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Britain in the 18th century was in the midst of a huge social, demographic and economic transformation which had gathered pace since the 1600s. For a variety of reasons, it was in Britain that the European agricultural (agrarian) and industrial revolutions had their first and most dramatic effects on society. Through a complex system of relationships and conflicts, Britain had emerged by the late 18th century as an outward looking, expansive and confident imperial power which was beginning to grapple with the hubris of its own social and economic transformation. In was in this context of demographic and economic transformation which the British government first began to contemplate the colonization of New South Wales.
For many years, historical debate has raged over the reasons for the British colonization of Australia which took place in 1788. The decision to establish a penal colony in Australia as announced by the British government in 1786 reflected a number of important considerations. While numerous factors were put as arguments for settling Australia, the decision announced in 1786 was one in which the desire of the British government to check the imperial ambitions of its main European rival, France, was married with resolving the pressing and immediate need for prison space faced by the British government.
Between 1702 and 1783, Britain had fought not less than four major wars against France and the most significant of these concerned colonial possessions and access to strategic trade routes. Against this background of imperial conflict, it appeared entirely reasonable, at least in principle, to establish a substantial British presence in the south western Pacific which pre-empted the expansion of the French empire in the same region. Such a presence would form a foundation stone for any future military or economic needs which may emerge in the future. All that was required was the political impetus to take steps to establish a settlement.
The decision to settle in Australia was finally announced in Whitehall during 1786 after a complex series of committee discussions. Paramount in these discussions was the consideration of how to resolve problems resulting from the explosion of prisoner (convict) numbers in Britain. Crime had increased in Britain due to the social pressures resulting from the agrarian and industrial revolutions. While the precise reasoning why Australia was chosen as the location for a penal settlement remains unclear to historians, it is known that numerous submissions were put to two committees regarding the suitability of the Botany Bay area for settlement by a contingent of convicts and their guards. Significant among these submissions were those of then head of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, and his comrade on the Endeavour, James Matra.
Britain’s explosion in prisoner numbers during the agrarian and industrial revolutions saw an increase in the use of the sentence of transportation. As suitable colonial possessions as an outlet for these prisoners became increasingly difficult to find, two committees were established (in 1779, to which Banks spoke, and then in 1785) by the House of Commons. These committees were required to investigate and propose solutions for the problems posed by Britain’s burgeoning convict population. These committees soon become a political battlefield where competing interests put their point of view. Among these interests was a group who strongly argued for the colonization of Australia by Britain. It was strongly argued through these committees that other existing or proposed colonies would be unsuitable for a self-sustaining penal settlement. As two African sites were overlooked on the grounds of infestations of malaria carrying mosquitoes and lack of trade potential, Botany Bay in New South Wales became the leading candidate for penal settlement – as long as it could prove itself more suitable than its rivals. It was at this point that the, possibly dubious, testimony of James Matra became crucial.
Matra’s submission, among others, to the House of Commons Select Committee on transportation of convicts in 1783 were extremely significant in Australian history as they stated possible advantages to settlement in New South Wales beyond the needs for a penal outlet. In 1783, the British Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, and his committee heard from Matra that Botany Bay could not only provide an outlet for Britain’s burgeoning prison population (the key consideration) but also would, in time, provide Britain with a source of sugar cane, tea, coffee, flax, silk, indigo, tobacco and cotton. Many of these materials had become much more expensive in Britain since the loss of colonies in America after 1776. Matra followed up these arguments with the, probably exaggerated, view that a colony in New South Wales would also provide “asylum” for those who had remained loyal to the King during the American War of Independence (1776) but lost their lands. Finally, it was argued that ultimately a colony in Australia would provide a base for trade with China and islands of the Pacific. Impressed by submissions such as these, as well as the reports of James Cook from 1770, the committee led by Lord Syney finally announced, in 1786, firm British government plans for the settlement of Botany Bay. Shortly after this date, preparations commenced for an initial landing and settlement party, a first fleet of ships, to be sent to Australia under the command of naval Captain (late Vice-Admiral) Arthur Phillip.
