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December 2023 Newsletter

Dear Members and Friends,

Last Thursday evening, we filled St Mary-le-Bow church for our annual Christmas Carols - our final event of 2023. Even though the weather and the train strikes were against us, this beautiful small church was once again bursting with Members and friends singing heartily along with the Choir of St Mary-le-Bow and the Bread Street Chamber Choir. With readings from past Australian Woman of the Year in the UK, Professor Margaret Mayston AM, Chair of the Australian British Chamber of Commerce, Andrew Low, Agent General for South Australia, the Hon. David Ridgway, UK head of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Lizzy Crotty, and Brigadier Grant Mason, Head of the Australian Defence Forces in the UK (representing the Australian High Commissioner), followed by Christmas drinks in the Crypt, it was a great way to end what has been a fabulous year for our Society!

It was also a very fitting opportunity to say goodbye to the Reverend George Bush after 21 years as Rector of St Mary-le-Bow and Chaplain of the Britain-Australia Society. George has been a very popular and generous Chaplain and we are very sorry to see him go.

What a brilliant year we have had!

At the very beginning of the year, we said goodbye to Lynette Wood as acting High Commissioner and welcomed HE the Hon. Stephen Smith as our new High Commissioner and Elisabeth Bowes as his Deputy (and ex-officio member of our Board of Directors). These are critical appointments at a time when the Australia/UK relationship is in one of its most important phases with challenging security issues in the Asia Pacific and new trade opportunities. We welcomed Stephen at an event at Australia House in May where he discussed in some detail the Australian Government’s strategic objectives and his ambitions for his role in the UK. Elisabeth, immediately before her appointment as Deputy High Commissioner, led Australia’s successful negotiations of the new Australia/UK Free Trade Agreement which presents both countries with new, enhanced trade opportunities, support for innovation, more relaxed rules for working visas and much more. Our colleagues at the Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce have been active with some great programmes to promote these opportunities.

Some of our very special events this year included our inaugural International Women's Day event with a panel, expertly moderated by Raeesa Rawal, comprising a selection of prominent Australian women discussing their career trajectories. We will be hosting another exciting IWD event in March 2024 with the support of the Australian High Commission and another hugely inspiring panel - watch this space. In June we hosted our ever popular Summer Party in the glorious gardens of the Royal Over-Seas League and on 3 July, immediately following the end of the controversial 2nd Ashes Test, we held the spectacular "Politics of Cricket" event with Prime Minister John Howard and Sir John Major. What a great, hugely enjoyable evening this was, generously supported by Peter Flavel and Coutts Bank.

After the summer break we reconvened in the majestic Great Hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers for a 50th anniversary celebration of the opening of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Dr Alan Belfield, the global Chair of Arup, the engineers that made Jørn Utzon’s beautiful design a reality, spoke warmly of the challenges involved. Thanks to Arup and Jerome Frost (who succeeds Alan as Chair in 2024) for their generous sponsorship.

In late September, I proudly moderated a discussion with High Commissioner Stephen Smith and Lord Hague on “Contemporary Foreign Affairs” at our annual President’s Reception, one of the highlights of our calendar. Both the High Commissioner and Lord Hague served as Foreign Ministers for the Australian and UK Governments and know each other well from past engagement. Stephen, of course, authored Australia’s Defence Strategic Review immediately before he came to London.

In some respects, one of my favourite events of the year was the hugely informative, and moving, panel discussion on the proposed “Voice to Parliament” that we co-hosted with the Menzies School of Australian Studies at King’s College in October, just ahead of the referendum. A sensitive subject, obviously, yet our purpose was not to take sides but to learn more about the fundamental constitutional and historic issues. I think we did that well – largely because of the brilliant moderation of Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska, Director of the Menzies School. This was followed in early November by the fifth in our series of “First Eight” lectures with Dr David Headon of the Australian Studies Institute addressing the life and times of Australia's first eight Prime ministers. This time the subject was Australia’s first Labor Prime Minister, Chris Watson. Next year, we are looking to a different, engaging format when Dr Headon addresses Australia’s sixth Prime Minister, Joseph Cook. We have a special offer for all B-AS Members this month as Dr Headon has very kindly donated 6 copies of his book about Prime Minister Watson to give away. Please scroll down for entry details.

As well as hosting these events, we support many other organisations including the Northcote Trust, the Britain-Australia Society Education Trust, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Friends in the UK) and the Cook Society. We have very much enjoyed our collaborations with these organisations and with many of our Corporate Members. And we continue to promote and advance other UK/Australia related organisations promoting the bilateral relationship.

All our events have drawn a wide and diverse crowd of Members and friends. Please scroll down for some photographic highlights of a very successful year. More photos are of course on our website. A big thank you as always to our Corporate Partner, the Commonwealth Bank, for its tremendous support and to all of our event sponsors and of course the High Commissioner, the team from the Australian High Commission and the Offices of the State Agents General.

Let me add my personal thanks, and on behalf of all our Members, to our President, Lord Hague. William is widely recognised as one of the world’s great statesmen and a generous friend to the UK/Australian relationship and a very generous contributor to our Society.

And we lead into 2024 with a fantastic programme and some new board members to add to our strength. At our AGM, B-AS Board members Edwin Wong and Peter Sargent retired after many years of generous service and I am thrilled to announce the appointment of three new members of our Board - Alastair Walton, former Australian Consul General to New York, Andrew Grill, globally recognised “Futurist”, speaker and technology advisor, and Kate O'Neill, Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Corporate Affairs at the Financial Reporting Council – all have been great supporters of the Britain-Australia Society and I welcome them to our board. Each brings a wealth of experience and expertise and we look forward to introducing them to you all formally over the coming months at our events. Please scroll down to see a short bio for each of them. And, in addition, our National Director, Louise Mulley (who you all know well), has also joined our Board as an Executive Director and changes title to “Chief Executive Officer” to better reflect her role.

In the meantime, on behalf of the B-AS Board and our office team, I would like to wish you all a very happy and safe Christmas and New Year and look forward to seeing you at one or more of our many events next year!

Best wishes,

Damian Walsh


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