More than 200 years have passed since the foundation of a British colony on the fifth continent. Complicated and controversial relations between the motherland of Australia – Great Britain and Russia have been leaving their impact on the life of Australians. Many wars, in which the fates of Russians and Australians crossed many times, have raged and become history. Uneasy and full of dramatic events, Russian history found its reflection in Australian history.
Russia, one of the worlds great naval powers, turned her eyes on a new British colony as early as the beginning of the XIX century. The first Russian ship to visit the young Australia – the sloop "Neva", called in on the Sydney port in 1807, only 19 years after the foundation of the colony. At that time Russia and Great Britain were allies in their struggle against Napoleon’s France, and the Russian seamen were always welcomed by the settlers of a new British colony.
Australia was on the way between the European part of Russia and her North American colonies, and that’s why Russian naval and merchant ships frequently visited the Australian coast in the first third of the XIX century. The ships of the Russian discoverers of the Antarctic continent also visited Australia. Russian-born people, who had breached the law in the realms of the British Crown, were also amongst the convict settlers in Australia.
The relations between Russia and Great Britain noticeably deteriorated in the second half of the 1830-ties. A widespread sympathy of the British society to the Polish national movement for independence had played a significant role. Anti-Russian feelings in Australia reached their peak during the Crimean War (1854-1856), in which several Australian-born men also took part. This war left its most obvious impact not in Australian history but in her geography – nowadays one can see numerous "Crimean" names of towns, rivers and hills, reminders of battles between the Russian and the allied Anglo-French-Turkish armies, on the map of the country. A fear of a "Russian invasion" had settled in Australian psyche for years to come. Coastal fortresses, built for protection from the Russians, remind about it even now.
A mutual suspicion stayed after the Crimean War. It amplified during a heat-up in Russo-British relations in 1878, when the British Empire was actively supporting Turkey in her war against Russia, and in 1885, when Russian and British colonial interests collided in the north of Afganistan. Each time the "Russian threat" made the Australian authorities build new coastal fortifications. Moreover, these fears had had a primary influence on a decision to form the Australian Navy in 1879. The russophobia of some politicians frequently grew to a bizarre level. Thus in 1888 the Governor of New South Wales Henry Lock accused Russians of cutting an underwater telegraph cable between Australia and the Old World. Nevertheless, the Australians always welcomed seamen of the Russian naval ships coming to Australia between the Crimean War and the WW1.
On the turn of the XIX century Russians and Australians found themselves on opposite sides of a front line many thousand kilometers from home – in the wastes of South Africa. While soldiers of the Australian army, which was still in it's early days, were enthusiastically fighting against the Boer rebels, several hundred Russian-born men volunteered to join the Boers. That was a reflection of anti-British sentiments in the Russian society.
Great Britain kept conducting her anti-Russian policy in the beginning of the XX century as well, having given financial and political support to Japan in her war against Russia. The Russian defeat in this war for the first time caused elements of disagreement with the British foreign policy in Australian society. A reasonable fear of the Japanese military threat was born in Australian minds and it did not disappear even during WW1 when Japan was an ally of Entente. 35 years later these fears came true…
During WW1 Australia, as a part of the British Empire, became an ally of Russia. The Gallipoli landing – one of the most dramatic pages of the Australian military history – is closely connected with Russia. This military operation was undertaken upon a request of the Russian military command with an aim to divert Turkish troops from the Caucasian front and open the Dardanelles for the passage of Allied ships with military cargo to the Russian Black Sea ports. The failure of this operation largely determined defeats of the Russian army in the summer of 1915.
More than a thousand Russian-born soldiers – people of different nationalities – served in the Australian army during WW1. More than a hundred of them were killed in action. Russians and Australians often came across each other in German and Turkish captivity and during escapes.
The Russian Revolution, Civil War and British intervention influenced the lives of many Australians. They served in expeditionary forces of the British army in the Russian North and Central Asia and were amongst military advisors in the White Army. Australian naval ships also came to the Russian shores. Some Australians died in Russia.
There were nearly no relations between Russia and Australia between the two World Wars. Moreover, Russophobia became quite a typical thing, which turned into anti-Russian and anti-communist riots and pogroms in Brisbane in 1919. Australians began to be educated in a spirit of extreme adversity towards the country of "Godless communism". However, during the Civil War in Spain (1936-1939), many Soviet people, some Russian migrants and several dozens of Australians found themselves on the same side of the front line to fight for the republican cause. 14 Australians out of the 66 who fought against Fascism, died. Only one Australian fought on the fascist side along with some Russian migrants-anticommunists.
Anti-Soviet feelings in Australia soared in the early stages of WW2 during the existence of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact. The Communist Party was a small fraction of the Australian society, in which pro-Soviet mood remained strong. Some Australian communists participated in espionage, directed by Soviet diplomats, on their own territory. Transfer of military secrets of the Allies, fighting in the Pacific, from the Soviet spies to the Japanese remains a sad page of this story.
In general, WW2 knew many examples of military cooperation between Russia and Australia, especially between the Air Forces of both countries. Many Australians visited the Russian North in the ranks of the RAAF and RAF. Some Australian seamen visited Murmansk and Archangelsk on the ships of the Arctic convoys.
There were some Russian-born soldiers in the Australian army. Moreover, Russians and Australians often met in German captivity, from which (as well as from Japanese POW camps) many were liberated by the victorious Soviet Army in 1945.
The Cold War between the West and the USSR broke out after the end of WW2. Russian-Australian relations became openly hostile. In 1954 the disclosure of the active participation of workers in the Soviet embassy in espionage in Australia provoked a full 5 year break-up in diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The USSR didn’t stop espionage activities on the Australian territory in the 1960-80-ties. Another "spy scandal" broke out in 1963 when both countries expelled one diplomat each after accusations in espionage. The last scandal connected with accusation of an Australian of espionage in favour of the USSR occurred in 1982, but then the Australian security organizations obviously overreacted.
The Cold War frequently grew into a hot one. Already in 1950 Soviet and Australian fighter pilots – recent allies – found themselves on the opposite sides of another front in Korea. Two Australians died in air combat between the air forces of the two countries.
Australia also took part in the Vietnam War. It is noteworthy that for the first time in her history the country made a political decision independently and not as a part of the British Empire. For many years Australian soldiers, amongst them some Russian-born men, fought alongside Americans against Vietcong and North Vietnamese army. This useless war wiped out millions of lives. The great powers – USA, Russia and China were responsible for it and for the colossal toll of war suffered by the Vietnamese people. This war remains one of the saddest pages of Australian history.
The end of the Cold War in the mid 1980-ties brought a hope that Russia and Australia would never find themselves on opposite sides of no-man's land. Both countries have a lot in common, including strategic interests in our rapidly changing and controversial world.
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