Our Neighbor Down Under
Are the Effects of Isolation?
came crashing southward, the rest of the world seemed far away from Australia.
From the west coast to South Africa lay nearly 5,000 miles of ocean, and Ceylon
was 3,000 miles away. From Sydney to London the distance is 12,500 miles round
the Cape of Good Hope and 11,500 through the Suez or Panama canals. North America,
South America, and South Africa were three weeks away from Australia, and Britain
was five to seven’ weeks away, even on the speediest ships available. In
the days of sailing ships these times were half as long again. Southward
the next-door neighbor was Antarctica. Northward there was little bond
of trade or travel. The dreary northern wastes isolated Australia from contact
This isolation was partly
responsible for the late discovery of the country. It accounted in part for the
relatively slow growth of settlement and handicapped the continent in its competition
for settlers. When a European decided to emigrate, North America was only an eight-
or ten-days journey away by 1900, and it cost only $20 to get there; Australia
was six or seven weeks away, and the steerage ticket cost $100. If he came to
North America and did not like the place, he could hope to rake together enough
money to pay his way back home. If he did not like Australia it would he harder
to save enough to return. He had burned his boats.
even though Australian governments have usually been willing to assist migrants
by paying part of the transportation cost, migration southward was usually a mere
trickle compared with the broad stream flowing to New York or Montreal. Only after
1900 did the flow become substantial, thanks to vigorous effort by the governments
to “sell” their country and to more liberal assistance. Yet even then,
in the years 1900–39 the total net immigration was less than 600,000, or
less than one year’s addition to our population in the boom days at Ellis
Island before 1914.
You can be choosy
has had its effect on the quality of life as well as on the quantity. If you have
no near neighbor, you get the beneficial and also the harmful effects of this
loneliness. You can do more or less as you like; work out your own salvation without
outside interference or restraint; accept or reject what others have to offer
in ideas or experience. In short, you can be “choosy.”
understand the effect of this, one need only contrast the positions of Canada
and Australia. Canada, close to the United States and not far from Britain, feels
the strong economic and cultural pull of these two countries. It has not been
so simple and easy for her to develop her own distinctive national characteristics
or to prevent her young people from migrating southward. The Canadian reads our
American columnists, sees our comics, listens to our “commercials.”
Like the Australian, he has been his own political master since about 1850; yet
many of his political and economic problems have been created or colored by what
Britain and the United States were doing. To give one instance out of many: When
Congress offered homesteaders 160 acres of land free if they would live on them
for five years, Canada had to go one better and offer them 160 acres after only
three years’ residence. In his federal “parliament” at Ottawa,
one house is called the House of Commons (a British term), the other is called
the Senate, a name copied from us.
What did they choose?
Australian has felt no such persistent pressure on his policies and outlook. From
Britain, and in growing measure from North America in recent decades, he can take
what he likes or what suits his needs. If he reads much, his library is well stocked
with British and American books, but not—until recently—with American
popular magazines; and he will have many works by Australian writers. He plays
English cricket and American baseball, but his football may be a brand of his
own, with eighteen unarmored men on each team—and no substitutes—two
tall goal posts, two shorter ones, no crossbar, and a huge oval field.
the Australian created a federal government he adopted the pattern and even such
labels as “House of Representatives” and “Senate” from
us, but he rejected our separation of the legislative and executive powers and
chose the British cabinet system. He will examine proposals made by Europeans
and Americans for the reform of economic or political life. British labor and
socialist plans have always received attention; the American ideas of Henry George
and of the I.W.W. found adherents; and the revolutionary doctrines of Russian
Communism have found favor with some left wingers. But none of these “imported”
ideas has been overpowering. The Australian prefers to work out his own ideals
and methods, picking and choosing what seems good from abroad, but striving to
produce a society and way of life on which he can with much justification stamp
the label “Made in Australia.”
sort of society has he tried to build? The answer can best be given under four
It is homogeneous,
white, and “British” rather than a melting pot.
It is self-contained
It is radical in
its search for social justice and for freedom from the poverty and wide differences
of class and income of the Old World.
