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Diplomatic Representation in Australia by the German-speaking Countries

[Lists of German consuls up to 1939 | Austrian/German/Swiss embassies today]

Before Federation in 1901, the Australian colonies were politically separate from each other and had their own separate relationships with states and kingdoms in German-speaking Europe. Before Germany's unification in 1871 (the Second Reich), the area it covered consisted of many separate and completely independent states and kingdoms. Some of them were small in size, like the city-states of Hamburg and of Bremen, and some were large, like Prussia. They each had their own separate consuls in countries abroad.

Australia did not exchange ambassadors with Germany, Austria and Switzerland until after World War Two; those countries only had consuls in Australia before then. This was because of the unusual nature of Australia's relations with other countries between Federation and World War Two. In that period Australian governments did not wish to run Australia's international relationships themselves; they were happy to let the Imperial Government in London conduct Australia's international relations, as they basically agreed with Britain's foreign policy. It was not until 1934 that Prime Minister Joseph Lyons established a separate Department of External Affairs (i.e. no longer a section of the Prime Minister's Department). In 1923 Prime Minister Stanley Bruce sent Australia's first overseas ambassador, Richard Casey, to London. Australia then had no ambassadors anywhere else but in London, until 1940 when ambassadors were sent to China, Japan and the USA. So until the early 1950s, the countries and kingdoms of German-speaking Europe were represented here by consuls only.

Photo: R. KrauelIn 1879 Richard Krauel (photo at left) was appointed the first professional full-time diplomat (Berufskonsul) to represent Germany in Australia, at the General Consulate in Sydney. Before that all consuls were honorary consuls (Wahlkonsul), doing it in a part-time capacity. The first consul to represent a German state here was Sir William Hampden Dutton, who had connections with Germany, having travelled there extensively when he was young. He was appointed Sydney Consul for Hamburg in 1839. Most consuls were successful German businessmen (though sometimes they were doctors or lawyers) living permanently in Australia (eg Dr August Scheidel). Consuls were supposed to promote trade between the German state they represented and the Aussie colony/state they lived in. There was a lot of social prestige in being a consul, and for businessmen it was valuable for building trade contacts that helped their own business. Consuls also had to help German immigrants when the first arrived here if they needed it, and had to give assistance if immigrants had a legal disagreement with the shipping company which had brought them here (conditions on the German immigrant ships were not good in the early years). Some consuls like Wilhelm Brahe in Melbourne were consuls for so long that their German area of representation grew - he first represented the kingdom of Prussia, then the North German Confederation (when Prussia became a member of that grouping of states), and finally he represented the German Empire, when that was created in 1871.

In 1855 the first Swiss consulate was opened in Sydney. Then in 1856 Achille Bischoff was appointed the first Swiss Vice-Consul in Melbourne. This official representation was made necessary by the large increase in Victoria’s Swiss community caused by the arrival of many gold-diggers. From 1879 until 1918 Switzerland was represented in Adelaide by a vice-consul and from 1889 to 1933 there was a consulate in Brisbane. Until 1937 New Zealand was part of the consular responsibility of the Swiss consulate in Melbourne. The consulate in Sydney was closed on 11th January 1861, but was re-opened in 1862. In 1931 the consulate was upgraded to a General Consulate. The Swiss Consulate in Melbourne was upgraded to the status of a General Consulate in 1980.

Embassies after World War Two

On the 9th July 1952 the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) opened the first German embassy in Australia, at Sydney (relocated on 1st December 1955 to Canberra). Dr Walther Hess was the first ambassador.

On the 24th May 1960 the (new, post-WWII) Republic of Austria appointed its first Envoy Extraordinary to Australia (Dr. de Comtes). On the 17th March 1964 Austria decided to upgrade its legation in Australia to an embassy and on 17th July 1964 the first ambassador, Dr. Reitbauer, arrived in Canberra.

On the 22nd December 1972 the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) opened its embassy in Canberra. This followed the decision of Gough Whitlam's new government to establish diplomatic relations with China, East Germany and North Vietnam; the Whitlam government wanted a "more independent Australian stance in international affairs". In June 1974 the Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Willesee said:

The first duty of Government is to recognise and comprehend the world as it actually is, not as we might conceive or wish it to be.

When East Germany and West Germany unified on 3rd October 1990, the West German embassy in Canberra began representing the new united Germany.

In 1995 the Australian Government returned historic documents to the German Government. The majority of the documents were seized by Australian military authorities in raids on German consulates in major Australian cities shortly after Britain declared war on Germany in 1914 while the remainder were taken in similar raids when World War 2 began in 1939. Read the media release from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Switzerland does not maintain an embassy in Australia. There are consulates in Melbourne and Sydney.

Lists of German Consuls up to 1939

Perhaps the consuls representing smaller German states and kingdoms may just have been extremely keen to get a consulship for the social prestige it bestowed. Nevertheless, these lists show that even small states such as Lübeck and Oldenburg thought it worthwhile to be represented in Australia. The information these consuls sent to Germany was sometimes published in the newspapers of emigration societies. Although intending emigrants were sometimes sceptical of government information, the reports from consuls in Australia were usually well regarded. From the lists you can see that some consuls represented more than one state/kingdom at the same time. (Information in the lists kindly supplied by the Auswärtiges Amt in Berlin.)

dot point German Consul Generals for Australia 1879-1939
dot point Consuls of Hamburg, Prussia, the North German Confederation and the German Empire in Sydney 1840-1897
dot point Consuls of Prussia, the North German Confederation and the German Empire in Melbourne 1853-1939
dot point Consuls of Prussia, the North German Confederation and the German Empire in Adelaide 1851-1939
dot point Consuls of Prussia, the North German Confederation and the German Empire in Brisbane 1866-1939
dot point Consuls of the German Empire in Hobart Town 1871-1914
dot point Consuls of Hamburg, the North German Confederation and the German Empire in Western Australia 1866-1937
dot point Consuls of Hamburg, the North German Confederation and the German Empire in Newcastle (New South Wales) 1862-1914

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