Australian policy towards Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in 1979–1980

Prime Minister Fraser with Margaret and Denis Thatcher in Lusaka, 1979.
Prime Minister Fraser with Margaret and Denis Thatcher in Lusaka, 1979. (NAA: A8281, 166)

The fifth RG Neale lecture was delivered by Mr Ian Hancock on Australia's policy towards Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in 1979–1980.

The lecture was given at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra on 19 May 2011, before an audience including Mrs Ann Neale, widow of Professor Neale; The Hon Senator Sekai Holland, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, Organ of National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration, Republic of Zimbabwe; members of the Diplomatic Corps; representatives of the Australian Army Contingent of the Commonwealth Ceasefire Monitoring Force in Rhodesia (CMFR) and of Australia's National Observer Group to the 1980 elections; former officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs, including former Australian Heads of Mission and others who served in the Australia Liaison Office in Salisbury/Harare; and academics.

By the beginning of 1979 the Ian Smith-led minority white government of Rhodesia – that until November 1965 had been the British colony of Southern Rhodesia – was under pressure from many fronts. Guerrilla activity by the Patriotic Front, the effects of international economic sanctions, as well as pressure from neighbouring countries, forced Smith to undertake talks that led to a multi-racial general election in April 1979. The resulting government of Bishop Abel Muzorewa did not receive recognition internationally. Yet by March 1980, an acceptable solution, resulting from the British-led Lancaster House agreement, was reached.

The presentation by Ian Hancock examines the role that Australia, under the leadership of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, played in pressing throughout 1979 for a solution to the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe problem to be found, and found within the British Commonwealth of Nations.


The National Archives holds significant collections of records that document Australia’s relationship with Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. These include records of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Office of National Assessments. Digital copies of many of these records are available for viewing through the National Archives' collection database, RecordSearch. Further information about records held by the National Archives is included in Independence of Zimbabwe.

Ian Hancock biographical note

Portrait of Mr Ian Hancock

Ian Hancock is an historian and biographer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (with Honours) from the University of Melbourne and a Master in Philosophy from Oxford University.

He has written extensively on the political history of Uganda and Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. He has also lectured in imperial, colonial and African history at Monash University (1965–69) and in African, Australian and British history at the Australian National University (1970–2002), where he was Reader in History and Head of the History Department. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the Research School of Social Sciences at the ANU.

From 1995–2004 Mr Hancock was the historical consultant to the National Archives for the annual release of Cabinet records. He served as a member of the National Archives Advisory Council (1997–2000, 2004–2007). Since 1999 he has been a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Documents on Australian Foreign Policy.

His publications include White Liberals: Moderates and Radicals in Rhodesia, 1953–1980 (1984); Rhodesians Never Die: White Reactions to War and Political Change, 1970–1980 (with Peter Goodwin, 1993, reprinted in 2007); National and Permanent?: The Federal Organisation of the Liberal Party of Australia, 1944–1965 (2000); John Gorton: He Did It His Way (2002); and The Liberals: A History of the NSW Division of the Liberal Party of Australia, 1945–2000 (2007).

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