China in My Eyes

50 years of continued friendship

Australian Friendship

Australian Top-Level Visit to China in 1973

Australia recognized the People’s Republic of China at the end of 1972. From 31 October to 4 November, Gough Whitlam made his first visit to China as prime minister of Australia. He met with Chairman Mao Zedong as part of the visit. He was accompanied by the first Australian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Stephen FitzGerald. 

Stephen Fitzgerald and Gough Whitlam meeting Mao Zedong 1972, Australia and China's first recognition of friendship since 1949.

Stephen FitzGerald and Gough Whitlam meeting Mao Zedong 1973

The official visit to China in 1973 by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was the official start of friendship between China and Australia. Australia and the PRC had contrasting politics but have developed relations extensively since that time.  It is because of people such as Stephen FitzGerald and Colin Mackerras, especially the former, that this friendship was able to begin and continue. Both have visited China prior to 1973 and have built careers around cultural exchange and understanding for Australians about Asia and China.  Fitzgerald states :

‘The images Australians had of Asia were of poverty, instability, revolution – and inferiority. The White Australia policy, despite some small modification by Harold Holt, remained largely in place when Whitlam came to power, and White Australia was an inescapable statement of what Australia thought about Asians. ….The most intense engagements we had had in Asia since 1945 had in fact been in war – Korea, Malaya, Vietnam – fighting communism, fighting someone else’s wars, fighting Asians” (Fitzgerald, 2012, p.16).

Through building education degree programs for Australians to learn about Asia and through diplomacy, Colin Mackerras and Stephen FitzGerald were among the pioneers who have given many people in Australia their first understanding of the rich culture, history, language, customs, politics and people  found in Asia, particularly China.

Gough Whitlam visits China 1972

Gough Whitlam visits China 1973. Here he is shown at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven (Tiantan 天坛)


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Australian Friendship