Inaugural meeting of the Advisory War Council, 28 October 1940, Prime Minister Robert Menzies is 3rd from right.
JCPML. Records of the Curtin family. JCPML00376/131
| After the appointment of
Richard Casey as Australia’s
first ambassador, a number
of posts were established
with Australia being
represented overseas and
also having international
representatives based in
| Curtin renewed Stanley Melbourne Bruce's
appointment as High Commissioner saying: 'It
has been a source of very great gratification to me
to have the services of a man of such outstanding
Saying it with flowers cartoon by John Frith.
The Bulletin 13 October 1943. Courtesy Frith family.
| Overseas governments sometimes advised on what qualities would best suit representatives coming to their country.
Menzies: 'It's no use, pal, unless they alter the specifications' cartoon by John Frith.
The Bulletin 14 June 1939. Courtesy Frith
| Sir John Latham, 1945, first Australian Minister to Japan.
Courtesy National Archives of Australia: A1200, L3758