Saturday, 16 August 2014

Australia's first Japanese Consulate

In the late 1800s, north Queensland’s burgeoning sugar industry prompted an influx of Japanese migrants that resulted in the establishment in Townsville of the first Japanese Consulate in Australia in 1896.
The Japanese Consul to Queensland and guests, outside the former Japanese Consulate in Victoria Street, Townsville, February 1969.
Photo: Alex Trotter photo, held by CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
Britain’s 1894 treaty with Japan - the Anglo-Japanese treaty of commerce and navigation - signalled the emergence of Japan as a significant power on the international political stage.  Queensland was the only Australian colony to support the treaty, probably because it saw the opportunity to profit from potentially lucrative trade with Japan. 

By the mid 1890s there were several thousand Japanese employed in the sugar cane, pearling, and bêche-de-mer industries throughout north Queensland.  The establishment of a consulate was aimed at both ensuring the rights of Japanese workers, as well as fostering trade opportunities.

The first Japanese Consul was Mr Tsunejiro Nakagawa, who chose the former home of John Graham MacDonald, an explorer, pastoralist and Townsville Police Magistrate, as the most suitable location for the Consulate. 

Instead of erecting an entirely new building in a Japanese style, which risked offending the colonial sensibilities of the day, the Japanese Government leased MacDonald’s Victoria Street residence, known as Kardinia, which had been built in the 1880s.
The last Japanese Consul in Townsville, Goro Narita and his wife, 1906.
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The house occupied a commanding position overlooking the city from Stanton Hill and from here the Japanese Consulate set about establishing a respected profile in a nation that, for the most part, saw the Japanese as an “inferior” race.

The following year Mr Nakagawa relocated to Sydney when a second Japanese Consulate was established there and the Consulate in Townsville remained until 1908.

In 1969, a joint research study of the Great Barrier Reef, between James Cook University’s marine biology department and Japanese scientists, foreshadowed unprecedented cooperation between Australia and Japan.  In the post-World War II era, Japan looked to put its militaristic image behind it by building commercial and scientific partnerships in the region.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported in February 1969 that Japan’s Consul-General to Australia, Mr S. Tanetani, believed that cooperation between Japan and Queensland would reach “new heights” over the next few years.

“I feel more than confident that apart from unveiling many hitherto unknown facts about marine life it will also serve as further proof of the friendship between our people,” Mr Tanetani said.

The Mayor, Alderman Phillips, also held high hopes for the research expedition, believing that the joint study would serve two purposes: “to fully understand the wonders of the reef and also to pave the way for a mutual understanding between our two nations that will never be put asunder.”

“It is now widely known that our Japanese friends are taking greater interest in the development and progress of our nation,” Alderman Phillips said.

“And we in North Queensland are perhaps more aware of this interest than anyone else in Australia,” he said.

It was perhaps the moment when Australian-Japanese relations came full circle, from the cordial days of the Japanese Consulate in Townsville, through to the dark days of World War II, when Japan was the north’s most terrifying enemy; and on to a brave new era of cooperation for the mutual benefit of both nations.
Japanese Consul, Rinzaburo Tayui, 1903.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

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