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Rethinking the Australian Dilemma

Economics and Foreign Policy, 1942-1957


Bill Apter

This book explains how and why, Australian governments shifted from their historical relationship with Britain to the beginning of a primary reliance on the United States between 1942 and 1957. It shows that, while the Curtin and Chifley ALP governments sought to maintain and strengthen Australia’s links with Britain, the Menzies administration took decisive steps towards this realignment.

There is broad acceptance that the end of British Australia only occurred in the 1960s and that the initiative for change came from Britain rather than Australia. This book rejects this consensus, which fundamentally rests on the idea of Australia remaining part of a British World until the UK attempts to join the European Community in the 1960s. Instead, it demonstrates that critical steps ending British Australia occurred in the 1950s and were initiated by Australia. These Australian actions were especially pronounced in the economic sphere, which has been largely overlooked in the current consensus. Australia’s understanding of its national self-interest outweighed its sense of Britishness. 

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In The Government and the People, 1942–1945, Paul Hasluck compares his delay in delivering the second volume of his Official History of the war to the kangaroo, which he explains:

Prolongs the period of gestation when the season is unpropitious, and the offspring due to be born this season may not come until the next season, not by deliberate choice of the parents but by the dispensation of Nature. A similar phenomenon may be noted in the case of this volume.1

Hasluck uses this occurrence to justify his eighteen-year delay. How then should I explain an over thirty-year deferral between my initial plans to carry out historical research and the eventual outcome represented by this book? Perhaps it would be easiest to say that life in general rather than any specific gestation period was responsible! It also means that some of the people whom I consider to be initiators of this work have probably long forgotten their acts of inspiration. Fortunately, others have continued to be involved or became involved more recently and so will be more aware of their contribution. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge their assistance.

Several people are responsible for initially generating my interest in carrying out the research and writing involved. I want to thank them. As my undergraduate tutor at Leeds University, the late Phil Taylor was the first to make me consider what working as a historian would be like. Marne Hughes-Warrington...

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