‘It was a new epoch before our eyes’
Shortly after the Second World War, five Australians, all government officials, experienced first-hand the ‘revolt of Asia’. The European colonial system disintegrated and powerful new states rose in its place – an independent India, an Indonesian Republic, a fractious Malaya, a Communist China. These Australians took up key roles in responding to this regional transformation, one as a murder investigator, three as diplomats, one as a policy mandarin. Each had to grasp how the world had changed, educating themselves about the nature of the turmoil and assessing the new leaders Sukarno, Nehru and Mao. Each had to try to reposition both themselves and Australia to best grasp Asia’s new opportunities and dodge its incipient threats. In studying the different ways such a change was negotiated this book tells us much about the evolution of Australia’s Asian engagement during the twentieth century. As Asia undergoes another momentous power shift today, their experiences of adjusting to decolonisation have acute contemporary relevance.
‘This is an outstanding book on a subject of enduring significance. Studying the five subjects through their local encounters, “learning on the ground”, lends itself to the highly personal forms of Australian diplomacy in the 1940s and offers a valuable supplement to the orthodox emphasis on directing policy from Canberra.’ – Stuart Macintyre