Comparisons and Contrasts
United States Australia
Area 2,977,000 sq. mi. 2,975,000 sq. mi.
Population 133,000,000 7,100,000
About 360 years,
About 156 years,
Federation of 48
Federation of 6
Economic Mature on
Exports half of
In the third place, the two nations are democratic in the broadest sense of that word. This is embodied in the forms of government; in the belief in equality of rights and of opportunity in political, legal, educational, and economic affairs; and in freedom of speech, press, worship, and organization. In each land there are wide gaps between the democratic ideal and the reality; and there are marked differences in the political methods, the party labels, and even the concepts of what a democracy should do. Yet these do not change the fact that they are alike in aim and outlook.
Finally, both lands enjoy a sense of self-confidence, of optimism, and of manifest destiny. We in the United States seemed to have got a bit beyond that when the greatest boom in our history blew up in our faces and plunged us into the worst depression the world has ever known; but our confidence in ourselves has been restored. We are in good company. If we were to ask an Australian, a New Zealander, a Canadian, and an American “Which is God’s Own Country?” we should get four different answers. To Australian after-dinner speakers the “unlimited potentialities” of their country and its similarity in size to ours have long served to “prove” that some day there would be 100,000,000 people living under their flag. This year we have seen the appearance of a book called America Unlimited. A volume entitled Australia Unlimited was published in 1918 and was as large as a family Bible.
This stalwart pride makes up for the lack of a long past by consciousness of a great present and certainty of a glorious future. In all parts of the New World it has strengthened the determination to pass from colony to nation, to secure self-government, to gain economic maturity by developing factories as well as farms, and to foster a national school of art, letters, music, and the like. We have got through these transitions from childhood to manhood. The Australians have completed some of them and are moving as fast as they can on the rest.
Thus the American finds much that is familiar in the Australian scene. Yet even in the basic similarities there have emerged differences, as a result of history, geography, policies, and ideals. An analysis of these will not merely help us to understand the Australian, but may make us understand ourselves better.
The first marked difference is in speech. For some reason, on which the experts cannot agree, Australians manhandle their vowels. The “a” is sounded almost like an “i”: “paper” sounds like “piper,” “race” like the staple food of China and Japan, and “day” is either a coloring material or the act which bring life to an end. The vowel “u” flattens into an “a” so that “butter” is almost “batter.” “Australia” sometimes sounds to an American ear as if it were spelled “Orstrylier.”
The words themselves are often different, as for example “tram” for streetcar, “lift” for elevator, and “petrol” or “benzine” for gasoline. Some words have different meanings on the two sides of the Pacific. If an Australian calls you a “grafter” he is bestowing high praise on your competent discharge of a hard thankless task. But if you offer to provide him with transportation, his brow may lower, for “transportation” was the term used during the early decades of Australian history to describe what happened when a judge sentenced you to be shipped out there for a period of years or for “the term of your natural life.” Finally, many words are pure creations of Australian speech. Many began as the slang of the ranch, the mine, or the town; some have passed into respectable use, but others are still not quite acceptable in the living room.
drogo—rookie cobber—a pal
crook—to feel lousy diggers—Australians
sheila—a babe cow—it stinks
Buckley’s chance joes—the blues or the d.t.’s
fair cow—a louse or heel dinkum oil—Gospel truth
tucker—food, chow grafter—a good worker
shivoo—a party ding dong—swell
cooee—yoo-hoo bush—the sticks
push—a mob or gang squatter—rancher
The second difference is in the number of people occupying the two great land masses. We have over 130,000,000 people on our 3,000,000 square miles, and there is only one state, Nevada, with fewer than two and a half people to the square mile. The Australians have only about 7,100,000, or less than the population of Illinois or of New York City, on theirs.
Further, over 6,500,000 of them reside on a crescent-shaped expanse, ranging in depth from a few miles to about 350 miles, running down most of the east coast and then to about the middle of the south coast; or they live on the extreme southwest corner, or in the lovely little island of Tasmania, which lies an overnight sea journey from Melbourne on the south coast. In all, this inhabited area covers about a million square miles; another million carries less than 500,000 people; and the third million is so useless that not more than 10,000 persons dwell there in peacetime.
Finally, about 47 per cent of the population live in the six capital cities, 17 per cent in other towns, thus leaving only 36 per cent—about 2,500,000—to occupy the whole countryside.
These three features—small population, concentration in the east, south, and southwest, and a high degree of town life—call for some explanation. Most of that explanation is found in the climate. Little land is wasted in mountains, and most of the continent is almost as level as the valley of the Mississippi or even the prairies. It is the climate that decides how many people can live in Australia, where they can live, and what sort of work they can do.
The climate is determined by the country’s position on the globe. The mainland lies between 10° and 40° south latitude. In the northern hemisphere it would reach from Washington, D. C., almost to the Panama Canal, covering the Gulf of Mexico and overlapping the coast of Venezuela. Hence its temperature ranges from warm to hot. In the southern regions it rarely gets below 40° F. in winter, with little or no frost or snow; in summer it may hang around 80° and at times dash over 100°. But 1,150,000 square miles, nearly 40 per cent of the country, lie in the tropics. Port Darwin and other places on the north coast, with all-year averages of over 80°, rank with Timbuktu and the tip of India as the hottest places in the world; and since they get their heaviest rains in the summer they stand alongside the mouth of the Congo or Calcutta as the most humidly uncomfortable places on earth.
In addition to being too hot, much of Australia is too dry. The southern settled areas enjoy the sort of climate known in California or the Mediterranean—hot dry summers and cool, occasionally wet, winter clays. But the northern half lies in that belt of the globe swept by the trade winds which blow from the southeast to the equator. If these winds start over water and blow onto land they bring rain, and the northeast part of the Australian coast is therefore well watered. If, however, they start over land and blow out to sea they may dry up whatever water is there and take it where it is not wanted.
This is what happens in all northern Australia except the eastern belt. There is little rain and much evaporation, and consequently much of this area is a “trade wind desert,” like the Sahara and Arabia. If the trade winds could be turned round, or if Australia could be pushed ten or fifteen degrees farther away from the equator, much of its dead heart might become a rival to our Mississippi Valley. Pending that miracle, more than a third of the continent will, get less than 10 inches of rain a year, less than a third will get 10 to 20, and less than a third will receive more than 20 inches. In addition, the semiarid areas may get their rain at the wrong time; or they may get a lot one year and very little the next year.
Finally, since most of the continent is subject to periodical droughts, such as those which reduced the flocks and herds by nearly half between 1890 and 1902, regions which seem safe in good years are deathtraps when the rains fail to come. Australians have a reputation for being incorrigible gamblers; but for many of them existence itself is a gamble on the weather.
Taking all these factors into account, Australia has one-fifth the area of good land that we possess, and three times as much poor or waste land. In parts of the dry lands a ranch may cover hundreds or even thousands of square miles. The next-door neighbors may be fifty to a hundred miles away. Large areas do not contain a single human being, and even rabbits cannot live there. In some places subterranean water has been tapped to supplement the rainfall, and the River Murray, the only large river in the whole continent, has been used to irrigate some of the land along its banks.
But nothing can render two-thirds of the country capable of sustaining a large population. Most of the future growth will take place in those more favored regions of the east, south, and southwest, where work can be done without too much discomfort, where the yield can be abundant, and where leisure can be enjoyed to the full.