Kathryn Avery

National Archives of Australia/Australian Historical Association postgraduate scholar, 2017-18


An oily stepping stone: Portuguese Timor, Japan and Australian security, 1902-1941

Biographical note

Kathryn Avery is a Research Priority Area PhD scholarship holder in the Collaborative Research Centre in Australian History at Federation University Australia. Her thesis focuses on the Australian government’s concerns over Japanese intentions in Portuguese Timor prior to the outbreak of the Pacific War. Kathryn's broad research interest is the history of Australian foreign policy, with a particular focus on Australian-British and Australian-Japanese relations. Kathryn also forms part of the history teaching team within the School of Arts at Federation University Australia.

Project summary

Situated within close proximity to Northern Australia, the small yet strategically important colony of Portuguese Timor played a significant role in Australian security considerations during the first half of the twentieth century prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in the Pacific. To date, understandings of Australian interests in Portuguese Timor have focused on the Japanese occupation period between 1942 and 1945, as well as the more recent history in Timor-Leste with respect to tensions over access to oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. The significance of Portuguese Timor to Australia prior to the outbreak of the Second World War has received scant attention.

Australia's leaders feared for their nation's security should the colony fall into Japan's sphere of influence. Kathryn's thesis will explore the origins of the strategic significance of Portuguese Timor to Australian security, as well as the measures pursued by Australia's leaders to counter Japanese penetration of the colony, within the context of British Imperialism and the wider international crisis of the time. Further, it will examine inconsistencies in Australian policy that sought to appease Japan during its expansion into China, while taking a firmer stance in checking the Japanese when closer to the Australian mainland.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019