US-Australia Partnership

Australia and the United States Celebrate a Century of Mateship


A century after the Great War tore the world in apart, two countries remember the battle that brought them together, and honor their legacy of loyalty to each other beyond the battlefield.

On July 4th, 2018, the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Australia celebrated 100 years of “Mateship”, an Australian idiom meant to embody the respect, equality, loyalty, and companionship shared between close peers. Indeed, the mateship shown and reciprocated between Australians and Americans since the First World War and beyond are shining examples of a strong partnership founded on fraternal values, and the relationship has since extended into many fields. From national, regional, and global security, to fair and equitable trade, to scientific and cultural exchange, and educational collaboration, US-Australian relations have grown to encompass the principles of “mateship” in all forms and mediums.

Friendly Under Fire

In the summer of 1918, Australian General John Monash was ordered to command a small allied offensive to take the French village of Hamel from German forces. In a unique twist, a detachment of ten American companies was sent to take part in the assault at the suggestion of British Lieutenant General Henry Rawlinson, who believed that the Australians could benefit from reinforcements while the green, keen Americans could gain invaluable battle experience from the veteran Australians. In the days leading up to the offensive, Australian and American troops trained and prepared together in integrated companies, learning from each other and forging strong bonds. However, on July 2nd, American General John Pershing, who had not previously known of the detachment, recalled six of the 10 American companies. In protest, a small number of American troops disobeyed the order, abandoned their American uniforms, and donned Australian tunics to stay and fight alongside their new comrades. In honor of the Americans, General Monash set the date of the battle for July 4th, 1918. In a brief 93 minutes, the joint forces completed all ordered objectives and took the town. While the victory was decisive, the implications for Australian-American relations were much more significant, as the battle marked the first instance in which the countrymen of both nations took arms together, and the first time US troops fought under the command of a foreign general. It would set a precedent for partnership and camaraderie that has lasted for almost a century.

Brothers in Arms

Since Hamel and WWI, the United States and Australia have fought together in more than five different global operations. From the shores of the Second World War’s Pacific Theatre, to the mountains of the Korean War, to the jungles of the Vietnam War, and to the deserts of the Gulf War, the United States and Australia are often by each other’s sides when conflict arises.

On September 1st, 1951, the ANZUS Treaty was signed between the governments of the Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. This treaty formalized an agreement between the three nations, pledging each country come to the support of the others in the event one comes under attack. Fifty years and ten days after the signing, the Treaty was first invoked by Australian Prime Minister John Howard in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. Today the partnership persists, as both US and Australian forces remain engaged in Iraq and Syria while also participating in joint military exercises.

Partners in Trade

Beyond the battlefields, the relationship between the two countries has grown economically as well. On the 18th of May, 2004, the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) was signed, and came into effect on January 1st, 2005. The AUSFTA calls for preferential trade status between the United States and Australia, and was designed to enhance and promote free trade between the two nations. Among almost null tariffs on materials, produce, and services, the agreement also stipulates a new US visa category specifically for Australians that allows for the same working freedoms as an H1-B visa, in addition to other spousal working freedoms. As of 2018, Australian companies operating in and selling to the United States number over 10,000, employ about 180,000 people in the United States, and have invested over $20.9 billion for new capital projects. American exports to Australia have more than doubled since 2005, and two-way investment was worth over $1.1 trillion in 2017. Epitomizing the trade and defense-based relationship shared by the two countries is the forthcoming USS Canberra. A planned US warship named in honor of the strong military history between the US and Australia, the ship will be built by an Australian company in the US state of Alabama, employing American workers.

Cultural Peers

Between the United States and Australia, cultural, academic, and scientific exchange has been a vital facet in their continued kinship. More than one million Australians and 500,000 Americans visit each other’s countries every year, resulting in two-way tourism net spending of over $9.5 billion. The United States is the most popular destination for Australian students studying abroad, whereas Australia is the seventh most popular destination for US students. The United States is also Australia’s largest research collaborator, with nearly 40,000 joint scientific publications from 2010-2014. In the entertainment industry, hundreds of Australian actors and artists have established themselves in the United States, while hundreds of American music artists frequently tour through Australia. Athletic exchange is also prominent, as Americans have held roster positions for Australian rugby league and rugby union teams. Additionally, five Americans have gone on to play professionally as Australian rules football players. With the breakthrough of Nathan Walker this year as the first Australian to ever play in the National Hockey League, Australians have now been represented in each of the United States’ Big Four professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL). These collaborations in culture exemplify the unique bond Australian and American citizens enjoy, and set a positive tone for coming years of cooperation.

The affinity for progress and exchange in science, art, and sport binds the identities of these two Pacific powers. On the foundation of fair trade and an amicable military history, a century-long alliance has grown and flourished strongly. In a joint press conference earlier this year between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump, Turnbull stated, “Americans and Australians know that they have no better ally.” Indeed, observers of this special dynamic know exactly the kind of relationship the United States and Australia share; it is a friendship forged under fire; it is a partnership born out of trade; it is a “Mateship” meant to last for centuries to come.

Joseph Meisburger is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is currently a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Arizona, studying Geography and Urban & Regional Development.