Behind the Headlines the Jews of Australia
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Behind the Headlines the Jews of Australia

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Almost from the time the first Jews come to Australia a century and-a-half ago, when the distant continent was just begun to be settled by British immigrants, they attained leading positions in the national life. By their industry and acumen, their dedication to the democratic political philosophy, and their intense patriotism in war and peace, Jews become recognized both as staunchly Australian and trusted leaders.

Exemplifying the esteem in which Australians in general regard their fellow Jewish citizens is the fact that since Australia itself 40 years ago began designating the Governor-General who forms the link between the Crown in London and the Parliament in Canberra, Jews have been selected twice for that exalted position. In addition, Jews have ranked among Australia’s foremost military commanders.

The present Governor-General is Sir Zelman Cowen, a former law professor and chancellor of the University of Brisbane. Sir Zelman was appointed by the Fraser government in 1977. The eldest son of Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen is in a yeshiva in Israel. Their youngest son last year celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in the Orthodox Synagogue in Canberra which the Cowens regularly attend.


The first Australian appointed Governon-General by the Australia government was Sir Isaac Isaacs, who held the post in the 1930s. He was chosen in 1931 by the Labor Government then in power while he was a justice of the high court of Australia. The Government then was headed by Prime Minister J. H. Scullin.

In World War I, Australia’s senior military officer was Army Gen. John Monash who commanded Australia’s Expeditionary Forces that fought in Europe and the Middle East. An engineer, Monash after the war became chairman of the Victoria (Melbourne) Electricity Commission. Monash University in Melbourne, a major Australian university, was named in his honor. In 1927, when the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand was formed, Monash was elected its first president. In the majestic War Museum in Canberra, the services of Monash to Australia have established him as a legendary Australian. Sadly, today none of Monash’s descendants are known to be Jewish.

The president of the Jewish Welfare Society of New South Wales (Sydney) is retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Cullen. In the government of New South Wales, the Minister for Consumer Affairs is Sydney Einfeld, a Labor Party member.

Peter Baume, a medical doctor in Sydney, is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the new Fraser government. This is a difficult assignment to a long-standing national problem.

Three Jews were in the Labor Party’s national “shadow Cabinet” prior to the October election. While they were re-elected to Parliament, the party failed to gain a majority. None of them was returned to the “shadow Cabinet.” One version for this development was the defeat of Labor and the swing of a large section of the Jewish vote to the Liberal (conservative) party from the traditional Labor outlook. Another version was that the failure of reappointment resulted from the internal bickering within the Labor Party and the lowered opportunities for Cabinet places because of fewer members.


Honors are bestowed annually on Australian Jews both by the British Crown and the Australian Government. In 1980, nine Jews received Queen’s Birthday Awards. They included presentation of the Commander of the British Empire to Irvin Rockman of Melbourne and the Order of the British Empire to Rabbi Alfred Fabian of Sydney. Australia Day Awards were given to seven Jews, six of them in Sydney and one in Melbourne. The coveted Order of Australia went to Dr. Early Owen of Sydney.

(Tomorrow: Part Four)

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