It’s a question that all of us Australians living or spending time in the United States have contemplated from time to time: why do we find ourselves living in this country, and what drew us to it in the first place?
For some, it’s love, for others it’s curiosity, work, travel or simply wishing to experience what we’ve grown up seeing on television. We all have our own story to tell.
What we do know is that as Australians with residential or diplomatic ties to the United States, we are unavoidably part of a greater economic and political association – one that’s certainly been around for longer than we have.
And as a nation that’s been most traditionally and obviously aligned with the United Kingdom, it may be news for some that Australia is the only country that has served alongside the United States in every major US military conflict over the last century. Australia continues to honour the ANZUS treaty, which New Zealand quite possibly has withdrawn from since they did not allow Nuclear-armed US ships to enter their ports in 1984.
Recently I met with Frances Cassidy, the President of the American Australian Association, who’s seen some major shifts in the numbers and attitude of Australians living in the USA since her arrival in 1990. Since 2002, she’s been president of the Association and, as such, she oversees the day-to-day running of the largest privately-funded non-profit devoted to building strategic alliances between Australia, New Zealand and the USA. She kindly spoke to me about some of the intricacies that form part of the American-Australian alliance, and the role the Association has played in fostering an economic and social connection between the two countries for the better part of half a century.
The American Australian Association began in 1948 at the behest of Sir Keith Murdoch (yes, Rupert Murdoch‘s father). In 1945, Sir Keith had just seen the defeat of Japan, and had witnessed a new alliance forming during World War II - that between Australia and the United States. Once the war had finished, he was concerned that these ties would weaken, so he contacted the leading American finance companies and worked with them to establish the Association. It was ultimately incorporated in 1948 by Americans at Sir Keith’s insistence.
And three years later, ANZUS was also established - certainly underpinning the need for an organisation that fostered the economic and cultural ties between the countries.
Today, as we face global economic shifts, it is increasingly clear that Australia must be an important consideration in foreign policy decisions. Independent think-tanks such as Australia Matters to America and The Lowy Institute focus on analysing the need for such considerations. And as the US continues to maintain a trade surplus with Australia, it’s important that organisations such as the Australian American Association foster the economic and cultural connection between the countries now more than ever.
Don’t be mistaken into thinking the American Australian Association is purely relegated to high profile financial and political types. Yes, certainly the patrons, US advisory council, governance and board of the association reads like a who’s who of powerful Australians and Americans. But the Association definitely recognises that we all play an integral part in the relationship between the two countries. In addition to a well-rounded corporate program , the Association also boasts a full calendar of social events – the proceeds of which go to their educational fund, enabling post-graduate students the opportunity to be part of a study exchange between Australia and the USA. Likewise for artists, the Dame Joan Sutherland fund provides small grants to Aussies and Americans seeking a career in the arts (application form here.)
Monthly receptions and other gatherings offer Australians and Americans the opportunity to chat casually over drinks and refreshments, usually taking place in interesting venues such as restaurants and art galleries. Coming up, for example, is their May reception in an art gallery (tonight!), an Australian Women in New York coffee morning/meeting and an evening with Tropfest founder, John Polson.
And if you’re not in New York, then you’re not alone. The Association also has branches in California, New England and Sydney. Each branch works together to foster the relationship between Australia and the USA, specifically by bringing together people from both sides.
As Ms. Cassidy puts it, “we have something for everyone.”
To become a member of the American Australian Association, you can fill an application easily online. Individual membership is affordable, and a portion is tax deductible.