Friendship, understanding and good fellowship between the people of Australia and Asia


The Australian Asian Association of Victoria Inc. has had a long history in promoting cross-cultural relationships since its formation more than 60 years ago on 26th April 1956 by the then R.G. Casey MHR (later to become Lord Casey).

The founder’s inspiration had been that at that time Australia was isolated from its Asian neighbours and must develop better links through friendship and education. The purpose of the Association has been continuously to build friendship, understanding and good fellowship between the peoples of Australia and Asia.

At the time of its establishment in the 1950’s, this was a groundbreaking objective given that Australia was in the midst of the White Australia Policy. Many notable members of society at the time including the then Chief Justice, Sir Charles Lowe, as the Association’s first President, worked towards increasing the awareness of the local population and breaking down the barriers for Asians then living in Australia or any other Asians wanting to come to Australia.

During these years of the 1950’s & 1960’s, the Association held regular events, educational forums and public presentations to increase information in the community on the contribution of existing Asian citizens and of the neighbouring region around Australia. Being a non-political organisation, the Association did not actively voice its views towards Government policy. However, information disseminated throughout the community by the Association showing the real values and the cultural worth of Asian societies backed by the public statements of many of the Association’s members contributed significantly to shifting the public’s view of our Asian neighbours and in adding to the groundswell that finally resulted in the abandonment of the White Australia Policy.

The Association’s influence in those early years led to the establishment of many single country friendship societies as the number of people with those cultural backgrounds grew and as more Australians had experienced living in Asia as ex-patriots or became involved with the growing levels of international trade and diplomacy with Asian nations.

At the same time during this period, the Association was actively supporting the Colombo Plan education scheme.  On a more personal basis, the members of the Association became hosts and friends to the scholars coming to Australia building lasting friendships with many students who were later to become leading citizens in their home country thereby building immeasurable goodwill abroad for Australia. The Association’s Host Family Scheme continued for many years through the 1960’s and 1970’s until eventually it was incorporated into the Government funded Melbourne Council for Overseas Students (MELCOS) program. Even after that in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Association was a leading source in attracting host families for MELCOS.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s under the Presidency of Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop and with the tremendous support of the Association’s Women’s Group, funds were raised through the Association’s Relief Trust Fund to support the medical and surgical needs of many young people in Asian countries enabling them to get treatment from Australian medical professionals, both here and abroad, without which their lives may have been lost or severely limited.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Association held numerous education symposia and public events to raise understanding of Asian cultures and in the process build friendship between local Australians and the increasing number of Asian people coming to settle in Australia.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Association continued to hold events that hosted international students studying in Australia introducing them to local members and enabling them to participate in sports days and learn tennis and other sports. These hospitality events aimed at making Australia feel like a “second home” to visiting international students.

In recognition of the difficult financial circumstances experienced by some international students as a result of circumstances beyond their control, the AAA 2008 Committee has recommended to the Relief Fund Trustees that the funds remaining in the AAA Relief Trust Fund be transferred to the Sir Edward Dunlop International Students Emergency Fund (SEDISEF). SEDISEF is a fund operating to provide limited financial relief by way of emergency loans to international students finding themselves unexpectedly in necessitous circumstances. For more information about SEDISEF, follow the link to

Throughout the 1990’s and in present times, the Association continues to hold functions for its members and the general public to hear of recent events in Asian countries and further develop an appreciation of Asian cultural identities. Guest speakers, both local and from abroad, continue to provide opportunities to raise awareness throughout the community.

The Association has over the years, including in recent times, organised functions at which ideas on issues relating to Asia or affecting Asian-Australian relations have been exchanged and discussed at an academic and social level. Throughout its existence, the Association has involved both academic professionals and students as well as the broader public in exchanges of this type.

During the late 1980’s, then through the 1990’s up to the present time and beyond, a major focus of the Association has been to encourage the learning of Asian languages to standards of excellence by local students. Each year, the Association raises funds to make awards and issue Certificates of Excellence to the highest achieving first year language students in each Asian language taught at each university in Victoria. In several cases, the Association has been told that the Award was a major factor in encouraging the student to continue further with their Asian language studies. By encouraging the learning of languages at this level, the Association is encouraging many local students who will later become the business ambassadors of the future and others willing to make a significant and meaningful commitment to Asian-Australian social relations. In recent years, Awards have been given for the learning of Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese,  Korean, Mandarin and Vietnamese and in this coming years, Arabic.

In recent years, events have been organised to allow networking between newly settled young Asian immigrants with those locals holding common interests being Association members and colleagues who know about and understand Asia or have a strong interest in Asia and Asian issues or have themselves earlier come from Asia or have language skills to encourage communication at all levels. This objective assists in building networks for those new arrivals with interested and caring locals and those of other ethnic backgrounds who have common interests.

Since its inception and still now, the Association has and continues to focus on an unlimited view of Asia so that not only Australians and other Asian nationals are meeting with one another but also those of different Asian nationalities are meeting and mixing with those of other Asian nationalities.

Presently, the membership of the Association and its expanded network of supporters comprises a wide spectrum of local citizens including academics, professionals, retirees, host families and others who have spent years living in Asia as ex-pats in addition to students, both local and international, as well as newly arrived and long-time Asian immigrants. Many of the Association’s former language prize winners have retained their links with the Association whether they be living locally or overseas.

Throughout its history, the Association has been one largely funded by and fully operated by its volunteers who have a desire to raise the level of friendship and fellowship between Australia and Asia. Over the decades, the Association has developed and implemented programmes (Host Family Scheme, Language Awards, Fundraising for Medical Relief, academic symposia and information exchanges on cultural issues, etc), which programmes have been adapted to meet the needs of the times.

Refer also:
The Australian-Asian Association of Victoria – A History 1956-1966
by Jono Gourlay first published 1997