Confronting the Aborigines – European settlement and it’s expansion:
The so-called First Fleet which sailed from Britain on Sunday May 13, 1787 under command of Phillip was a flotilla made up of eleven small ships. Largest of these were the two escorting warships HMS Sirius and HMS Supply. These two vessels were responsible for the safe transit of six convict transport ships and three supply ships. These ships carried approximately 1,350 people of whom approximately 780 were convicts. Some 20% of the convict population were female. The fleet, after traveling via Rio de Janerio and Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) arrived at Botany Bay on January 21st 1788 before moving north to explore a more suitable location through Sydney Heads at Port Jackson. On January 26th 1788, Philip as commander of the fleet raised the British flag at what he named Sydney Cove after Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary. This ceremonial declaration of British sovereignty in Australia was particularly important as two rival French vessels under the command of Comte de la Pérouse had, on January 24th, arrived in an area of Botany Bay now called La Pérouse. Further, Phillip’s declaration of British sovereignty in Australia failed to acknowledge under British law any previous aboriginal tenure over Australia’s land – an error which would reverberate across time and have significant consequences during the late 20th century.
The departure of the majority of the ships of the fleet forced the new British settlement to quickly transform the environment in and near Sydney Cove. This transformation would spread throughout Australia over the coming centuries as European social, cultural and economic practices challenged and supplanted aboriginal society. Until 1788, the site of the new settlement had been part of the traditional home of the Cadigal people. During the early months of the settlement Phillip himself had contact with local aborigines and by 1790 a “punitive” expedition had been sent out from the Sydney Cove in order to avenge the deaths of a number of convicts. Setting a pattern for many future engagements, the aborigines chose to retreat in the face of European expansion on this occasion. In this context it is interesting to note the close and friendly relationship that was forged between Phillip and local aboriginal, Woollarawarre Bennelong. Despite being kidnapped by the British in November 1788, Bennelong would become a trusted friend of the commander of the settlement for years until Phillip was replaced by marine commander Major Robert Ross.
Sydney Cove was a bustling small community in the earliest days of settlement as convicts, guards and officers took on roles fitted to building a township in a harsh environment. Food, shelter and relationships with the aborigines were driving pressures which shaped the community’s growth. Despite having supplies for two years, now Governor, Phillip soon ordered farmland to be cleared as starvation became a pressing concern. By 1789, avoiding the poor soils of Sydney Cove, more fertile land to the west was developed. This new settlement at Rose Hill became the first farming successful agricultural area of the new colony. Throughout the settlement, tents were soon replaced by slab huts and these in time were converted into more permanent buildings of clay and sandstone.
As the colony grew over years to come, it was the convicts who provided the majority of the labour required to build and farm. This was crucial as most convicts would live in the settlement for at least 5 years. Depending on their suitability to the tasks required, convicts and emancipated convicts took on roles which built the community. Deep social divisions were created in the colony as some convicts were given small plots of land to farm while still serving their sentences. Due to shortages of suitable other workers, other convicts even acted as police under the supervision of their guards. Some convicts, such as architect Francis Greenway, even took upon professional duties within the settlement. In time freed – emancipated – convicts would occupy numerous positions of authority throughout the colony. These settlers in particular would face hostility from those who considered themselves their betters.
All convicts throughout the colony were subject to the most rudimentary and crude forms of punishment. Magistrates such as chaplain Samuel Marsden, supported by military guards and officers, were known for their cruelty throughout the 1790s. violence was one defining feature of life during this time. After the departure of most of the Royal Marine guards in 1790 society became even more violent as day to day guard duties fell to the ill-disciplined and brutal New South Wales (“Rum”) Corps – a regiment of the British army formed specifically to act as prison guards for the colony. While in the early days of the colony, the governor was officially solely responsible for law and order and when required authorized the harshest of consequences for crimes, many crimes and offences were dealt with summarily on the spot by guards who themselves were at times little better than the criminals they guarded.
