The unknown country

By Lorenzo

Which country is this?

  • First nation in modern history to secure full unification without killing anyone.
  • First major nation to have achieved independence and sovereignty without killing anyone.
  • First nation in modern history to appoint a Jew as commander of its armed forces,
  • Never had any form of slavery or serfdom.

The answer is below the cut.

The answer is, of course, Australia. The list of attributes is taken from historian Claudio Veliz’s article “The Infamous Omissions from Australian History” in the October 2013 issue of Quadrant. The burden of his comment is that the Australian achievement tends to be talked down, particularly in academic and “progressive” circles. This despite Australia is also the first English-speaking country to have a Labour PM, a pioneer in modern democratic governance, in unionism and in such things as the eight hour day.

Nor is this the case of being a country with a great future behind us, as folk say of Argentina. (Though that is not as cruelly dismissive as Henry Kissinger’s description of Argentina as “a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica”.) Creduit Suisse recently released a report that Australians have the highest level of median wealth in the world. Though partly an artifact of exchange rates, what is not such an artifact is that Australia has one of the most even distributions of wealth among developed nations. Nor that income growth in the bottom decile has continued to be comparatively high. Lack of any recession since 1991 and persistently low unemployment helped with that, of course.

The reality is that Australia is a remarkably successful country and has been for a long time. It has had its failures (don’t get me started on land use regulation and what is laughably called “town planning”) and less successful periods. But even a less successful period in Australian history would be a wonderful change for many other countries.

It is worth pausing occasionally and remembering. After all, if we do not acknowledge genuine success, how do we get any idea about how actually to improve the human lot?




  1. Patrick
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    As much as I’m not a fan, don’t forget Tasmania Dams, nor (since I am a fan!) our relative lack of deficits and relatively high growth for years on end.

  2. Posted October 23, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    “Never had any form of slavery or serfdom.”


  3. Zoe Brain
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Not just convicts – “blackbirding”.

  4. william wallace
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    Australians having a good sense of humour
    as your having now proved beyond all doubt.

  5. Carlos
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    It seems to me there were quite a lot of people killed, an extermination policy actually, but I guess as they weren’t european they don’t count.

  6. John McRobert
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Time to challenge the myth of native title. The tribes of Australia, like the tribes of Europe and every other country, fought and continue to fight to the death for ownership of territory. Only the weapons have changed. Now they use lawyers and weapons of mass destruction. You can only own what you can defend. If we hadn’t defended this country against a determined invasion attempt in WW II, all previous title would have been extinguished. Read Cape York – the Savage Frontier to better understand the nonsensical concept of Traditional Ownership.

  7. Christopher Davis
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Creduit Suisse might want to review that report in July 2014 now that economic vandal Joe Hockey has finished counting the bottom line with his fingers and toes. We are in for an increase in taxes from a treasurer bent on raiding the piggy bank.

    No slaves or serfdoms? In addition to convicts. According to my Australian South Sea Islander families, our ancestors were kidnapped and sold into forced labour to prop up north eastern seaboard economies.

  8. Chris
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    “Never had any form of slavery or serfdom.”

  9. Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Tasmania Dams is surely the sort of public policy tussle that happens in quite a lot of democracies.

    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] Indentured labour is not the same thing as slavery — which reduces people to property — or serfdom — which binds people to the land, usually for life, and is, moreover, a hereditary condition. The indentured labour to Queensland was, in fact, highly regulated. I was using the terms slavery or serfdom very specifically. As the descendant of convicts, I am aware of the existence of indentured labour.

    [email protected] Such massacres as took place were nothing to do with Federation. If you are going to sneer, try and sneer intelligently.

  10. Christopher Davis
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Native Title was never a myth. Not to us, never was. It is now legal fact that this form of land ownership is valid, established by the highest court in Australia.

  11. william wallace
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    The human form is made up from dirt and water ( mosty water ) the spirit the spark of life / that sustaining life is the essence of creation thus one needs
    to seperate the two in understanding.

    The body returning to being dirt as water
    no matter in which country you live / as it
    comes from dirt and water no matter in which country a individual born / there being no differ in where one living the
    dirt water is not the property of one it
    being universal one’s body is needed
    transport while in the material realm.

    The ultimate aim of life is in knowing
    the creator such be the purpose of creation of one given a human form
    with a brain that be capable of great
    understanding as experience unto
    one then knowing creator / via very
    practical experience in granting an
    clarity of understanding of creation.

    I will write a further comment soon
    as to how one achieve the greater understanding experience of life…

    Life brings the changing stages of understanding as experience……
    in truth there no seperation betwixt people were one family one nation
    on a journey unto knowing creator
    unto one’s knowing their true self.

