Australia’s Colony? Wasn’t Australia a Colony?
An answer to those two questions are; Yes and Yes. In fact, you’d be correct on both of those questions. Australia was at one point a colony but it also had its own colony in it’s Two Hundred Year history. Believe it or not, Australia once upon a time did have its own colony. A rather unsuccessful and short lived one but it’s a piece of history that no one would know about. So, I will take this chance to tell you of the story of Australia’s Colony.
Colonia Nueva Australia, or translated into the English Language; New Australia, was Australia’s only colony that was officially founded on 1893. It started it’s life out as a movement, The New Australia Co-operative Settlement Association, known in short as the New Australia Movement. It was founded by William Lane in 1892.
Lane himself, was a prominent figure in the Australian labour movement and had founded Australia’s first labour newspaper; the Queensland Worker, in 1890. A split in the Australian labour movement between those who went to form the Australian Labor Party spurred Lane’s intent to found a Socialist Utopia outside of Australia. Lane’s ideal was to build a society based on:
- A Common-Hold, rather than a Common-Wealth
- A brotherhood of English-speaking Whites
- Life marriage
- Preservation of the ‘Colour-Line’
His concept of a ‘CommonHold’ was that each member of a society should be able to withdraw a proportion of the society’s wealth if they chose to leave.
Lane’s was not the only influence urging Australians at the time towards a Socialist community; Utopian Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward was also popular with Socialists and led many urban followers of Lane to expect that they would live in luxury in a Socialist Commune like that of Bellamy’s fiction.
William Lane chose Paraguay as the site of the settlement. Lane recruited many, and the first ship left Sydney in July 1893 for Paraguay, where the government was keen to get White Settlers and had offered the group a large area of good land. While it is generally agreed that there were some able settlers, there seems to be some disagreement about the character of the New Australia settlers as a whole. It has been described as a Cave of Adullam to misfits, failures and malcontents of the Left Wing of Australian democracy. Notable individuals who joined this Socialist Colony included; Mary Gilmore (who is on the Australian $10 note), Rose Summerfield, Gilbert Stephen Casey and George Binks and his family.
However, according to M. de C. Findlay, the Second Secretary of the Legation at Buenos Aires, who was sent to the colony by British Consul at Asuncion, they were, “A fine class of Men.”
Men were required to pay a minimum of 60 pounds (but including all their assets) to join the colony, a sum large enough in 1893 Australia to usually require selling of a home, so complete failures would have been necessarily excluded.
The founding of the settlement was of interest to Left-Wing thinkers worldwide. The settlement also spurred a thinker by the name of Peter Kropotkin to say:
“The fact that men and women, who have made Australia what it is, are compelled to migrate from it, speaks volumes in itself. ‘Make the land, be the dung which renders it productive, build the centres of civilisation which render it valuable – and go away!’ That is the true picture of modern capitalist management. The same here, the same at the antipodes – always the same!”
However, to the dismay of Peter Kropotkin, conflict within the colony had already started ever since the colony started. The prohibition of Alcohol, relations with the locals and Lane’s leadership. A disgruntled colonist remarked, “I can’t help feeling that the movement cannot result in success if that incompetent man, Lane, continues to mismanage so utterly as he has done up to the present.”
Problems only intensified after a second wave of colonists arrived in 1894. Dissension caused a rift in the colony and in May 1894, Lane and 58 others left New Australia to found Cosme, a new colony 72 kilometres father south. Eventually New Australia was dissolved as a cooperative by the government of Paraguay and each settler was given their own piece of land.
Some colonists founded communes elsewhere in Paraguay, others went home to Australia or to the United Kingdom. Some 2000 descendants of the New Australia colonists still live in Paraguay to this very day.