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Palgrave Macmillan

Australia in the Age of International Development, 1945–1975

Colonial and Foreign Aid Policy in Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia

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  • © 2020


  • Argues that developmental imperatives were emphasized in Australian aid policy between 1945 and 1975
  • Provides new insights into the connections between colonial policy in Papua New Guinea and foreign aid in Southeast Asia
  • Shows how Australian policymakers were brought into the global project of international development that peaked during decolonization and the Cold War

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About this book

This book examines Australian colonial and foreign aid policy towards Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia in the age of international development (1945–1975). During this period, the academic and political understandings of development consolidated and informed Australian attempts to provide economic assistance to the poorer regions to its north. Development was central to the Australian colonial administration of PNG, as well as its Colombo Plan aid in Asia. In addition to examining Australia’s perception of international development, this book also demonstrates how these debates and policies informed Australia’s understanding of its own development. This manifested itself most clearly in Australia’s behavior at the 1964 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The book concludes with a discussion of development and Australian foreign aid in the decade leading up to Papua New Guinea’s independence, achieved in 1975.

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Table of contents (8 chapters)


“Ferns’ book … presents an insightful and thoroughly documented assessment of this important topic. … he examines how Australian policy over these years was both consistent and flexible as politicians, bureaucrats, and academics responded and adapted to changing international conditions and intellectual trends. … Ferns’ familiarity with the literature of development, economics, and international relations is strongly evident throughout his book and provides his analysis with a solid knowledge base. … Ferns’ book is nonetheless a timely and necessary contribution to our understanding of Australian political history.” (Jonathan Ritchie, History Australia, August 16, 2021)

"Joining a rush of innovative scholarship on international development, Ferns integrates Australian aid policy into to the complex transnational history of the “age of development.”  Australia’s programs to promote development with its own “New Deal” in its colonial trust territory of Papua New Guinea and participation the multi-national Colombo Plan not only reflected but shaped international dialogues on what constituted “modernization” and, later, what bred dependency.  Ferns reveals that such efforts and debates were complicated by a view that Australia itself was a society “midway” between the poles of developed and underdeveloped.  Rather than a simple national story, Ferns’ fresh perspective, offered with verve, illuminates a complex global issue through Australia’s engagement with the world."
—David Ekbladh, Tufts University, USA

"How does a rich Western nation that still sees itself as developing its own economy treat its responsibilities to those less fortunately placed? How does it reconcile its responsibilities to its own little colonial empire in Papua and New Guinea with its wider aid policy? And how does a country that proclaims its policy as a ‘White Australia’ reconcile this with ‘enlightened’ support for Third World development? Nicholas Ferns here provides a fresh perspective on Australia’s engagement with its region in an age of decolonisation. But his Australian story is also revealing of how big and influential concepts such as ‘modernisation’ and ‘development’ helped to reshape the post-war international order."

—Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, The Australian National University, Australia

"Although the history of development is a well-developed field, Australia’s enthusiastic part in that complex imperial and post-colonial past has for some strange reason rarely been studied. In a time of critical global disorientation, Ferns’ study of foreign policy and aid fills that gap.PNG, the Colombo Plan, UNCTAD, are all here, displaying the diverse dimensions of the mix of political, economic and humanitarian motivations driving Australia’s international engagement and obligation in the second half of the 20th century."

—Glenda Sluga, Professor of International History and Capitalism, EUI, Sydney.

Authors and Affiliations

  • School of Philosophical, Historical, and International Studies, Monash University, Clayton, Australia

    Nicholas Ferns

About the author

Nicholas Ferns is a Teaching and Research Associate at Monash University, Australia. His research has been published in Australian and international journals, including The Australian Journal of Politics and History and Diplomacy and Statecraft

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Australia in the Age of International Development, 1945–1975

  • Book Subtitle: Colonial and Foreign Aid Policy in Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia

  • Authors: Nicholas Ferns

  • Series Title: Security, Conflict and Cooperation in the Contemporary World

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-030-50227-0Published: 19 July 2020

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-030-50230-0Published: 20 July 2021

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-030-50228-7Published: 18 July 2020

  • Series ISSN: 2731-6807

  • Series E-ISSN: 2731-6815

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XII, 231

  • Number of Illustrations: 1 b/w illustrations

  • Topics: Australasian History, Political History, Development Aid, Imperialism and Colonialism

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