Australian race relations: Diplomacy in a Policy Vacuum, 1961–2

Sue Taffe
2011 Aboriginal History Journal  
Australia in the early 1960s straddled two worlds. The tie with Britain both in terms of trade and in the less tangible area of a sense of heritage and identity was still strong. The British Empire defined and shaped an Australian view of the world. For many, it was a symbol of security and good in a world divided by the Cold War. In the 1960s, however, Australia's view of itself within the Empire was fundamentally challenged by three factors which I will examine in this article, namely:
more » ... ns between new nations and former colonial powers; the spread of Communism, especially in Asia; and the perceived role of the United States of America safeguarding democracy. Neil Jillett, writing in a prominently displayed feature article in the Age on Australia Day, 1961, reminded readers that if we 'reflect deeply upon our nationhood, we remember that we are part of the Commonwealth of nations'. ^ This comforting view of Australia as a 'distant outpost of Empire' displayed a blinkered nostalgia which took little account of events outside Australia's borders. Australian diplomats in politically sensitive posts, and their Department of External Affairs colleagues back in Canberra whose job it was to guide them, were interrogated about Australian policy with regard to Aboriginal people. Some of the questions asked of Australian diplomats in Africa, the United Nations and eastern Europe proved difficult to answer. This article is a study of the effect on Australia of the emergence of race issues in international diplomacy during 1961 and 1962, and the responses of senior staff in the Department of External Affairs to those issues. Prime Minister Menzies was responsible for the External Affairs portfolio from February 1960 with Garfield Barwick taking over from him in December 1961. Paul Hasluck, as Minister for Territories, was responsible in turn, for the development and implementation of special policies for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. The period under discussion is prior to the 1967 referendum so, consequently, the Commonwealth did not have power to 'make special laws' for 'the Sue Taffe completed a Masters degree in History in 1995 and is currently working on an oral history o f the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) in partnership with the Melbourne based Koori Arts Collective. This project has been funded by the Australia Foundation for Culture and the Humanities, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Lance Reichstein Foundation and is supported by the Department of History, Monash University.
doi:10.22459/ah.19.2011.09 fatcat:njkgv523ynbhpgwlcapzclpqmi