By 1810 it was clear that the colony in Sydney had grown beyond merely a prison. In the era after 1810, more humanitarian policies towards ex-convicts were instituted and some attempts were made to build positive relationships with the aboriginal peoples who the British settlers met. Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s policies between was perhaps most significant among these. Between 1810 and 1821, Macquarie, an experienced soldier and colonial administrator, established and named numerous towns and settlements throughout the Sydney area including Liverpool, Richmond and Windsor. Further, Macquarie brought a new zeal to public works in the colony and firmly established a bank, market-place, hospital and roads network. Encouraged by advocates of emigration (such as Caroline Chisholm during the 1830s), free settlers would continue to flow into all areas of the colony after 1815.
Lachlan Macquarie, showing a concern for aboriginal welfare no governor before him had, established a school and farm for aborigines of the areas and even attempts to create a system of honoring and recognizing their assistance to the settlers. Perhaps understandably, these attempts were met with hostility by many of the aborigines. Samuel Marsden, based in Parramatta at this time, was said to have despaired at the “ungrateful” attitude he discerned in aborigines at the time. Relationships between British settlers and aborigines would continue to deteriorate over the years of Macquarie’s governorship. In 1816, Macquarie organized a military campaign to subdue the open hostility of aborigines in the region of Sydney.
As the settlement at Sydney Cove grew, the colony began to expand beyond its original boundaries. Significantly in September 1803, during the time of NSW Governor Phillip Gidley King, the first British settlement in Tasmania (then called Van Dieman’s Land) was founded. In part a response to French settlement, Risdon Cove, on the DerwentRiver just north of present day Hobart, became home to 49 settlers. These settlers included members of the NSW Corps, convicts and free settler communities of Sydney commanded by a 23 year old naval Lieutenant, John Bowen. After Bowen’s departure in 1804, the city of Hobart would be founded on orders of Lt-Governor David Collins who had based himself in Port Phillip Bay (in present day Victoria). Within a year, the settlements in Tasmania would expand yet again with a settlement on the TamarRiver in Tasmania’s north being created in 1804. In 1806, this settlement would be named Launceston. In 1835, settlers would establish further settlements in the Port Phillip Bay area that would become known as, and grow into the city of, Melbourne.
The pattern of expansion was now set. In 1823, while the colony was administered by Governor and Major-General Thomas Brisbane a exploration party was sent north to the area of MoretonBay under the command of Lieutenant John Oxley. It was this party that discovered a large river flowing into the bay. In 1824 a convict settlement was established at MoretonBay, firstly at present day Redcliffe but later moved to the site of the current botanical gardens in Brisbane. In 1829, on orders from the Colonial Office in London, Captain James Stirling established a British settlement on the western coast of Australia near present day Perth. Stirling’s free settlement, called the Swan River Colony in 1832 became officially referred to as Western Australia. The Swan River Colony became the first free settlement in Australia.
In 1836, the first free settlers to colonise South Australia established their camps at Glenelg. The township they built, Adelaide, was to become a key landing point for free immigrants to Australia and the city was to be planned around this by numerous opportunities to purchase grants of land. From 1838, the colony grew stronger as sheep from Tasmania and New South Wales were pastured on the outskirts of the settlement. Within ten years, wool, wheat, wine and silver were all produced in substantial amounts in the South Australian colony.
Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, all colonial settlements in Australia had grown in size. Not only official but also unplanned and unauthorized expansion out of settlements was constantly taking place despite official limitations being placed upon the boundaries of British settlement. Free settlers with large flocks of sheep and cattle often pushed beyond the designated legal bounds of settlement in search of rich pastures and water supplies in time becoming unofficial explorers and owners of what were once aboriginal lands. Not without reason has it been stated that from this time Australia’s prosperity “rode on the sheep’s back”. Explorers such as Edward John Eyre and Charles Sturt are recognized for their contribution in opening up Australia to settlement during this era. In time, more and more settlers would live upon and improve government lands, often illegally, outside the settlements and accumulate vast wealth as their “squat” was converted into official and legal (often leasehold) ownership during and after the late-1830s.
