A THOUGHT ON AUSTRALIA WITHOUT OTHERS (for Thief)
Recently, a follower of mine here suggested to me that I write a thesis or piece on what would have happened to the Aboriginal people had the British not colonised. Unlike science, where you can mix one chemical with another and observe the reaction, with history, you can only rewind to that point and suggest what might have happened had things continued as they were from that point in time.
For all the talk about Muslim migration, Muslims have been in Australia longer than Christians. Before you laugh, it’s true. Some of the Indigenous Australians traded in sea cucumbers with the Makassans of Indonesia and some of them went across there and inter-married with the Makassans and converted to Islam. The Indigenous Australians had cordial relations with the Makassans.
Another fact that may have escaped some is that before the British arrived, Dutch explorers such as Dirk Hartog, Wilhelm Jansz and Torrens, visited what is now Western Australia and Dirk Hartog described it as a “wild country with hostile natives.” Abel Tasman visited what is now Tasmania, in 1649, and named it Van Diemen’s Land, after Anthony Van Diemen, the Governor of Batavia (now Java) and named the island after him. It was the British colonisers who changed the name to Tasmania. The Dutch had named the country New Holland.
Captain Cook arrived at Botany Bay in 1770 and he chartered the East Coast, naming it New South Wales (New, new country, South, southern hemisphere, Wales, after Wales). Victoria became independent and Queensland did in 1859.
Some right-wingers have said that Captain Cook was a Quaker and he admired the ways of the Aborigines. Those two points may be correct, but not every settler or Governor, shared Cook’s beliefs. Lachlan Macquarie, for instance, while he believed that ex-convicts should be permitted to return to their former social status, a belief that landed him offside with the Exclusives, three of whom were Jeffery Bent (a magistrate), Samuel Marsden (the chaplain) and John Macarthur (a Merino sheep farmer, and a wealthy one at that), he did not believe that Aborigines and Europeans should live in harmony. In fact, numerous massacres occurred under his watch.
It has been suggested that China would have been “in like Flynn,” and that the Japanese would have been terrible in the Second World War, but let’s rewind. In 1793, the Emperor of China sent King George the Third a letter saying that China had no desire to trade with Britain or any other European country. Granted, that was the year King Louis 16th and Marie Antoinette were beheaded, and France didn’t really exist as a unified nation then. Had the British not pushed China to open her doors (it engaged in two Opium Wars, the first of which ceded Hong Kong to Britain and forced China to open five more ports) it is possible that China would have had no interest in anything outside its borders.
The first Chinese to arrive in Australia was in 1818, and the first wave of Chinese arrivals were in the 1850s, after news reached China that gold had been discovered at Bathurst. One of the things that caused consternation among the British was that most of the arrivals were male and this gave rise to two beliefs. One, that the Chinese were just sojourners who were here for a bit and then to return home, and two, fears that they would interact with the local women. Australia was a very racist country and the thought of the Chinese intermarrying with the women horrified the racists. There were, however, mixed race couples, with Chinese men who married or cohabited with European (mainly Irish) women and Aboriginal women. Olympic Athlete Cathy Freeman, didn’t know until she went on Who Do You Think You Are? that her great-great-grandfather was Chinese, having come over to work on the cane fields, in Mackay, in 1886. And numerous Australians are only now discovering that they have Chinese ancestry.
As for the Japanese, Japan had a policy of isolation, until 1853, when the Black Ships arrived in Yokohama Bay. Yes, some left Japan, earlier, with the Red Seal Ships, but the only trade the Japanese had with the Europeans was at Nagasaki, with the Dutch. Much of Japan’s expansion, particularly the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, and then in World War Two, was about Japan wanting to emulate the Western Powers and have an empire.
One question that remains is, the Japanese invaded Myanmar (then Burma) for tin, Malaya for rubber to ensure supply of resources for themselves. Had Japan continued its policy of isolation, I doubt that they would have had that, and, even if the Japanese had have invaded those countries, I am uncertain that they would have wanted to invade Australia from the north as an amphibious landing would have been impossible through crocodile infested mangroves. The European expansion was mainly from the South.
And let us not forget that Australia had a trade relationship with Japan between 1929 and 1936, when it invoked the Ottawa Agreement on Tariffs, thus putting tariffs on goods from outside the British Commonwealth. So, yes, Japan knew about resources, but the goal of the Japanese, in taking some of New Guinea, was not to invade Australia, but to isolate it from the north.
Do I think that the Aboriginal Australians should be grateful to the colonisers? Well, no. I personally believe that the British should have left the land alone. Yes, it is true that many Australians who are a mixture of Aboriginal and European or Aboriginal and Chinese or even all three would not be here if there had not been colonisation. I do, however, think it’s sad that Cathy Freeman didn’t know her great-great-grandfather was Chinese until adulthood. That is, unless, of course, he was a bad man. We can’t change the past, I realise.