We the Peoples: How Australia Helped Shape the United Nations

As a founding member of the UN, Australia has had a significant impact on the organisation, its aims and objectives. We take a look at some key milestones on that 75-year journey.

UN Charter (1947-06-16) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

A new international organisation

The United Nations (UN) was created in 1945 to save future generations from the scourge of war, protect fundamental human rights and ensure justice and international order. Promoting social progress and better standards of life in greater freedom was at the heart.

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

A voice for small and middle-sized countries

50 nations met at the San Francisco Conference to agree on the Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the New International Court of Justice. Australian Herbert 'Doc' Evatt (L) was a significant player in the negotiations. 26 out of 38 of Australia’s proposed amendments were adopted.

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

A champion for gender diversity

Jessie Street was a leading member of Australian Women’s Organisations and the only female member of the Australian delegation. She successfully argued for gender to be included as a non-discrimination clause in the United Nations Charter.

Australia signs the UN Charter (1945-06-26) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

Australia signs the UN Charter

Australia signed the Charter on June 26, 1945. It came into force four months later on October 24th when a majority of founding signatories had filed their instruments of ratification. That day is now known as UN Day and is celebrated each year by the global UN community.

UN Charter (object) (1945-06-26) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

"We the Peoples" - The UN Charter

The Charter sets out a mandate for the 'United Nations', an international organisation designed to maintain peace and security, develop friendly relations between countries and find shared solutions to economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems.

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

First session of the UN General Assembly

Australia attended the First Session of the UN General Assembly on January 10, 1946. Made up today of all 193 Member States, the General Assembly is the main forum for deliberation, multilateral discussion, policymaking and standard-setting on issues covered by the UN Charter.

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

An international team for a new Global Headquarters

The UN is headquartered in Geneva and New York. Australian architect G. A. Soilleux (C) was one of the 10-member Board of Design Consultants who designed the new UN building on the East River site in New York in 1947, and one of the principle designers of the assembly rooms.

Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld (1953-06-01) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

A symbol of UN Ideals

The UN building was completed on October 10, 1952. UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld (1953-1961) sits in front of the finished structure. A symbol of UN ideals, the Secretary-General is the organisation’s chief administrative officer and is appointed by the General Assembly.

UN Secretary-General in Australia (1956-02-17) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

UN Secretary-General visits Australia

In 1956, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld made a four-day visit to Australia. In the Snowy Mountains, he admired the Adaminaby Dam under construction—at the time one of the highest earth and rock fill dams in the world.

Twenty-Fourth Session of United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) Opens in Canberra (1968-04-17) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

The UN comes to Australia, 1968

Australia hosts a regional UN meeting. Here Governor-General Lord Casey gives his inaugural address at the 24th Session of the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East in Canberra. The Commission’s focus was strengthening economic activity throughout the region.

General assembly hears address by Prime Minister of Australia (1974-09-30) by UN Photo/Michos TzovarasUnited Nations Association of Australia

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at UN General Assembly, 1974

“No country needs more than Australia the fulfilment of the international objectives of the United Nations to reach the fulfilment of her own national objectives … true national independence depends upon international interdependence.”

Secretary-General Arrives in Canberra, Australia (2011-09-02) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

UN Secretary-General arrives in Canberra

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2007-2016) made an official visit to Australia in September 2011. In 2014 he returned to Brisbane for the ninth meeting of the G20 Leaders’ Summit, the most significant meeting of world leaders Australia has ever hosted.    

Palais des Nations, Geneva (2014-02-07) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

Stronger together

Australia remains committed to effective global cooperation. In a complex, interconnected world where countries need to coordinate their responses to major challenges, engaging with the multilateral system remains a key pillar of Australia's foreign policy.

Security-General meets Forgein Minister of Australia (2019-01-28) by UN Photo/Evan ScheiderUnited Nations Association of Australia

Ongoing commitment to effective global cooperation

Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of Australia meets with current Secretary-General António Guterres. 75 years on, Australia continues to engage actively with the UN and is the 12th largest contributor to the UN regular budget.

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

A forum for inclusive development

Prof. Megan Davis, Aboriginal Australian activist and human rights lawyer was the first Indigenous Australian to sit on a United Nations body. Australia plays an active role within the UN system on indigenous issues and is the fifth largest contributor to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Indigenous Populations.    

Mural in New York City Celebrates UN75 (2020-09-25) by UN Photo/Rick BajornasUnited Nations Association of Australia

Celebrating UN75

The UN's 75th anniversary is a chance for Australia to reflect on the UN's achievements and consider how we can help improve it. Going forward - together - we must now tackle the challenges of building back better from COVID-19, delivering the 2030 Agenda, and supporting people, communities and nations that need us most.​

Learn more about Australia's leading role in international peace and security, human rights, global citizenship and sustainable development.

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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