The 40th anniversary year of Gough Whitlam establishing diplomatic links with Mao’s China has just come to an end with the closure of an exhibition of Indigenous photography in Beijing. Intriguingly, none of the publicity mentioned its exclusively Aboriginal origins “ but with 24 artists selected from Mervyn Bishop and Tracey Moffatt to Bindi Cole and Brook Andrew, this was certainly the case.

Arts Minister Simon Crean “ heading the Australian end of the celebrations as son of the Minister who’d initiated them – visited Making Change: Celebrating 40 Years of AustraliaChina Diplomatic Relations, a contemporary film and photo-based exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. He said cultural exchanges underpin the development of mutual understanding between citizens and nations and strengthen the values of respect, understanding and inclusion. “As home to the world’s oldest living culture and welcoming to the greatest diversity of cultures, Australia has unique cultural strengths that underpin values of respect, understanding and inclusion”this is crucial in Asia, which is a region deeply respectful of culture and respect for others,” he said.

The artists selected for the exhibition are leaders in their field, many having appeared in regional exhibitions such as the Asia-Pacific Triennial and Biennale of Sydney, as well as representing Australia on the world stage in international biennales, art and film festivals. The exhibition includes works of major Australian photojournalist and documentary photographers, Mervyn Bishop and Ricky Maynard. Australian contemporary art photography is represented through the works of artists such as Brook Andrew and Destiny Deacon. Media-based and installation practice is represented through artists such as Vernon Ah Kee, Warwick Thornton, Bindi Cole, Fiona Foley, Tracey Moffatt, Michael Riley and Judy Watson.

These artists represent the diversity of contemporary Australian photography through media, documentary, animation and installation.

There was also archival photographs of the Gough Whitlam years from the National Archives of Australia. For example, Mervyn Bishop’s iconic photograph by of Prime Minister Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari in 1975 tells a powerful story about Australian politics and society.

Being a diplomatic project, Making Change seemed to require a lot of people! There was a curatorium of seven and a project development team of five “ all working under Project Director Tim Wilson, a board member of the Australian Centre for Photography.

But at the end of proceedings, Minister Crean signed a 3-year deal with the Chinese: The 2013“2015 Cultural Implementation Program includes cultural exchanges across a range of activities including official and academic exchanges, radio, television and film, media, press and publishing, performing and visual arts, cultural heritage protection and sport.

It also recognises the contribution made by Chinese ethnic groups and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to the culture and arts of their respective countries.

Having closed in Beijing, Making Change will re-emerge in Sydney showing at the COFA gallery during July and August 2013.