“Squatters” quickly became a political force in the colonial government. In 1825, after pressure from squatters rule by governor’s decree effectively ended as the New South Wales Legislative Council was established to “advise” the government in a manner similar to the parliamentary system operating in London. Soon some squatters, such as John MacArthur with his extensive land at Camden in NSW, even saw themselves as a local landed aristocracy. In the 1850s, groups of squatters even attempted to use the young parliaments of Australia to grant themselves official and hereditary titles! The divisions between rich and poor in the early colonies were to grow and as they grew so did opposition to the presence of convicts in NSW. The pressures from free settlers, such as the squatters, grew in strength until finally, in 1840, the British government suspended the transportation of convicts to the colony. In 1852, all convict transportation to eastern Australia was discontinued.
While Bennelong and others may have worked in harmony with British colonists during this period, aboriginal resistance to European colonization was widespread but often not recorded. Tribal leader Pemulwuy had led resistance to British settlement from as early as 1790 in the Parramatta and Botany Bay area while others such as Eumarrah opposed and subverted British exploration and settlement in central Tasmania. Interestingly, Lt-Governor David Collins was to note that much conflict with aborigines during this era was the result of the “misconduct” of the settlers.
When confronted by European expansion in Australia, aborigines responded in a variety of ways which they felt would best serve their interests. Initially, British settlement was greeted by curiosity and awe, As familiarity grew with the settlers however this curiosity lessened. In time, as settlers took over the land, restricted aboriginal movement, damaged or polluted sacred sites and as sources of food dwindled, aborigines became increasingly hostile. Such attitudes increased as word spread of white arrival from one clan to another across the land. At first, one approach taken by aborigines in response to European settlement was to retreat into the vast spaces of unexplored land before the arriving settlers. In many ways, to melt away from European contact into to bush land as much as possible was a logical response and tempting action to take in the knowledge that settlers were armed with more advanced weapons. On some occasions, aborigines would work alongside settlers in the hope that common ground could be established. Often this approach, such as in the case of Musquito in New South Wales during 1817, left aboriginal groups open to manipulation, betrayal and exploitation by the European settlers. As these relations soured through misunderstanding or broken trust, open violence often resulted. The use of outright resistance to European settlement was also common. Often this resistance took the form of guerrilla warfare which used “hit and run” tactics allowing aboriginal warriors to use the bush as sanctuary and to largely neutralize the European’s advantage in weaponry.
Aboriginal guerilla resistance often took the form of raids on isolated shepherd huts, attacks on livestock and buildings, destruction of settler dams and construction projects (such as fences) and from time to time larger attacks on homesteads and stations (such as at Hornet Bank, in south western Queensland). In an early report of resistance the Sydney Gazette of 1804 reported that near the Georges River in NSW aborigines raided and destroyed a significant corn crop. Over the years to come, attacks on wheat crops, flour stores, sheep flocks, and ultimately settlers increased in number. In Tasmania during the 1820s, even deliberately lit bushfires were utilized by aborigines as a means of combating permanent and established white settlements. Large scale resistance by aborigines continued throughout all areas of white settlement until well into the final decades of the 19th century.
As continues to be seen in today’s military conflicts, guerilla raids such as those carried out by aboriginal groups can be ongoing, highly effective and difficult to counter. Despite the efforts of men such as George Robinson who work to promote strong relations between Europeans and aboriginal groups, in such an environment, many settlers resorted to pre-emptive and punitive raids on aboriginal groups. These raids were often indiscriminate and savage. A fully documented example of such a raid occurred during May 1838, at Myall Creek in NSW. On this occasion, in response to the deaths of cattle at aborigine hands, a group of settlers attacked a group of aborigines known to have not been involved in attacks on animals in the area. By the end of the attack, 28 aboriginal elderly men, women and children had been brutalized, raped and “butchered”. In an action unique during the period, a white station manager, Henry Dangar, reported the attack to police and eleven white stockmen were tried for the raid. After two trials, seven men were found guilty and hung as a result the attack. (Significantly, at the end of the first trial where all stockmen were found “not guilty” by a jury, the public in the courtroom cheered when the verdict was announced.) The “frontier wars” in Australia were to be characterized by indiscriminate killing, massacre and dispossession. Some historians argue that as many as 20,000 aborigines were killed during the Australian Frontier Wars and the period remains a controversial and troubling period of time to study for many historians.
