Australian Alternate History Week

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.

For example;

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.

Speculate away!

[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.]

[Also, I was once considering building up a scenario out of this suggestion until precedent disheartened me.

About Richard Tsukamasa Green

Richard Tsukamasa Green is an economist. Public employment means he can't post on policy much anymore. Also found at @RHTGreen on twitter.
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Syd Webb
11 years ago

What if William McMahon won the 1972 election?

In our timeline the campaign was surprisingly close. McMahon won a measure of sympathy during the campaign when a drongo threw some jelly beans at him. What if the drongo had taken more drastic action, garnering the PM even more sympathy?

A returned coalition doesn’t necessarily guarantee a new term for PM McMahon. Billy had burned up a great deal of his cabinet’s tolerance in the lead up to, and execution of, the campaign. But McMahaon is devious, he’d find some way to hold on, perhaps by playing off his several Victorian rivals one against the other.

Gough is, of course, a two time loser. His possible successors – Barnard and Cairns – are either unprepossessing or dangerous. Expect a McMahon government to go on and on. In this timeline Billy could become the John Howard of the 1970s. The young John Howard was a favourite of McMahon’s (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) so the young solicitor can expect great things in this alternate universe.

For an extended riff on this timeline, here’s one I prepared earlier.

– Syd

11 years ago

Thinking (and wincing) through a “what if Mark Latham didn’t meet Howard in the radio station and shake his hand like that thus becoming PM” scenario, anyone else please chip in on this one too…

11 years ago

What if One Nation did not self destruct after the 1998 election and was able to capitalise on events in 2001 regarding national security and boat people to their advantage.

11 years ago

Here’s my first version. I don’t need to make the first bit up, because this is what I was taught at school (no doubt many other people were also), and so it must true. This is for all the people that say there is a left-wing bias in Australian history. Perhaps there is, but there certainly wasn’t when I went to school.

The story starts by first assuming that all indigenous Australians lived in inhospitable desert conditions (that’s what I was taught). They were obviously so good at it that they didn’t want to live near the beach, rivers, or other places where food is plentiful and easy to come by. This also meant that they never met anyone from anywhere else until white people arrived. Those guys up north obviously have genetic mutations that make their hair curly due to genetic drift and genetic drift alone, and it has nothing to do with people that live in other countries further north of them that have curly hair that they might have happily traded with across the millenia if only they didn’t live in the desert.

So, since they all lived in inhospitable desert conditions, we can safely assume that the reason they even bumped into Cook was because they were simply having a holiday. Some group had obviously mellowed out, and had decided that instead of living in inhospitable conditions that they should go for a holiday on the beach. Now let’s just assume that they never went for that holiday on the beach — this meant that Cook and his crew would never have met them. What would have happened then?

Well, because Cook found a nice hospitable place that was seemingly uninhabited, information about the other inhabitants of the land would have never got back to England. So when the colonizing groups came, they wouldn’t have expected anyone and, since all Aboriginals lived in the desert, they wouldn’t have met them for an extra century or two (apart from the occasional explorer, whom no-one would believe anyway — just like people who claimed to see platypuses).

The upside of this is that because the white people never would have met Aboriginals for many many more years, there would obviously be a lot more Aboriginals now. In addition, the groups that were entirely 100% killed off in Tasmania without the slightest case of interbreeding (just like happened with almost every other conquering force in history), would still be there now also. However, this group must be very different to the mainland ones, since there arn’t really many deserts in Tasmania, and I thought the main groups were all supposed to live in the desert.

Given this, there would be three main groups in Australia, the colonizers, the Tasmania Aboriginals, and the mainland Aboriginals. These groups would get along much better than now, because they wouldn’t have had to fight much, since they wouldn’t have known about each other for such a long period. In addition, the Aboriginals that there are would have kept their cultural identity better, so they would still all want to live in inhospitable conditions in the desert, and thus they would very grateful to the colonizing groups for building roads to the beach, therefore making it easier for them to have their holidays. The only conflicts that there would be would be with the Tasmanian Aboriginals, because these are the lazy ones who don’t want to live in the desert, and they would want to live at the beach just like the settlers.

11 years ago

It’s a bit of a trick that takes some practice but if you look out the corner of your eyes, blink in a certain way and if you are standing in the right spot – you’ll see it.
And if after all that practice you can keep focused on the spot you can step through it – into the Ozalternative multiverse.
Beats the movies, I’ll tell you for free!

Most people think its cicadas they hear.
Actually it’s the buzz of the energy leaking through the portal.
Its when those cicadas are so loud they sound like the drone and woof of a didgeridoo is when you have to be careful.
If you want to stay put in this dimension, that is.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, the first time it happened to me was many years ago on a very hot buzzy Sunday afternoon down at La Perouse.
I’d parked my scooter in the shade after a long hard ride from Roseville to North Head then through the north shore slums, over the bridge then down this way.

The best part of the ride was in the tunnel under the runway at Botany.
Blatting up to 95 (MPH, that is) to clear the plugs sure had those unbaffled dragpipes outbellowing that 747 taxying up top.

