The White House showed it had done its homework on Australia’s music-loving prime minister with a gift specially tailored to suit Anthony Albanese’s amateur DJing skills.
US President Joe Biden, his wife Jill exchanged gifts with Anthony Albanese and his partner Jodie Haydon in Washington on Wednesday, as they met for a private dinner ahead of an elaborate state affair on Thursday.
Mr Albanese was given a custom signature turntable from a family-owned American audio manufacturer – a present ideal for the noted vinyl record enthusiast to spin some of his favourite tracks.
He also received an antique writing desk designed in 1886 while Ms Haydon was given by Dr Biden a green enamel and diamond necklace by an American jeweller.
In return the President Biden was gifted a painting by Australian Indigenous artist Katherine Boland that was created as part of a DFAT-funded project to support fire affected communities in both Australia and the UK.
US President Joe Biden along with wife Jill shares a private dinner with Anthony Albanese and Jodie Haydon
Dr Biden was given a silk scarf and a painting by Indigenous artist of a group women gathered at Tjukurla in Western Australia with a sampling of bush foods they collected.
The First Lady also received a a silver leaf brooch jewellery by Melbourne designer Shimara Carlow.
However much they may like the offerings Mr Albanese and Ms Haydon will likely have to surrender them to the Prime Minister’s Department or pay their equivalent value under Australia’s strict rules of office.
On his Instagram feed Mr Albanese posted that it was ‘Good to see you again, my friend @potus. Thank you for the warm welcome.’
Photos show Mr Albanese and Mr Biden laughing while the Prime Minister signed a visitor’s book and then looking very happy in each other’s company while having a drink at the White House.
The leaders appeared to be at most at ease in each other’s company as they shared some laughs before the meal
Another photo showed the two couples sitting around a small dinner table deep in conversation.
The intimate meal contrasts with the lavish State Dinner being planned for Thursday.
The long-awaited black-tie dinner will be held in a temporary pavilion on the White House lawn.
State Dinners are usually among the most extravagant diplomatic events held by the White House – only three others have been held by President Biden: for the leaders of France, South Korea and India.
But this week’s will be significantly pared back due to both international and national crises, notably the conflict between Israel and Hamas and the continued struggle to elect a new House of Representatives speaker.
First Lady Jill Biden had earlier announced she had scrapped her plan to have popular band the B-52s perform at the state dinner because of the ‘sorrow and pain’ being felt around the world.
Instead, the members of the band will attend the event as guests. Performing will be the president’s Marine Band and the Army and Air Force Strolling Strings, offering instrumental music for the evening.
The dinner will be catered by celebrity chef Katie Button and attended by US and Australian-based artists, business chiefs and community leaders.
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden usher Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s partner, Jodie Haydon, to stand next to Mr Albanese, rather than next to Dr Biden
President Biden and Mr Albanese appeared in good spirits during their time together in Washington
While the guest list for the state dinner has not been confirmed, it’s rumoured actors Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie could make appearances.
There is also speculation Australian Rugby League Commission chairman and NSW racing chief Peter V’landys will attend.
The B52s – the band behind such hits as Love Shack and Rock Lobster – are known for their left-wing politics, performing at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in the US.
The speaker of the House has also been invited to past state dinners but that position is now vacant, with no candidate yet to muster enough support to replace the ousted Republican Kevin McCarthy.
When asked who she will invite to fill that position, Jill Biden responded: ‘I don’t know.’
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked at a media conference whether the celebration might seem ‘tone deaf’ considering the suffering in Israel and Gaza.
‘We believe that there is no more important time than now to have this state visit with the Australians, and to demonstrate … our strength and partnership and alliances,’ she said.
‘Having these conversations with one of our allies, like Australia, is incredibly important.
‘You’re going to see two leaders come together, continuing to talk about the partnership that they’re hoping to continue to put forward.’
Mr Albanese is due to meet with business executives and attend the opening of the new Australian embassy in Washington DC on Wednesday.
Also set for Wednesday is an Oval Office meeting and a joint press conference ahead of the state dinner.
A copy of the menu Australian and US dignitaries will enjoy at Wednesday evening’s state dinner
The main topic of President Biden and Mr Albanese’s Oval Office conversation is likely to be China and its broadening influence in the Indo-Pacific.
‘There’s no question in my mind that the challenges and the opportunities in relations with the [People’s Republic of China] will be on the agenda tomorrow. No question about that,’ White House spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday.
Radio host Ray Hadley lashed out at Mr Albanese for flying to the US rather than addressing problems at home, particularly after so much time was spent on the ultimately fruitless and ‘divisive’ Voice referendum.
‘We’ve got a crisis in the Middle East, we’ve got a crisis in relation to people being unable to afford to feed themselves, clothe themselves, pay their mortgage,’ Hadley said.
‘We’ve got the drama over the Yes/No (referendum) vote… so what does he do? He gets on a plane to talk to Joe Biden. How Joe’s going to help us?’