During the 1914-18 War there were an increasing number of times in which Australia’s views diverged from Britain. As the events of the Great War lay the foundations for a new Australian sense of identity, they also encouraged an increasing number of Australians to challenge the wisdom in following “unquestioningly” the decisions made by British military leaders.
At a time when Australian troops began to recognise that they were distinct from their British counterparts, there also grew a confidence in, and a respect for, those Australian leaders who were prepared to question British strategy and tactics. While under British command, the Australian Imperial Force was a distinct and separate military entity. The AIF’s actions at Gallipoli as part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps had created an embryonic sense of national identity and pride which had been absent prior to the war. After the withdrawal from Gallipoli and during the bitter years which followed on the Western Front, strong lobbying from the Australian military led to the AIF’s release from British command. In 1918, an Australian corps was to fight under an Australian commander, Sir John Monash.
By 1916, the Australian public was also beginning to question the wisdom of unquestioning following the British lead in what was increasingly becoming a war of attrition. In the early months of the war, Australia’s whole hearted support for the British war effort had been encapsulated in Andrew Fisher’s promise to support Britain to “the last man and the last shilling”. By 1916, this willingness to give all for Britain had significantly waned. Moves by Prime Minister William Morris Hughes to emulate the British government’s conscription policy in Australia became extremely divisive. While a pro-conscription lobby argued that compulsory military service would demonstrate loyalty to the Empire, the anti-conscription forces evoked a higher ideal – a desire to ensure the democratic and free choice of Australians! In two conscription referenda (1916 and 1917), moves to emulate the British model were rejected by the Australian public. The right of Australians to make up their own mind when asked to fight for Britain (and Australia) was preferred to automatic imperial loyalties to Britain.
Despite these significant moves towards an independent Australian attitude to foreign policy, Australia remained supportive of the British war effort. Australian troops continued to fight in Europe as part of a combined imperial army and Australia’s pro-conscription Prime Minister, Hughes, was returned as PM after the 1917 federal election. The door had been inched open however towards a new and independent voice in Australia’s foreign policy in time of war. It appeared that Australians were expressing a willingness to put the interests of Australia above those Britain in some situations. Britain’s interests and Australia’s interests were never to be considered synonymous again. Australia had begun to insist that its interests were considered by Britain during the war. It would not be the last time that such a voice would be heard.
At war’s end in 1918, Australia would once again act to defend what its government considered it foreign policy interests. At the negotiation of the Versailles Peace Conference, Hughes would repeatedly clash with other nations as he sought to ensure Australia’s security interests in the Pacific. As the conference progressed, an increasingly “game” Australian government repeatedly advocated its interests – even if these interests clashed with the objectives of those of Britain.
In two decades which followed, however, this independent Australian foreign policy voice would fade. Australia would once again fall into step with British foreign policy until a clear divergence took place during the darkest days of World War 2. In 1921-22, for example, Australia was only represented at the important Washington Naval Conference as part of the British delegation. For its part, Australia seemed to show little interest in developing or articulating a distinctively Australian foreign policy during this era despite the clear opportunities given to it. Perhaps the most important example of this took place when the Balfour Declaration of
1926 was legislated in Britain in the Statute of Westminster (1931). As a means realigning relationships with the “dominions” at this time, British law cemented legally the principle that dominions such as Australia were both autonomous and equal in status to the mother country Britain. The Statute would become law in each dominion when each dominion passed complementary legislation through its own parliament. It wasn’t until 1942 that Australia would choose to pass such legislation.
Despite some isolated divergences, Australia’s foreign policy remained “in tune with Britain” until 1941. Australia supported Britain’s policy of appeasement of the Nazis and its actions in the League of Nations without question until her interests were directed challenged by the threat of Japanese invasion in World War 2.
