Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Mark Butler MP

Minister for Climate Change
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water

"Coo–ee" London calling, celebrating Australia House, London

Media release
28 July 2013

Australia House has been a ‘home away from home’ for Australians living and working in London since the laying of its foundation stone on 24 July 1913, when loud and enthusiastic shouts of
“coo-ee” echoed across the Thames, frightening the locals.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Water, the Hon Mark Butler MP, today included Australia House in London on the Australian Government’s Commonwealth Heritage List. 

“I am sure that Londoners were again startled in the 1960s and 70s when the streets around Australia House became the place for rowdy antipodeans to buy and sell campervans before they embarked on their tour of Europe.

“Australia House has provided expat Australians with a tangible link to their home country for nearly 100 years. More Australians cast their votes at the diplomatic mission, than any single polling booth in Australia—over 16 000 people voted at Australia House during the last federal election alone.

“I am delighted to place Australia’s first and longest serving overseas diplomatic mission, Australia House, London, on the Commonwealth Heritage List in the week of the 100th anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone.

Mr Butler said placing Australia House on the Commonwealth Heritage List recognises its importance as one of the first buildings to represent the newly federated nation of Australia to the world.

“Its impressive architecture, marble floors, alabaster light fittings, wood panelling, columns, main spiral staircase, decorative metalwork, sculptures, murals and paintings distinguish Australia House as one of our most splendid public buildings,” Mr Butler said.

“The imposing beauty of Australia House’s exhibition hall, with its chandeliers and marble columns, have featured in the Harry Potter films as the location for Gringotts Wizarding Bank.

“For most of the one million British citizens who migrated to Australia under the ‘Ten Pound Pom’ assisted passage scheme, Australia House was their first experience of Australia.

“Since the 1920s British and European migrants wishing to travel to Australia often began their journey by visiting Australia House.”   

Until 1940 Australia House was Australia’s only overseas diplomatic mission and its High Commissioners were Australia’s only diplomatic representatives overseas.

The building’s exceptional diplomatic importance to both Australia and the United Kingdom was highlighted by it being one of the few civic buildings completed during the First World War.

“Supply ships carrying building materials, including 1200 tons of marble from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, took the dangerous 16 000 kilometre voyage to London to enable the building to be completed in 1918,” Mr Butler said.

From the time King George V laid the foundation stone in 1913, Australia House not only reflected the profound connection many Australians had with Britain and the British Empire in that era; but was also reflective of Australia’s transformation to nationhood and independence over the 20th century.

Some of our early Prime Ministers, such as Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Andrew Fisher, have served as High Commissioner at Australia House, and it continues to be one of our most important international diplomatic posts. And former South Australian Premier Mike Rann serves in that role today.

“Commonwealth Heritage protection for Australia House recognises the pivotal role it has played in the development of Australia’s diplomatic and international representations, and it will ensure the  building is  protected for future generations.

“The United Kingdom remains one of Australia’s closest friends. Our shared values and common interests mean we are working together more than ever before on international economic, security, human rights and environment issues. We also have a significant trade and investment relationship,” Mr Butler said.

For information on the Commonwealth Heritage List go to: www.environment.gov.au/heritage