With a year’s worth of celebrations planned to commemorate the centenary of Australia House, you can also see what makes our London home so iconic. Be sure to follow #AusHouse100 on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what’s happening, you can also register to attend the Open House event on 22 September.
A brief look back at the history of Australia House shows what makes this venue such a recognisable building in London, not just for Australians, but also for the entire of the United Kingdom.
This August third marked one hundred years since Australia’s oldest diplomatic mission and longest continuously occupied foreign mission was established anywhere in the world. In 1918 King George V along with Australian prime minister Billy Hughes officially opened the controversially elaborate building in the heart of London. There were even enthusiastic shouts of “coo-ee” from the Australian crowd at the opening!
In its earlier years, Australia House hosted a Boomerang Club during World War II. This was to provide a safe and welcoming base for Australian troops to catch up on news, store their luggage, meet friends for a meal, play billiards and attend dances. Today, the building is a jewel in Australia’s overseas property portfolio. It was included in the Commonwealth Heritage List in 2013 and is a UK Grade II-listed building.
A significant amount of the materials used throughout the building were shipped to London from Australia – South Australia proudly claims the two spectacular staircases built from 500-million-year-old white Angaston Marble (one is pictured below.) A grand number of 550 tonnes of marble from Australia found throughout the building was supplied for the construction of Australia House.
The gold vaults in the basement are now used for general storage, but in the 1920s it is thought that 50% of Australia’s gold reserves were held here. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia used the vaults to store the gold interchanged between the British and Australian governments.
Peering tourists are frequently seen out the front of the building trying to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Exhibition Hall, (pictured at the top of the page) or Gringott’s Bank from the Harry Potter films as it is better known. The building has also been used for scenes in Wonder Women and The Muppet Movie. The Hall has also been used as a marketplace, a reading room, a polling station for Australians abroad and a showroom for visiting Australian business.
Current High Commissioner, The Hon George Brandis QC, is originally from Queensland. However, many South Australian’s have taken the role over the years including in recent times Alexander Downer AC and Mike Rann, AC, CNZM.
Australia House continues as a working embassy with a multititle of events and an impressive line-up of individuals who climb the South Australian marble staircase each year. It truly is a remarkable place for the Office of the Agent General to call home.