  12. Paul Norton
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Australian high school students increasingly prefer to study revolutions in their senior history courses (where they have the choice to study any two of the American, French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions) rather than Australian history. My first year university politics students, when given a first essay topic that allowed them great freedom in what to write about, submitted lots of essays that mentioned Hitler and Stalin and virtually none that mentioned figures from Australian politics and history. There is something to think about here.

  13. Christopher Davis
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo. You offer a western legal definition of slavery but some of my mob view it differently given the means by which indentured labour came about.

  14. Stuart
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I find it interesting that so many people seem to have actually taken the time to think about Lorenzo’s post. I’m not sure about indentured labour (was that still occuring after federation) but Lorenzo’s post was about the forming of the Nation of Australia. Convicts were no longer transported well before federation. Certainly there are a whole series of events that we should not be proud of in our history but Lorenzo was talking about the formation of the nation. Even though aboriginal australians continued to be displaced and mistreated after federation that is an issue that, while shameful, is separate from the formation of the nation.

  15. Stuart
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Also while we a talking about native australians….

    The treatment of the inhabitants of australia at the time of colonisation is shameful but that was the ways things were done. I could go on and on about the crimes of the english against my ancestors but what would be the point. It won’t change anything for the better.

    What is important now, today, is how we treat each other. There is no way to make up for the evils of the past we must move past them and focus on things that can be changed. Such as the disparity between educational and health outcomes between the average australian population and those of aboriginal decent. Or anything else that is useful, beneficial or produtive.

  16. Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    ‘town planning’ — don’t forget that the National Capital is the most successful example of a completely planned city in human history — and it’s still planning for its future a hundred years after it began.

  17. derrida derider
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    “Never had any form of slavery or serfdom”

    True, but the Kanaka “indentured labour” practices of the Queensland canefields came perilously close. The knowledge that everyone else regarded it as slavery and would immediately ban it after Federation (as happened) caused Qld to be very reluctant to join.

  18. Posted October 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] The older bits of Canberra are comparatively well planned, but there have been persistent issues. One is presumed to drive, for example. Canberra was planned by middle income, middle class folk with kids and it is great for such people. Less so for others, including their kids.

    I will admit, however, that my experience of Canberra is part of what makes me so down on what passes for “urban” “planning” in outer suburban Melbourne.

    [email protected] Fair point. Indeed, Geoffrey Blainey wrote an short alternative history where Queensland refused to join the Commonwealth for that reason.

  19. Stuart
    Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t DD’s post prove your point Lorenzo? Since the practice was banned soon/immediately after federation.

  20. Nigel Davies
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    As Stuart 14 says this post is about perceptions of Australian Federation and nation, not about the many flaws of the original half dozen mismatched colonies that eventually federated.

    (For those who want to maon about pre-federation, the discussion would be more intersting if New Zealand had joined the federation, and the actual wars and treaties with Maori’s could be compared with Australia, which just experienced the normal squabbles when farmers arrive in nomadic territories – which have always ened the same way for nomads on every continent… King Canute style outrage regardless.)

    The underlying issue Lorenzo is raising is the relentless self flagelation in the new national history sylabus for students, and its being so negative about Australia, its founders, its Judeo-Christian heritage and legal system, its work towards equality and multicultaralism etc.

    If you want to see what an educational approach like this leads to, go to youtube and find the recent clip of Russell Brand explaining his unformed but passionately held anarchism, which is a confused and rather pathetic amalgam of misunderstood Marxism and unrecognised Fascism.

    This conveys the ignorance and outraged attitude amongst our future citizens that the current Australian history curriculum appears to be aiming for.

    Fortunately many of the brighter students I have dealt with automatically assume that if the teachers want you to believe it, it must be highly suspicious.

    Thank God for a bit of well placed cynicism.

  21. conrad
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    “There is something to think about here.”

    Yes, it’s that Australia has a very boring history compared to many places. That is usually a very good thing.

  22. Kim Jackson
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    The Queensland labor trade lasted for about 40 years (1870-1910). Each year labor recruiters would sail to the islands of Melanesia (PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu) and sign up labourers to work on Qld plantations for two years for an agreed level of pay. It was a “rite of passage” for young men from heavily-populated islands like Malaita (Solomons) providing them with the opportunity to earn goods that would enable them to marry. There were certainly instances of kidnapping in the early years, but these were isolated. Melanesians are not stupid – they do not paddle out to ships to be “enslaved” for 40 years!

