Latin America and Asia

The La Trobe University Library is named after inaugural Chief Librarian Dietrich Borchardt. It acquired from its earliest days a strong Latin America collection.

Consequently our Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) was Australia’s first, and Victoria’s only, academic centre dedicated to Latin American history, culture and literature.  It also served as a valuable resource for media comment, drawing on the expertise of its various directors Barry Carr, Rowan Ireland, Ralph Newmark and Steven Niblo.

We were also one of the few Australian universities offering Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese, languages spoken by more than 600 million people on four continents. Key people behind these programs were Foundation Professor Wally Thompson, Lilit Thwaites, Isabel Moutinho and Roy Boland who hosted two visits to La Trobe by Peruvian politician and Nobel Prize winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa.

Indian and Asian studies increased their global profile as the world headed towards the ‘Asian Century’. India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited the University during her Australian tour in 1968, just a year after we opened our doors. Indian studies saw many cultural and academic exchanges led by Robyn Jeffrey. Today, La Trobe offers a $200,000 scholarship named after legendary India film actor, Amitabh Bachchan.

Others in the vanguard of Asia studies were educationist Stewart Fraser who helped forge connections with China and Vietnam before these countries began opening up to the West, and John Fitzgerald, who later served as Director of the Ford Foundation’s China operations in Beijing.  Graduate Geoff Raby became Australia’s Ambassador to China. Today much of this activity is led by Nick Bisley, Director of La Trobe Asia.

Africa was another focus, with a research institute led by David Dorward, which became a much-used educational and community resource.  Various African graduates returned to their continent, including Abdirahman Farole, who became President of Somalia’s State of Puntland and Issa Farah, who was appointed its Director of Petroleum and Minerals.