The New Long March

In a mid-afternoon text message, a friend, currently researching a documentary, asked me if I had any contact details for Bob Hawke. Laughing out loud, I rang her back and said, “Yes, I do, he’s standing right next to me”. I resisted the urge to hand the phone over to the former Prime Minister, as my friend and I kept laughing about the oddness of the co-incidence.

Bob was one of a number of special guests at today’s China-Australia Business Lunch at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. In the official part of the proceedings, he spoke at length about the importance of the relationship between Australia and China, describing it as “Australia’s most important relationship”. He also reflected on the forty years since Australia officially recognised the government in Beijing. He noted the role played by Gough Whitlam in particular, and spoke about how he recently attended the former Prime Minister’s 96th birthday, saying that although Gough is no longer in peak condition, the recognition of China in 1972 was one of his most important and proudest achievements. Bob also noted the significance of Deng Xiaoping’s decision to open up the Chinese economy, and why Australia has become one of the greatest beneficiaries of that. He also mentioned that decision in 1978 led the way for India to become more open also. What surprised me most was when Bob revealed he had recently visited China for the 93rd time.

Another important speaker at today’s lunch was Harold Mitchell, who has made his fortune through advertising. He declared China would become the world’s largest advertising market by 2030, and argued Australia should play an important role in skilling-up the future advertising industry there. “Australia represents only 0.4% of the world’s population, but 5% of the advertising market”, he told us, adding Australia could play a significant role in the development of the industry there by opening up to more students in advertising and marketing courses at universities here. “That means more students and easier access to visas, as well as placements in Australian companies after graduation”, he went on to say.

The other key speaker was Wu Shu Lin, Vice Minister, General Administration of Press and Publications for China, who argued books are an important way to encourage a dialogue between countries, and putting out the message China would like to see more Chinese books on the Australian market, and more Australian books on the Chinese market (translated of course).

The host for today’s lunch was Kevin Weldon, an Australian publishing giant who has done a fair deal of business in China over the years, and who was responsible for the book, “The New Long March” which was the reason why I was attending the lunch. My friend Catherine Croll (Kate) is one of four Western photographers (and the only Australian) whose work features in the very hefty, rather glossy photograph book. As an article in the China Daily notes

In late September, Croll was invited to join China: The New Long March, a large media project organized by Qingdao Publishing Group and Australian Media Group Weldon International to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Long March, the massive military retreat undertaken by the Red Army from Jiangxi to Shaanxi provinces to evade being pursued by the Kuomintang in 1934 and 1935. A select group of photographers from China and abroad were dispatched to sections along the route of the original Long March to put together a portrait of China today.

Kate invited me along to the lunch today where the book was officially launched. The photographs are wonderful, the book amazing, and I’m especially proud to see Kate’s work captured so beautifully. I’ll be spending the night going through it. Kate has yet to autograph my copy :)