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Australia’s Asia Pacific Relations. Historical Overview 1900 - 1945. Boxer Rebellion, China 1900-01. The new Australian Government was anxious to aid Britain and the other European powers against a Chinese uprising to remove the European influence from Beijing. Gallipoli and the Anzac Legend.

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australia s asia pacific relations

Australia’s Asia Pacific Relations

Historical Overview

1900 - 1945

boxer rebellion china 1900 01
Boxer Rebellion, China 1900-01

The new Australian Government was anxious to aid Britain and the other European powers against a Chinese uprising to remove the European influence from Beijing.

gallipoli and the anzac legend
Gallipoli and the Anzac Legend

This was the first battle in WW1 that the Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought in. Although the battle itself was lost and was unimportant for the war it cemented relations between Australia and New Zealand and was one of the first events seen as part of the slow separation of Australia from the UK.

colonial government in png
Colonial Government in PNG

In 1882 the British and Germans divided up what is now PNG. In 1902 the British gave Papua to Australia to administer and at the end of WW1 New Guinea also came under Australia administration. Australia saw it’s role as supporting Australian and British plantation owners and in the 1920’s offered confiscated German land to ex servicemen. In the 1930’s the first local leaders start to question Australia’s methods and want more say and better conditions for local workers. At this time the Australian administration reacted by arresting the troublemakers. In WW2 major battles were fought by Australian troops in PNG (Kakoda Track)


The European owned plantations produced cash crops that were exported to Australia and elsewhere – copra, cocoa, coffee, rubber, tea. They depended on local labour. Burns Philp controlled the trade.


The Kakoda Track was a major operation for Australian soldiers in WW2. Conditions were terrible with very rough terrain, constant rain, disease and well trained Japanese enemy. They saw themselves as protecting Australia from invasion.


Suppling troops was a major problem and the army depended on local carriers to collect supplies and carry them across the rough terrain. The local villagers also evacuated wounded soldiers and provided scouts and guides.

japanese raids on darwin
Japanese raids on Darwin

From Feb1942 until the end of 1943 Darwin and other towns across northern Australia were regularly and often severely bombed by the Japanese. The Australian government was sure the Japanese intended to invade Australia and had plans to evacuate the population the the southeast if this happened.

The major purpose of the bombing was to destroy ships, planes and any materials useful for the war effort. Damage was extensive.
japanese submarines in sydney harbour
Japanese submarines in Sydney Harbour
  • In May 1942 three midget submarines entered Sydney harbour. Little damage was done but it brought the war into the backyard of Australia’s largest city.
war in timor
War in Timor

In Feb 1942 the Japanese Army invaded Timor. Throughout 1942 the Australian Army, aided by Dutch and Portuguese Colonial forces fought the Japanese. They were soon overrun but the Australians remained throughout 1942 to fight a guerrilla war with the Japanese in East Timor. Their successes depended heavily on the aid given by the local East Timorese.

australian prisoners of war of the japanese
Australian prisoners of war of the Japanese

Of the 22,376 Australian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese, some 8,031 died while in captivity, particularly on the forced death marches ( eg at Ranau only 6 out of 2500 survived.) and as forced labour on the Burma railway.

After the end of the war, War Crimes Trials were held to investigate reports of atrocities and massacres. Many Australians felt resentment towards the Japanese for many years because of the treatment of Australian POW’s .

australian attitudes to the asian and pacific regions in 1945 50
Australian Attitudes to the Asian and Pacific Regions in 1945-50
  • Fear of Asia, particularly Japan and China, the Yellow hordes
  • An important push factor for the introduction of large scale assisted migration from Europe
  • Took a leading role in the formation of the UN and supported movements for decolonisation in South East Asia
  • Increasing trade with Asia, especially Japan, as part of post war reconstruction
  • Japanese war brides allowed to migrate to Australia although many other Asians that sought refuge during the war were deported
  • Increasing concerns about the spread of Communism after 1949