According to Australian historian K.J. Mason, the major question involving Prime Minister William Morris Hughes at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was the issue of Germany’s colony in New Guinea and other nearby possessions in the Pacific. Supporting his assertions with reference to primary source documents of the time, he emphasises the importance of Hughes’ belief that Australia should “annex” northern and eastern New Guinea to “ensure the future security of Australia. It was a belief shared by many” (Mason, 1985, p. 174). On this issue, the Australian government, led by “The Little Digger”, was to get its way. After the war, New Guinea became an Australian mandated C-class territory. At the conference, Australia, under Billy Hughes, had vigorously pushed for what it considered to be its own vital national security interests. Mason notes the way in which Hughes clashed repeatedly with those nations who challenged this expression of Australian “self-interest” in Foreign Policy. When the White Australia Policy was challenged by the USA and Japan at the conference as a treaty was drafted Australia was steadfast. No treaty would be signed by Australia which included a “racial equality clause”. As Britain remained silent on this issue, Hughes felt confident in pursuing and safeguarding those objectives which he believed to be in the best interests of Australia. Such a view reflects, and is representative of, many historians who have studied this period of Australian foreign policy.
This embryonic Australian independence of Foreign Policy would fade into the background of politics in the inter-war period. When Stanley Bruce replaced Hughes as Prime Minister in 1923, Australia’s international outlook would be shaped, once again, by a man who had “a deep respect for and confidence in the British system” of foreign policy. “Australia was once again prepared to allow Great Britain to direct the pattern of her international policy” (Mason, 1985, p.177). At a time where other Dominions (notably Canada and South Africa) were developing a more confident independent view of the world, Australia continued to follow a British lead. Throughout the 1920s, at a series of Imperial Conferences, a new relationship between Britain and her Dominions was forged. At one such conference in 1926, the Balfour Declaration, emphasised equality in legal standing between the “mother country” and her Dominions. It was agreed by all the Dominions that the all nations represented (including Australia) were “independent communities equal in status and united by a common allegiance to the Crown”. This was the birth of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Five years later, in 1931, the Statute of Westminster legislated this understanding. The British Parliament, through this act, “gave up all powers over the Dominions”. Mason highlights the dependency of Australian foreign policy at this time by making comparisons to Canadian, South African and Irish policy at the time. As these nations eagerly embraced the newfound independence, mason points out that “it was not until 1942 that the Australian parliament finally ratified (formally accepted) the Statute of Westminster” (Mason, 1985, p.177).
Mason sees the 1920s as a period bereft of “independent or effective foreign policy” in Australia (1985, p.181). He clearly points out that Australia at that time was “content to follow the British lead” and to reflect British international priorities and objectives. He argues that not until 1937 was any sense of Australian foreign policy divergence identifiable. Australians, he believed, “adopted an almost negative attitude to world affairs” (1985, p.181). When Japan invaded the provinces of northern China in 1931, Mason points out that Australia was unable and unwilling to follow anything other than the British view expressed in the League of Nations. “Australia’s voice was inexperienced and ineffective. Australia condemned the Japanese invasion and then, like the rest of the world, did nothing” (Mason, 1985, pp.177-178). When Italy invaded Abyssinia in 1935, Australia did little more. Supporting a British lead, however, on this occasion, Australia imposed some punitive sanctions on Italy. Following a British lead, these sanctions were lifted in 1936.
1937, according to Mason, became a significant year in Australian foreign policy as the government “took a rare initiative in foreign policy” (1985, p.178). Such a view is representative of the position taken by other historians such as MacIntyre (1995), Hoepper (1991) and Cowie (1989). Acknowledging the danger Japan posed to Australian security when its army pushed south into China, Mason points out that Australia (under Prime Minister Joseph Lyons) proposed a non-aggression pact for the nations of the Pacific. Lyons, with the support of the British government, began a series of meetings in London with representatives from Japan, Russia, the USA and China. Despite his efforts, the pact was never concluded. Mason surmises:
For the Far East, and for China and Japan in particular, the idea of non-aggression had come too late. But the proposal for such an alliance was the first real expression of an independent Australian foreign policy. (1985, p.178)
From 1937, the Australian government supported the now discredited British policy of appeasement towards Hitler. In 1938, both the conservative United Australia Party (UAP) government and the Australian Labour Party opposition supported the British government’s settlement with Hitler over Czechoslovakia. In 1939, the Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies (who succeeded the leadership after the death of Lyons), in step with the British government, would finally accept the failure of appeasement and declare war on Germany in full accordance with Britain’s views. “There was never any doubt as to where Great Britain stood, and neither is there any doubt where Great Britain stands there stands the people of the entire British world” (Menzies in Mason, 1985, p.179). Clearly in the eyes of Menzies (and Mason), Australia was, in 1939, still very much a part of the British world.
