Our Town: Down Under Up Top

Visiting the Australian Consulate in Honolulu

Photo: michael keany

Look skyward at the corner of Bishop and South King streets, and you can see a little bit of Australia. That’s the Australian flag flying atop the Cades Schutte building, across from Tamarind Park.

The flag is about the only visible sign of the Australian consulate, which stakes out a birds-eye view of downtown from its penthouse location, while managing to remain all but invisible even to surrounding high-rise tenants.

The consulate has been at 1000 Bishop St. since the mid-1970s, when it occupied a small space on the fifth floor. The consulate upgraded to the penthouse in 1983, but has maintained its relatively low profile.

“We don’t need a lot of publicity for what we’re doing. We just quietly get on with what we have to do,” says John Quinn, the Australian consul-general.

What the consulate does, primarily, is coordinate Australia’s regional security and defense planning with that of the U.S. Pacific Command, along with promoting Australian commercial interests abroad.

Photo: michael keany

The bulk of the consulate staff’s day-to-day work, though, consists of taking care of Australian travelers who have lost passports or otherwise run into problems while in Hawaii—including those of the legal kind. Quinn says, “There are a few people in detention, unfortunately, who have crossed the line in terms of local law enforcement. We just make sure that due process is followed.”

The Australian consulate also assists Canadian and British citizens, as part of a global burden-sharing agreement with Canada and Britain. All in all, Quinn says, the consulate fields 3,400 inquiries per year, 800 of which require further action by the office.

As an official representative of the Australian government, Quinn enjoys standard diplomatic immunities. The consul itself is technically considered sovereign Australian soil, although Quinn hastens to add that his staff maintains excellent relations with local authorities, and would cooperate fully with local law enforcement in most circumstances.

“Hawaii is such a comfortable fit for Australia,” Quinn says. “The scale of the economy is about the same as most of our regional economies. The lifestyle, the cultural diversity—we feel very at home here.”