In 1945, the horrors of World War II were still fresh in the minds of Americans, Australians, and the world. Men like my father were returning from the battlefields in Europe and in the Pacific. Victorious, yet battle weary.
And, after two world wars, the entire world was weary of war and turmoil. Countries and leaders sought to create a better, more peaceful future with the formation of the United Nations. Two of the leading American proponents of the United Nations were First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt – who had personally visited Australia and the Pacific battlefronts at the height of the war – and a young member of the U.S. Senate from Arkansas: J. William Fulbright.
Senator Fulbright’s vision, however, extended further than more peaceful relations between nation states. He realized the importance of people-to-people ties, of building bridges of mutual understanding, of connecting hearts and minds across oceans, across borders, and across cultures.
Fulfilling the biblical call to turn swords into plowshares, he introduced a bill calling for the U.S. government to invest the proceeds from sales of surplus war property in the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the Fulbright Act into law. In 1949, Australia and the United States signed a treaty establishing a binational Fulbright program. It was the first official treaty between our two countries, predating the ANZUS treaty by nearly two years.
This year, the Fulbright Program turns 70. It has achieved more than Senator Fulbright could ever have envisioned. Worldwide, the program has sponsored over a quarter of a million Fulbright Scholars. The Australian-American Fulbright Commission alone has awarded scholarships to 5,000 Australians and Americans. Fulbright alumni can be found across Australia; in universities, boardrooms, laboratories, and in the halls of government.
Fulbright Scholars are innovators in education, medicine, engineering, law, and the humanities. They are teachers, journalists, artists, scientists, and leaders in business and in government; they are heads of state and Nobel laureates.
Governor General of Australia Zelman Cowen was a Fulbright Scholar. Dr. Joshua Lederberg, the American Nobel Laureate in Medicine in 1958, was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at Melbourne University the year before. Not only did his groundbreaking research on bacterial genetics win him the Nobel, while in Australia he contributed to the research on antibody production that would earn Australian Sir Frank MacFarlane Burnet the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1960.
The collaboration between doctors Lederberg and Burnet is part of a long and prolific tradition of U.S.-Australian partnership in biomedical research. A tradition that continues today with a new and exciting joint venture between our countries’ two premier research institutes: the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council. Such shared scholarship and academic collaboration drives innovation, which is the hallmark of success in the 21st century.
As the American Ambassador, it is my honor to serve as honorary Fulbright co-chair alongside Prime Minister Turnbull. Just weeks ago, I was with the Prime Minister in the Oval Office at the White House as he and President Obama discussed the importance of U.S.-Australia innovation partnerships and joint investments in science and technology. The President and Prime Minister want to nourish and grow dynamic knowledge-based economies, and they made clear that robust academic and research linkages and educational exchanges will help achieve this goal. Fulbright plays a significant role in these efforts.
It is no accident that the newest Fulbright scholarships are designed to spur cooperation in science, technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation. In looking at the 2015-2016 cohort of American and Australian Fulbright Scholars, I see visionaries – scientists, technologists, economists, educators, and activists. Fulbright has always attracted passionate thinkers and doers.
While in Australia, Fulbright Scholar and Nobel Laureate Dr. Lederberg discovered a lifetime passion – outer space. Watching the launch of Sputnik in 1957 from his vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere opened his eyes to a new era of human exploration of the universe and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. He subsequently spent 20 years as an advisor to NASA, developing its biological protocols and helping design instruments used by probes to collect the first samples from Mars.
Today, space exploration is one of the most fruitful areas of collaboration between the United States and Australia. CSIRO and NASA scientists working together at Tidbinbilla put men on the moon. Together, we put rovers on Mars. We sent New Horizons to Pluto. And, together, we will send mankind to Mars. This is innovation at its finest!
Thanks to the leadership and dedication of the Fulbright board, every state in Australia now hosts a sponsored scholarship. Eight new scholarships were announced in 2015. This means the number of Fulbright ambassadors – including the nearly 50 of you here with us tonight – will soon be greater than ever.
Let me also take this opportunity to thank Dr. Tangerine Holt for her service to Fulbright, and the great energy she has brought to the Fulbright Commission under her leadership – thank you Tange.
To our Fulbright scholars, you are our Fulbright ambassadors; ambassadors of goodwill, of knowledge, and of experience. You all were chosen because you have compelling stories to tell. I want you to take every opportunity to share your experience with all those you encounter.
You represent the best of the United States and Australia; all the quality, richness, and diversity of two great allies. Thank you.