Mason, K.J. (1985) Experience of Nationhood: Australia and the World Since 1900, McGraw Hill: Sydney.
During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the way in which kingdoms of western Europe (and their associated territories and colonies) were organised and ruled became increasing challenged by those who wanted a share in government. Throughout this period, the medieval structures of feudalism that were in place in many kingdoms gradually gave way to what are to us more recognisable as elements of modern government. In many of these kingdoms, the political revolutions that took place were accompanied by the rise in political and economic power of a new group in society who had hitherto been excluded from a true stake in government – the Middle Class (or bourgeoisie). This new educated and investing class would ultimately rise to replace the royal families and aristocracy of Europe as the true decision makers in government and the holders of economic and political power.
It was in the mid-1600s that Britain (after a violent Revolution and English Civil War lasting some 9 years) created the form of parliamentary system that was later adapted by Australia. In the 1700s, writers of the Enlightenment (sometimes referred to as Philosophes) began to promote similar democratic reforms in Europe. These writers often promoted ideologies that challenged the centralised Kingdoms or feudal systems of Western Europe. In 1775, the British colonists in what would become the United States of America embraced these Enlightenment ideals for government when they rebelled against British rule during the American Revolution. When their War of Independence was won in 1783, they had created the world’s first modern democracy. It embodied many of the liberal principles of the Philosophes. In 1789, the French Revolution began. Also proclaiming liberal values, the revolutionary leaders of France were (in part) reacting to the largely autocratic system created by French kings of the Ancien Regime – a modified form of feudalism.
In Europe, in the years after the fall of Napoleon (1815), there was a period in which it seemed that many of the conservative forces of politics had triumphed over the challenges of liberals after all. In France, Prussia, Austria-Hungary and Russia despotic and autocratic rulers seemed to have once again taken control of government. In Britain, wealthy capitalists seemed to have formed a new (informal and unwritten) alliance with the aristocracy to benefit from the economic and social changes of the Agrarian and industrial Revolutions. In this period, as Britain’s social order began to be transformed by industrialisation, ideological challenges continued to arise. In this period, the British establishment began to fear, not only liberal challenges (such as Chartism) but a new “socialist” ideology taking shape in the minds of social progressives. Likewise, in mainland Europe, despite efforts by despotic government to supress the forces for societal change, liberalism continued to be a radical force for change in society.
In 1848, the Year of Revolutions, liberal revolutions and uprisings rocked governments across Europe. While the revolutionaries of 1848 were largely unsuccessful, western European societies were on the cusp of a new era in which liberal and nationalist values would become the mainstream and the social order would be forever changed. Perhaps symbolic of the transformative social forces about to be unleased on Europe, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1948 published their influential Communist Manifesto in Britain. In this text they warned of an age of change to come despite the efforts of those conservative forces in power: “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies” and called upon the “workers of the world” to unite in their efforts to take power from their “class enemies”. After 1848, liberalism was joined by a new and galvanised revolutionary ideology in Europe, the ideology of socialism. Marxism became the most potent form of socialism to emerge at this time.
