Australian politics in 1912


Feb 14, 2011
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I really fell in love with Australia after living in Melbourne for 5 months- and I developed a keen interest in its history- What was the state of Australian politics in 1912?
Was it still regarded as a penal colony? I assume there was greater British control of OZ in 1912 than today....Were the cities Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Pearth large, or very small communities in 1912? How does history look at OZ's 1912 pm?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Was it still regarded as a penal colony?<<

I doubt it very much. By this time, Australia was well established enough to have it's own government and even it's own military. Penal colonies aren't permitted that sort of thing. Beyond that, Dave Gittins or Inger Shiel could probably tell you a lot more then I could.
 
S

sashka pozzetti

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I think Sydney and Melbourne were both large cities in 1912, and Brisbane slightly less so with a much smaller centre, but large suburban areas joined together.
 

Dave Gittins

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Transportation stopped on 9 January 1868, though it had been winding down for many years before that. Australia wasn't seen as a penal colony, though to this day the Poms call us convicts when they want to annoy us.

By 1912 Australia was an independent nation, though some ties with England remained. For instance, the highest court of appeal was the British Privy Council. The last formal tie disappeared in, I think, 1986.

Australians were enthusiastic patriots, but also regarded themselves as a proud part of the British Empire, as well they might, since we had strong trade and defence ties with Britain. Some would say we were were a branch office of Britain. We received British honours and it was the custom for the Governor-General, who represented the monarch, to be English. We were mostly of British ancestry.

Australia in 1912 was strongly influenced by the socialist Australian Labor Party, which had been in power for much of the first years of the 20th century. We were beginning to think of the country as a real workers' paradise. There was strong support for the "white Australia policy" under which coloured migrants were mostly excluded. They were regarded as threats to jobs.

One thing I noticed while researching is the politicians of the time seem to have been pretty slack. I looked up the records to find parliament's reaction to the Titanic disaster. There was none! Parliament hadn't sat for months.

Good old Oz, land of the long weekend!
 

Inger Sheil

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Convict transportation to Australia ceased in 1867 with the ceasation of transportation to the colony of Western Australia. Already by then Australia was being seen as a destination for free settlers, and Melbourne was in 1837 (or 1835, when John Batman arrived in Port Philip) founded by settlers rather than convicts and their guards and administrators. Although to this day Australians find occasional derogatory references are made to our nation's convict past when we ping pong around the world, by the second half of the 19th century Australia was seen as a land where talent and enterprise could secure a good living - this theme runs through much British literature of the time, and we see it in Dickens' works for example. He uses it as a device to give characters a way out - it was a place where your slate could be wiped clean and a new start was possible.

After a series of conferences, conventions and referendums throughout the 1890s, the First Commonwealth Parliament of Australia was opened in 1901. Much of Australia still looked to Britain as the "Mother Country", however, and appeal to the Privy Council wasn't abolished until 1986. In 1914, Australia would not hesitate to follow Britain into war with Germany and its allies. There was also, however, a strong Irish-Australian contingent, as well as immigrants like my Swedish great-grandfather, other Europeans, and groups such as the Chinese who had come out for the Goldrushes, many of whom remained.

Debates over free trade vs protectionism dominated much of Australia's political scene for the first decade of the Commonwealth's existence. There was also a strong nationalist sentiment, expressed by publications like The Bulletin, that fostered the "Australia for the Australians" idea - i.e. the exclusion of immigrants of non-Anglo-Celtic background. Legislation to limit immigration had been passed in 1902, and would in time evolve into the "White Australia" policy. It was still a melting pot, though - from Russian Jews seeking to escape pogroms to Irish immigrants like those in my family who sought to escape poverty at home.

Labour had organised following the 1891 strikes into the Australian Labor Party, and this was emerging as a dominant political force in addition to the old Free Trade/Protectionist parties. The Labor Party itself was factionally split along the predominantly Irish-Catholic right faction and the more strongly socialist left faction. The first Labor government was formed in 1904, and in 1912 Andrew Fisher and the Australian Labor Party were in Federal government. Interesting to note also that by 1912 women in most Australian states had the right to vote (Australian Aboriginals were not so fortunate).

Sydney, Melbourne and Perth were all well established by 1912 - the first two had well established Universities, for example, and Perth University was established in 1912. Flush with goldrush money in the 19th Century, they had impressive public buildings, established public art collections, and transport systems and infrastructure. James Moody, writing in the early 1900s, described visiting sites such as St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, and he would also have seen impressive government and trade buildings around Circular Quay. Our national capital, Canberra, had yet to move beyond the planning stages, however - the site (between rival cities Sydney and Melbourne) was not selected until 1908, and the foundation stone on Capital Hill was not laid until 1913.

Australia was producing significant scientists and explorers - not only did Aussies join both the Scott and Shackleton expeditions, in 1911 an Australian, Mawson, had launched his own Polar expedition (born in England, his family emigrated to Oz when he was 2 yrs old). Poets, artists - even what was arguably the first, or one of the first, feature length films had been produced in Australia.

Following the visit of the American Great White Fleet in 1908(an anniversary we're preparing to commemorate down here), plans for an Australian Navy were progressed to the point that the Royal Australian Navy was established in June 1911, and the first Australian warship was launched later that year.

So it was a young nation, predominantly Anglo-Celtic in origin but fuelled by international immigration, forward looking in some socio-political aspects but very much suffering from the prejudices of the age in other regards, confidently looking to an independent future but also suffering from insecurities perhaps inevitable in a comparatively small, geographically isolated population...still buoyed by the comparatively recent Federation but regarding itself as very much part of the British Commonwealth of Nations...and about to forge a national identity through WWI (or so the conventional narrative runs!).

