Relations with Australia started in the 19th century when the Malays participated in the pearling industry off Australia's north coast - close to Darwin. Historically, William Light, the son of Francis Light (who acquired Penang on behalf of the British East India Company in 1786), planned the city of Adelaide in 1837. Today, Georgetown in Penang and Adelaide in South Australia is linked as sister cities.
Australian troops have fought on a number of occasions alongside Malaysians. This included during the Malayan Campaign of World War II, as part of a Commonwealth force to defeat the Malayan Communist insurgency during the Malayan Emergency (1950-60) and during the period of Confrontation with Indonesia (1963-66).
Australia was closely associated with the establishment of the Federation of Malaya in 1957 and sponsored Malaya's application for membership of the United Nations. Sir William McKell, a former Governor-General of Australia, together with four other Commonwealth jurists, helped draft the nation's Constitution. Australia also took a close and positive interest in the formation of Malaysia.
Australia's formal relations with Malaysia date back to 1955 when the Australian Commission (later High Commission) was established in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia established its High Commission in Canberra in 1956. Australia was one of fifteen countries to establish formal diplomatic relations with the Federation of Malaya in 1957 soon after independence.
Malaysia and Australia have a strong, modern and diverse bilateral relationship, with active and cooperative relations across a broad range of sectors. These include trade and investment, education, defence, counter-terrorism, law enforcement and tourism. More recently, cooperation has expanded into new areas including countering people smuggling, sport and joint programs in third countries.
More than 23,000 Malaysians study in Australia annually and people-to-people links are underpinned by a strong network of Malaysian alumni of Australian educational institutions dating back decades.
Australia and Malaysia have forged even closer trade and investment links through the signing of a free trade agreement which takes effect in January 2013.