This is something I was thinking of doing for a while, but since Possum has started a “What if?” over at his joint, this is as good a time as any to launch Australian Alternate History Week and hope it is taken up across a few more blogs.
In short, I want participants to create a brief alternate history scenario in Australian history. There need not be a single hinge event that creates a point of divergence, it can be as many different changes you want to support an on going speculation. It’s an exercise to think about what dynamics have made Australia he way it is and how they could have been different – so the fun is in trying to explore how historical dynamics shaped Australia rather than just asking “what if?” by itself.
What if the Blue Mountains had been crossed far earlier in the history of the NSW colony, allowing the expansion of the wool industry at an earlier date. This would provide an export to financially support NSW and pay for necessary food imports at an earlier time, as well as the emergence of a wool baron class whilst convict society was still paramount – that is to say whilst there was a form of forced labour with little mitigation.
Forced labour is inefficient, but the rents from wool make the colony viable without being efficient. There is no need for Governors such as Macquarie to embrace emancipist, meritocratic policy (or even decent treatment of those that remained convicts) out of necessity to make the colony survive. The institutions of our NSW never develop. Instead, the wool baron class begin to leverage their wealth in the same way the West Indian planters did, building influence in the Westminster parliament. They request, and receive a succession of pliant governors that help establish them as an aristocracy built on land ownership and convict labour, and their men in Westminster provide ongoing support for transportation.
In the south however free colonies on the Yarra and the Torrens are develop. The latter in particular is attracting large numbers of settlers with evangelical zeal and starts to garner support from the abolitionist bloc who note similar evils in the new convict labour system as they did in slavery. There is an underground railroad of sorts smuggling convicts into a free life in the southern colonies. Tensions between the colonies arise.
Then gold is discovered, with greater amounts in the southern colonies. The prospects for fleeing convicts improve dramatically and the wool barons face abandoned flocks as greater numbers of convicts run off. Additionally, they begin to resent the rents that accruing to people who are not them. Under these pressures, and facing the loss of their power in Westminster – as the end of slavery (delayed by the wool-sugar alliance) allows abolitonists to turn their sights on transportation more fully – NSW declares independence from the empire and attempts to annex the gold fields over her southern border. The Australian Civil War begins.
And that’s all there is to it – not a rigourous exercise, but I found it entertaining. Alot of the “what ifs” in the Possum thread relate to electoral politics (naturally considering the source) but I’m really keen to see how people’s understanding of Australian dynamics create alternate Australias based on different circumstances in a wide range of areas.
[We’re out of Troppo Ferraris, so the winner (who will not be announced) gets the Troppo 1993 Yamaha Virago 250 that was stolen from my carspace in January.]