White and British
Australian population is 99 per cent of European origin; it is about 98 per cent
of British background; and over 86 per cent of it is Australian-born.
these conditions with those of North America. In Canada about 30 per cent of the
people are descendants of the original French settlers, about 50 per cent are
of British stock, and the remainder hail from almost every country in Europe or
from the United States, with a few from Asia. Our own American population has
still more elements, with various European national strains and a large Negro
is the result of timing and of policy. Slavery had been abolished in the British
Empire before Australia really began to grow. During the gold rush 50,000 Chinese
came to work on the ranches or diggings. Many went back home later, but some remained
to work in mines, truck gardens, furniture factories, and other enterprises. Later,
when sugar plantations were developed on the tropical coast of Queensland, some
natives were brought in from the Pacific islands.
even in the gold-rush days’ many miners and wage earners felt that
Asiatic immigration would endanger and depress living standards. Consequently
one of the earliest policies advocated by labor unions was the limitation or prohibition
of nonwhite immigration. To this economic fear of damage to material standards,
others—political, moral, and cultural—were added. Our experience in
the United States, and that of South Africans faced with a large native problem,
suggested to the Australians that it would be good for nonwhite people and white
settlers alike if the continent could be spared one vexing problem.
restrictive laws were passed by the states, and in 1901 the first federal Parliament
decreed that any person who failed to pass a dictation test of fifty words in
a European language could be excluded as illiterate. In practice Europeans were
not subjected to the test, at least until after 1920; but if a nonwhite person
sought entry as a permanent settler he was given the test—in some language
which it was certain he did not know.
The empty spaces
this way “White Australia” became the national policy, or rather the
national dogma, like our Monroe Doctrine. No party would dare to question it,
few individuals would care to criticize it, and every Australian would fight to
defend this determination to keep Australia a white man’s continent. Whether
he can develop it adequately with only white labor is obviously a crucial question.
Outside the tropics he has had no difficulty in doing that job. But he would readily
admit he has achieved very little in the north, and he was greatly relieved when
the geographers informed him that much of the north is unfit for settlement by
anybody. That news justified his preference for living in the greater physical
comfort and wider economic opportunities of the south.
peace and security from external attack, there was no reason why he should settle
the inhospitable north. If the area had been much good for settlement, the natives
of Asia or of the Pacific islands would probably have gone there long before the
white man knew there was a Pacific Ocean. But if war threatens and security vanishes,
an empty north may be a serious menace. Steps were therefore taken just before
1939 to strengthen one or two northern outposts, and since Pearl Harbor, much
of the region has been opened up by construction of roads, airfields, supply centers,
and other military facilities. Some of this work may have permanent effects in
increasing settlement. Air conditioning, improved medical methods, and better
living conditions may make life less unbearable up north; but if the economic
resources are scanty, no more people will wish to live there than did in the past.
the mother country
per cent—of the population is not the result of any closed-door policy.
Continental Europeans have been as free to enter as were British subjects, but
they usually chose North America for their new home. When Australian governments
tried to get settlers by assisting them to buy their tickets, they began and usually
ended with appeals to inhabitants of the mother country. The largest Continental
European group in Australia is Italian.
World War I, when the United States almost closed its doors to immigration, more
Europeans turned their eyes to Australia. Italians, for example, began to pour
out there and made their way to the sugar plantations. This new influx threatened
to disturb the country’s balance and traditions, and the immigration rules
were therefore made stiffer. Without going as far as we did with our quota system,
Australia sought to control the size and composition of its population. In the
1933 census, 80 per cent of the people born overseas had come from the British
Isles, 7 per cent from the other white-faced parts of the Empire, 11 per cent
from Continental Europe, 2 per cent from Asia, and a mere handful—about
6,000—from the United States.
good or bad?
This Britishness has had its
virtues and its defects. The newcomers spoke the language of the country of their
adoption, and did not need to attend classes to learn English. They were used
to handling pounds, shillings, and pence, to driving on the left side of the road,
and to tea drinking. They were accustomed to the ideas, codes of conduct, law
observance, economic system, form of government, and social standards that they
found “down under.” They knew about voting, political parties, labor
unions, factory acts, Saturday afternoon holidays, and Sundays on which nobody
worked—not even entertainers and drugstore clerks. They did not need to
be subjected to anything comparable to our efforts in Americanization. They had
no division of loyalties. If Australia became their first love, the British Isles
was their second, and even native-born Australians would often refer to those
Isles as “home.”
are less easily assessed or described. They consist chiefly, perhaps, of a certain
monotony of approach to problems, of attitudes—and of menus. Perhaps a more
mixed population would have been less disposed to take some things for granted,
would have wanted to discuss whether the British way was the best way of doing
things, and might have instilled a greater liking for the land, for music, for
varied dishes, for wine instead of whisky or beer, and even for bullfighting as
well as horse racing. Our experience in the United States can help us to decide
what price Australia has paid for her homogeneity; and since the Aussie will probably
insist that the price was well worth paying, a good argument can be expected—and
a long one—for there is probably no
standard or measure by which it can be settled.
Self-rule and How It Grew