By 1880, it seemed that the forces of liberalism and nationalism had transformed the western world. In Britain and the United States, liberal capitalism had become the dominant ideology. France had become a liberal republic, and in the newly formed Italy and Germany new forms of government had reshaped and reorganised society. In 1900, of the great powers, only Tsarist Russia had seemed immune to the forces of change. At the turn of the 20th century, Russia remained under the control of a feudal and despotic leader. Its society had retained a social structure more typical of an earlier age. All of this would change in 1917. A revolution in Russia would bring into being the world’s first Marxist state and begin a radical social experiment which would be central to world affairs until the end of the 20th century.
One of the significant historical debates in Australia concerns the reasons why Australia entered into a conflict in Vietnam. This debate has links to the historiography of the Cold War itself. When considering Australia’s reasons for entering a war in Vietnam alongside the USA during the 1960s, it’s necessary to consider a variety of perspectives.
Broadly speaking, when considering reasons for Australia’s entry into the Vietnam War, historians have pointed to a number of inter-related factors. These factors include:
A historical undercurrent of fear within Australia of Asia
- Deep roots to Australian fears of Asia and Asians are found in Australian history. Fears of China / Chinese were common throughout the 19th century while these were (to some extent) replaced by fears of Japan during the early decades of the 20th century. It is easy to draw links between these fears and an Australian xenophobia and racism.
- The Japanese threat to Australia during World War 2 and later the rise of Chinese Communism in 1949 would seem to give substance to these fears in the minds of many Australians.
- This fear during the 1950s and 1960s was coupled with a fear of Communist expansion as expressed by Orthodox historians of the Cold War (who pointed to the Korean War as an example of the threat of Asian communism).
- A fear of Asian Communism proved a particular concern to some in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. This concern was often exploited for political purposes in the 1950s and 1960s in Australia.
A desire within Australia to demonstrate Australia’s support for a nation that had the ability act as a “great and powerful friend” should Australia’s security be threatened.
- Traditionally, Australia had looked with confidence to the protection offered by our relationship with Britain. Until 1941-2, Australians had felt secure in the belief that, should Australia ever face the threat of attack or invasion by a nation in Asia, the power of the British Empire (in particular, its navy) would be there to defend and protect Australia.
- Some historians suggest that during the period prior to 1941-2, successive Australian governments had sent Australian troops into overseas conflicts as a way of demonstrating Australia’s continuing loyalty to Britain in the hope that this loyalty would be reciprocated by Britain should Australian security ever be under threat. In a sense Australia’s commitment of forces in the cause of Britain was seen as “paying dues” for an Australian national “insurance policy”.
- In World War 2, Australian belief in Britain’s ability/desire to protect Australia was shaken as the Japanese swept aside British military power in the region to Australia’s near north.
- In 1941-2, Australia’s relationship with the USA grew much closer and the US replaced Britain as a “great and powerful” protector and military ally against the Japanese. Some historians suggest that to Australian governments, the USA had simply replaced Britain as a “protector” and that the “insurance policy” had been transferred to a new protector to whom new dues would need to be paid.
- This relationship continued into the post-war period and was formalised with the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951 (during the Korean War and within the context of the Cold War.
- The “insurance policy” perspective on Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War is used by many historians and revisionists use it as a way of criticising governments for their perceived lack of independence in Australian foreign policy. It is sometimes suggested that Australia was led “blindly” into the Vietnam War by those who emphasised closeness to the USA with little consideration of the possible costs involved.
Australia’s involvement in Cold War alliances with the USA.
- Growing out of the above points, Australia had entered into two significant alliances with the USA during the Cold War era.
- Both alliances, to a greater or lesser extent, were linked to America’s policy of containing communist expansion as expressed in the Truman and Kennedy Doctrines.Many Australians were also gravely concerned by the Domino Theory (first expressed by US President Eisenhower in 1954) which suggested that a chain reaction of communist expansion may take place in South East Asia unless communist nations were “contained”.
- The two alliances effecting Australia often linked to US containment policies are: (1) The ANZUS Pact/Treaty (between Australia, New Zealand and the United States) signed in 1951. (2) SEATO. (The South East Asian Treaty Organisation, created as an instrument of containment, and signed in 1954. The organisation listed both Australia and the USA as members – alongside other nations – and, significantly, granted protection to the Republic of South Vietnam.)