I was proud to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Japan-Australia Commerce Agreement during my first official visit to Japan last year.
Today’s event makes it clear that we would be mistaken to assume that this is where Australia and Japan’s economic partnership began and I am so pleased to have just witnessed the signing of this Memorandum of Cooperation between two great institutions – the safe-keepers of invaluable national records; the protectors of key moments in the histories of our two countries.
I acknowledge the Australian and Japanese historians and archivists who drew out the stories these documents tell.
The stories behind the correspondence, bank statements, reports, objects and photographs illustrate the trade history between Japan and Australia.
As early as 1902, we can read that the New South Wales Government appointed a dedicated Trade Commissioner to the ‘Far East’ who was stationed in Kobe.
In the 1920s, the Japanese market accounted for 7 per cent of Australia’s exports, and by the mid-30s – despite the hardships of the Great Depression – this had doubled, reaching 14 per cent.
Ours was a vibrant commercial relationship, full of promise by any measure – but due, of course, for a great disruption come World War Two.
It was during this time that these Japanese company trading records were seized by the Australian Government, eventually finding their home for the next 60 years in the National Archives of Australia.
Among these records are touchingly candid photos of Japanese life in early Sydney – revealing glimpses of what those first Japanese business people in Australia made of our vast outdoors and bright sunshine.
There are familiar stories – it seems picnicking was a favourite downtime pursuit, even then.
There were membership ledgers of Japanese Societies housed anywhere from Sydney to Broome – proof that despite global politics, friendships were growing between Australians and Japanese.
I am pleased to say that many such friendships still exist today.
Just last night, a group called Club Australia were hard at work putting on a good old fashioned Aussie barbecue in Roppongi Hills!
Incredibly, a number of the Japanese companies with a history of trading in Australia continue to have a significant role in Australia’s economy today.
These are companies that have become household names in Australia such as Mitsui and Mitsubishi.
It is a privilege to share this occasion with representatives from these and so many other notable Japanese companies.
I thank you for the contributions you have made – and continue to make – to Australia.
Today, Japan remains Australia’s second largest two-way goods partner and second largest export market.
The Australian Government does not take the Japan partnership lightly, nor does it take it for granted.
We are committed to working with Japan for our mutual prosperity and stability.
We now pass these records back to the Japanese people – we are proud to have kept them safe for 60 years, and proud today to hand them back to where they belong.
They represent an acknowledgment of our past and a symbol of our deep friendship moving forward together.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555