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Kim Beazley

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Barks, Birds & Billabongs: Exploring the Legacy of the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land. 16-20 November 2009.

Kim Beazley


Professor the Hon Kim Beazley AC

Professorial Fellow, University of Western Australia and

Chancellor, The Australian National University



Locating the expedition politically: 1948 American-Australian Relations

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As the world emerged from the chaos of World War II, many countries found themselves scrambling to rebuild security mechanisms. Even before the end of the war in 1945, winners and losers alike were manoeuvring to secure territories and spheres of influence. A devastated Europe was attempting an economic restart, while huge numbers of displaced people were returning home, or seeking refuge in safer places. The Soviet Union was building by force a buffer zone of eastern European countries, prompting Churchill's famous comment of an iron curtain descending across Europe.

In the Asia Pacific, independence movements were coming alive in recently liberated South East Asian countries, and the US and Japan were negotiating a war settlement. The civil war in China regained momentum after the end of Japanese occupation, raising the spectre of the spread of communism in the Pacific. In Australia, the government of Ben Chifley was placing its faith in the new United Nations as a mechanism to provide security in the aftermath of the war. Under the enthusiastic leadership of Foreign Minister Evatt, Australia played a central role in the founding of the UN during this period, yet as the world polarised into east and west spheres of influence, the government was forced to face the unpalatable reality that the new multilateral organisation may not be able to provide the security that Australians were so desperate to achieve.

With fears of resurgent Japanese expansionism and Chinese-sponsored communism strong in the Australian population, the government sought a punitive war settlement with Japan, yet America was focused on building Japan as an ally against the Soviets. Having turned to America under John Curtin, 'free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom', the Chifley government found itself stuck between an increasingly stalled UN, a US ally distracted by Japan and the Soviets, and a greatly weakened British empire, unable to maintain its previous security commitments and facing rebellion in Malaya.

In this environment, Arthur Calwell's strong support for the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land and his migration policies take on special significance, in a world and a region still riven by the fears of war and the search for security.


Professor Kim Christian Beazley completed a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts at the University of Western Australia in 1970. He was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship for Western Australia in 1973, and completed an M. Phil at Oxford University in 1976.

Professor Beazley taught at Murdoch University in the Department of Social Inquiry from 1976 to 1980. He was a Member of the Australian Parliament from 1980 to 2007. He was a Minister from 1983-1996 in the Hawke and Keating Labor governments, holding at various times portfolios which included Defence, Finance, Transport and Communications, Employment Education and Training, Aviation and Special Minister of State.

Professor Beazley was Deputy Prime Minister 1995-1996 under Prime Minister Paul Keating and was Leader of the Australian Labor Party and Opposition 1996-2001 and 2005-2006. Whilst in Parliament, he served on a number of parliamentary committees, including Joint Intelligence and Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

Since his departure from Parliament in 2007, Professor Beazley has been appointed Winthrop Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia. He is joint chairman of the international advisory board of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, and is a member of the advisory boards of Defence SA and the Australian Army Journal.

In early 2009 Professor Beazley took up the role of Chancellor of the Australian National University, and was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia, for service to the Parliament of Australia through contributions to the development of government policies in relation to defence and international relations, as an advocate for Indigenous people, and to the community.

In July 2009 he was appointed a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and is Ambassador-designate to the United States, commencing in this role in February 2010.

Note: The views expressed in speakers' abstracts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Museum of Australia.