Phew - there's a lot more to it all than that, of course. These were early years for the national of Australia, and a time of struggling to find identity and a place within the Commonwealth and the world.
 

Inger Sheil

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Beat me to it while I was writing it all up, Dave! Looks like we've hit on the same themes, though.

I left out Brisbane, though - by Federation, all of QLD was experiencing rapid economic growth, and Brisbane was the economic hub, centered around the maritime industry of the Brisbane River. The University of Queensland, located in Brisbane, was founded in 1909.
 
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What was the state of affairs of Australia's neighbor, New Zealand, in 1912? Were Aukland and Christchurch well established?
 
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In regards to colonial ties with Great Britian, I always wondered how similar Australia was to Canada in that regards-
 
Brisbane was founded in 1824 with the establishment of the Moreton Bay convict settlement, it was declared a municipality in 1859 with its own local government. By 1912 it was quite a thriving little city, having survived a number of floods, the worst in 1894.

Trev(The Queenslander).
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
A nice overview of New Zealand's history appears at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_New_Zealand From the tone of the article, it seems it was never used as a penal colony, though whoever did the editing may have chosen to exclude that. (This is Wikipedia after all, so double check the sources!)

The politics of the time look to have been concerned with local affairs, particularly with some of the on-going disputes with the Mâori though they did make military contributions during both world wars.
 
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Next time Im in OZ I'd love to visit Brisbane and Sydney- When in Melbourne the locals told me Sydney was a waste of time- But i soon discovered there was quite a vicious rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, akin to the English rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool, or the local rivalry between Boston and New York, where people from one city have nothing nice to say about the other..(largly due to the fact each city possesses sports teams whose arch rivals are in the other city)


Have any of he old Aussie prisons been converted in museums? I wouldn't be surprised if some of the British convicts shipped off to Botany Bay started a new life and helped to make Australia the great country it is today...

New Zealand is one place I must visit- kiwis are great peple
Whatever you do, never mistake a New Zealander for an Aussie- Its like calling a Canadian an American- they take offense...

The best white water rafting is in New Zealand-
Well, if most New Zealanders look like Lucy lawless, I'm there!
 
Michael, New Zealand was never an official penal settlement, although I think one or two boatloads of convicts may have ended up there for whatever reason.

Tarn, I cant think off hand of any convict prisons that have been turned into museums, however the National Trust and various state authorities do now have guardianship of whatever remains of the old convict sites. You are able to tour these sites and get a feeling for what life would have been like thanks to the guides and whatever literature the National Trust provides. The majority of the old convict buildings are just the outer stone/rock walls and maybe some inner features, the majority of timber work has long gone. I know the prison on St Helena island(not Napoleans St Helena) just off the coast of Brisbane became a dairy farm after it's prison days were up and was only taken over by the state government to be preserved sometime around the mid to late 1970's, I have been to this island a hundred times and passed it in boats probably a thousand more and clearly remember the cows in amongst the old stone walls.

Trev.
 

Dave Gittins

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I see that by 1912 Sydney had more than 1,000,000 people and Melbourne a bit fewer. The other state capitals would have had populations measured in the hundreds of thousands.

I should think the most notable convict relic would be Port Arthur, in Tasmania, where substantial buildings remain. Quite a number of old jails remain, with or without convict connections.

Tarn is right about convicts making a new start and contributing to the nation. We hear a lot about the horrors of Norfolk Island and other prisons, but the big majority of the 165,000 convicts went straight and at least turned into honest toilers. As a reform system, transportation worked remarkably well, though it should be remembered that the vast majority of convicts were mere petty thieves of various kinds. The really vicious psychopaths were mostly hung in Britain and never reached our shores.

Our virtuous state of South Australia, founded by free settlers, actually transported local crooks to New South Wales in our early years. Our virtue has slipped a bit since those days.
 
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My goodness,thanks for the detailed info!
I noticed in Melbourne there is a large Greek, turkish and japanese population- It's a very ethnically diverse country. Was australia as diverse back in 1912-or was it mainly British stock? Curiously I didn't see any aborigines in melbourne- though quite a few mauris from New Zealand...
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
>>The really vicious psychopaths were mostly hung in Britain and never reached our shores.<<

I expect that the ones who did were quickly hanged by their peers once they manifested their true colours. Say what you will about the 18th and 19th century penal systems, they didn't coddle criminals in the least.
 
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That's true Michael-
It seems these days some people treat criminals as the true victims-As far as Im concerned- If aperson does the crime, then they should do the time- Even if the criminal was picked on as a teenager..
 

Dave Gittins

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Tarn, Australia was far less diverse in 1912, though there were some people from countries outside the British Empire. There was even a fair number of Chinese, whose ancestors had arrived before the white Australia laws. Americans were also there, as many came over looking for gold. We even had some who were called Afghans, though they didn't necessarily come from what we know as Afghanistan. In my state, Germans seeking religious freedom added to the mix. Overall though, we were white and from what used to be called the British Isles. (What on earth can we call them in these days of an Irish republic and Scottish devolution?)

I can't speak for Melbourne, but in Adelaide aborigines are to be seen in the city.

Some of the success of transportation was due to pure necessity. If an expert tradesman of professional was needed, he was needed, regardless of his record. That's why forger-architect, Francis Greenway, made it onto our old $10 note, having designed notable buildings. Another wealthy former convict, Mary Reibey, is on our current $20. Modern Australians spend a lot of time looking for their convict ancestors and rejoice if they find one.
 

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