  23. william wallace
    Posted October 27, 2013 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    The solution for all people’s of the world
    living in peace is not a problem what be
    the problem is a acceptance of solution
    and such a acceptance put into practice.

    (On such I’ll add a few words in ending).

    The final stage in human development
    is via meditation in turning the senses
    inward / doing one has a very practical experience of creator /such experience
    granting one a clarity in understanding
    unto creation /as of the human journey
    in knowing creator in knowing true self.

    Through the history of humanity there (always) a “Teacher of Teachers” the
    Teacher of Teachers is aid & guide to
    those where reaching a stage where
    meditation a need in one’s furthering
    development understanding creation.

    At present the “Teacher of Teachers”
    is Prem Rawat /Prem has dedicated
    his life to guide aid those reaching a
    stage meditation required / bringing greater understanding & experience.

    On PC search put (words of peace)
    or (words of peace global) on site a
    selection of videos in which Prem explains meditation / as open invite
    he wiill aid guide all whom having
    reached the stage that meditation
    be required in the greater learning.

    The practical experience of creator
    bringing a clarity of understanding
    not ideas beliefs but one knowing
    having an clarity of understanding.

    If I may end in returning to my first
    words / the problems not solution
    the means of solution being clear
    the problem be one’s acceptance
    of solution as practice of solution.

    Why should such be difficult ????
    the reason be changing the focus
    from the material needs practice
    the material realm became one’s
    reality / the senses fully turned to
    the material // where one seeing
    the human form as one’s reality.

    The human form but transport for
    the human soul as spirit ( I don’t
    wish venture into the differ betwixt
    soul spirit as I don’t wish venture
    to understanding that comes with
    time as experience / but rather to
    remain in basic understanding…
    thus solution for peace for every
    human being but (meditation) in
    one turning the senses inward..
    doing such experience bringing
    a clarity of understanding where
    all one’s questions / answered.

  24. Posted October 27, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    [email protected] That does make more sense than that it was all just near slavery. Of course, folk did sell themselves into slavery, but that was either a mixture of desperation (the only way to pay off debts) or a way to get Roman citizenship. But a limited-span indentureship to earn the goods to marry is, indeed, hardly slavery. Or even serfdom.

  25. Posted October 28, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    It wasn’t only in Queensland. I have just been reading some reminiscences ( by my great-great-uncle concerning the “indenturing” of natives in the north west for pearling in the 1880s and 1890s. He says quite frankly that they were taken before a magistrate or JP to sign a piece of paper which they couldn’t possibly understand, and that they were merely given their food. To make sure they didn’t run away, they were left on offshore islands (where he says there was plenty of water and food, meaning, I think, food they could catch) from which they persisted in attempting to swim to the mainland (surely not all of them survived this, and nor can the pearling have been entirely safe). They were cheaper than the Malays which were the other alternative.

    He says that nobody interfered so long as they were treated fairly but it doesn’t seem his notion of fairness would accord with ours.

    I don’t think it is much of an argument to say “ah!” I’m only talking about Australia as it come into being at Federation and about its history since then. After all, if you limited US history or many other countries’ histories to the period from 1901 on Australia would surely not seem so exceptional. Or you could make your comparator England since 1688 say, or at the latest, 1745.

  26. Posted November 1, 2013 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it is much of an argument to say “ah!” I’m only talking about Australia as it come into being at Federation and about its history since then.

    It is if the statement is “First nation in modern history to secure full unification without killing anyone. …” etc.

    Settlement was obviously a different process.

    The pearling industry was also behind the worst race riots in Oz history, as Japanese pearlers attacked Timorese pearlers in Broome in 1920. The industry has a clearly has somewhat dramatic history.

  27. derrida derider
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    The very definition of slavery is that the slave/employee is not free to leave their owner/employer, and the owner/employer can buy and sell them – that is, they are property. Both features marked Qld practice so it was indeed slavery.

    Your argument, Kim Jackson, is reminiscent of those apologists for apartheid in my youth who cited the fact that people came from neighbouring countries to work in South Africa as proof that black workers were not oppressed.

  28. Posted November 2, 2013 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    [email protected]

    Both features marked Qld practice so it was indeed slavery.

    Reference? As I understand the history, the French and Chilean navies repressed the original trade Westwards, so there was a shift towards Queensland and the trade was then fairly quickly and heavily regulated.

  29. Posted November 2, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Especially as Somersett’s Case (1772) had long since established that common law did not recognise slavery, so specific statute law was required to establish it in any British jurisdiction. Now, it is certainly possible to have illegal slavery, but normally as a shadow/black market activity.

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