15 Things You Didn't Know About Australia's Involvement in the United Nations

From negotiating the UN Charter and presiding over the first UN Security Council, to drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, learn how Australia has played an outsized role in shaping the global order

By United Nations Association of Australia

United Nations Flag (2018-12-27) by UN Photo/Evan SchneiderUnited Nations Association of Australia

75 years of Australia's involvement in the United Nations

Our UN75 exhibition showcases Australia's contribution to the United Nations through four lenses: Peace & Security, Human Rights, Sustainable Development, and Global Citizenship. Before you take a deep dive into the pillars, test what you know about Australia's role.

San Fransisco Conference (Herbert Evatt) (1945-06-15) by UN Photo/MiliUnited Nations Association of Australia

1. Who was the only woman in the 1945 Australian delegation?

The San Francisco Conference (1945-06-06) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

Her name was Jessie Street and she was a pioneer for women's rights. At the San Francisco Conference she spoke up for gender equality to be included in the UN Charter.

First Session of United Nations General Assembly (1946-01-10) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

2. Ever wondered when the first UN General Assembly was?

It was on January 10, 1946 in Westminster Central Hall, London and Australia was one of 51 nations who attended.

United Nations Headquarters (1952-09-25) by UN Photo/MBUnited Nations Association of Australia

3. Which famous building is this?

It's the UN headquarters building in New York and was designed by a board of 10 people, including Australian Architect G. A. Soilleux. 

Architectural Planning of United Nations Headquarters (1947-06-03/1947-06-03) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

Here he is (C) working on models for the building that still stands in New York today.

Security Council Considers UN Peacekeeping Operations and Women in Peacekeeping (2019-04-11) by UN Photo/Manuel EliasUnited Nations Association of Australia

4. What is the most powerful body of the United Nations?

That would be the United Nations Security Council. To maintain peace it can apply economic penalties, mandate ceasefires and deploy troops from member states. Australia is a non-permanent member.

First Session of the United Nations Security Council (1946-01-17) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

This was first session held on the 17 January 1946, London. Australia chaired the first meeting and was influential in drafting articles. 

Unified Forces in Korea (1950-09-01) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

5. Who were the world's first UN peacekeepers?

Australian forces were the first UN Peacekeepers to be deployed in the field in 1947. Since then, over 70,000 Australian peacekeepers have supported over 60 operations around the globe. 

Security Council Meets on United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (2019-06-18) by UN Photo/Loey FelipeUnited Nations Association of Australia

6. Who heads up UN peacekeeping in Cyprus?

Major General Cheryl Pearce currently serves as the Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). She is the first Australian female to be appointed as a Force Commander.

Third Regular Session of United Nations General Assembly (1948-09-25) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

7. Who was 'Doc' Evatt?

Dr Herbert Evatt was a key figure in shaping the UN and the only Australian to hold the role of President of the United Nations General Assembly.

Drafting Committee on International Bill of Rights (Commission on Human Rights and Economic and Social Council) (1947-06-09) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

8. Who drafted the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights'?

Australia was one of nine countries that drafted the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights.' This document still sets the standard for human rights around the world today.

Press Conference on Fourteenth Session of Indigenous Forum (2015-04-15) by UN Photo/Loey FelipeUnited Nations Association of Australia

9. What is the UN doing about Reconciliation?

The UN is committed to inclusive development and the rights of Indigenous persons. Australia is the 5th largest donor to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Indigenous Populations.

Representative of Australia Addresses Disabled Persons Observance Day (2008-10-03) by UN Photo/Paulo FilgueirasUnited Nations Association of Australia

10. What is Australia doing for people with disability?

Australia was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

Rio+20 Conference Opens in Brazil (2012-06-20) by UN Photo/Eskinder DebebeUnited Nations Association of Australia

11. What was the largest event in UN history?

That would be Rio+20 which took place in Brazil 2012. It set out clear and practical measures for implementing sustainable development and paved the way for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sustainable Development Goal Blocks (2019-09-23) by UN Photo/Manuel EliasUnited Nations Association of Australia

12. How many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are there?

There are 17 SDGs to reach by 2030.

They are integrated, indivisible and address all three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.

UN Observes World Environment Day (2007-06-05) by UN Photo/Devra BerkowitzUnited Nations Association of Australia

13. What is Australia doing about climate change?

The UN has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases and limit the increase of global temperature to 1.5 degrees. Australia has signed up to all major agreements and set basic targets—but we need to do more.

Parramasala (2018) by Salty Dingo, Multicultural NSWUnited Nations Association of Australia

14. What is the 'Multicultural NSW Act 2000'?

NSW was the first Australian state to enshrine multicultural principles and recognise the value of cultural, linguistic and religious diversity in legislation.

East Timor: Return of Internally Displaced Persons (1999-10-01) by UN Photo/UNHCR/M KobayashiUnited Nations Association of Australia

15. Which UN entities deliver humanitarian aid?

The  United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the 2020 Nobel-winning World Food Programme (WFP) all deliver relief assistance. Australian Official Development Assistance for 2020-21 is $4bn.

Holding Earth in Our Hands (2020-04-22) by UN Photo/Manuel ElíasUnited Nations Association of Australia

To discover more, check out our other stories in the UNAA collection.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, discover the stories behind Australia's contribution to Peace & Security, Human Rights, Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship.

Credits: Story

Created by the United Nations Association of Australia (NSW) to celebrate 75 years of the United Nations and the untold stories of Australia's involvement, in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and New South Wales Government agency Multicultural NSW, using photographs supplied by project partners and sourced from UN Photo.

With special thanks to the UNAA UN75 curation team:
Tahnia Alludin
Maddie Gilholme
Luke Raisin
Sahera Sumar
Andrea Spencer-Cooke

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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