Where was I?
Just over there was the wobbly old walkway to one of those old gun emplacements plonked all about the place to keep all those Tricky French, Russkys and Yanks at bay.

Fascinating place to stroll around with the mind in neutral, speculating whether the convicts had a hand in the building, or whether it was the product of a later time.
Whatever, it’s certainly built solid and ugly enough to hold onto the shades of those who met misfortune here – thinks I, turning away from the view.

And, whoops, tripped over a rock protruding from the middle of the parking space only to struggle back upright into someplace else directly beside a bloke who must have been on his way to some sort of up-market masquerade ball.
My eyes were still watering and ears popping from the ‘change’. It’s something easy to get used to but very disorienting when experienced the first time so I nearly bowled right into the fellow.

He was at least six feet tall, blonde hair and moustache, a slightly hooked nose and sunburned skin: a sort of younger Bob Katter in drag.
He wore a bottle green outfit that he’d have to had oiled to get inside it and a pair of polished just-so kneeboots that made my brand new Johnny Rebs look daggy.
The best part of the outfit was his pith sun bonnet skinned in the same bottle green as his uniform (for uniform it had to be what with all the badges, braid and egg-salad encrusting it).
Topping this confection was what looked like the back end of a large black chook stuffed into a little silver tube ingeniously worked into a badge fitted to the side of his hat.
That badge was interesting. A large silver stylised N overlaid with an enamelled circle containing what looked like a bundle of sticks tied to an axe.
That itself was encircled in gold with oak leaves and script reading something like – 9 Bersagleiri – Piu Dura -.

Never being one to be fazed by what people wear in the big city I was wondering which hotel’s door he’d slipped away from attending and being a Queenslander I ventured, “Cripes mate, you’re definitely not of the 11th Light Horse, are you?”
I can tell because you’re not wearing spurs, you sly dog”.

The overdressed Bob Katter look alike spins around in alarm and exclaims something like – “buon giorno signore Cosa facendo? Un secondo improvvisamente nessun là allora ‘paff’, voi compare” while waving his arms and puffing his cheeks expressively with the ‘paff’ bit.
I think to myself that either he’s escaped from the funny farm or the local hotels are employing ‘English as a second language’ staff again.

“Say wha’ and what’s this ‘paff’” I ask him assuming that a word expressed so vehemently must be at the core of his meaning.

“Sia felice.” He says moving his hands about like an ambidextrous window washer.
“Voi gradice un fumo” he says producing a packet of smokes and a lighter tricked out with the same logo as on his hat.
“Colonello Julio Bernadotte al vostro ordine.” He adds.

Okay. I’m getting the hang of this. I know what a ‘fumo’ is from all the Italian lads moving up home from Melbourne way and colonello from the war comics.
Clearly this dude’s speaking ‘da Italian’ and offering me a fag which, with respect for international brotherhood, I gratefully accept.
After a bit of a tussle with his chookfeathers getting in the way we are both alight and companionably puffing away staring out a gap in the inlet out into the sunlit bay.

“Parla Inglese?” I venture after summoning what might pass for Italian.
He turns to me surprised.
“Yes indeed. Why do you ask? Surely you are not one of those political officers digging up feci again. If so you can go and get —–”

“No, no.” I say “It’s my language; the only one I have”.

“But how can that be. English is a dead language – like that one from Colombia. What did Enrico call it; Iroquis and that one from the conquered northern islands – Japonais?”

He turns toward me and shifts his weight to place one hand near his hip.
For the first time I notice that he’s wearing iron and whatever is in that holster is making noises like a toaster heating up.
He tilts his chin and continuing with English says – “I would now suggest you explain yourself. I have English as do only about another two hundred people alive. I have my English as a post graduate following staff college.
The other two hundred I mentioned are my gifted colleagues expressly ordered to do so by Emperor Napoleon X111 himself.”

I say to myself – “Yep. Definitely from the funny farm but that doesn’t explain the exotic weaponry which despite still being in its holster seems to have something to do with that well focused little red cross centred on my chest”.

“Now amico, I had assumed you were on leave from that merchant ship moored over there”. Whereupon he waved his arm over his shoulder.
“But given that no one plying the ocean trade between here and New Corsica has any possible use for the English language has me wondering what you are about.
In the meantime I see that you have noticed my new pistole has you defined as the first priority target. They’re good you know.
Best be warned that this one is zeroed and set fine. Please be aware that I don’t have to draw it and don’t even sneeze; otherwise ‘paff’, you become Bolognaise sauce, eh!”

By this stage the disorientation caused by what I now know to be the jump between universes was being replaced by what was contained in the good colonel’s cigarillo. It tasted good and definitely contained precious little tobacco.
But having a ‘fume’ with Julio clearly had more strings attached than attending a barbecue in Griffith.

But taking his cue and his warning to heart I turned around and for the first time since bumping into Julio took in the view.
Where the old gun emplacement should have been situated was something at first glance not too different.
The rickety timber bridge had been replaced with something clearly designed by Buckminster Fuller leading over shallow water to the same islet.
For some reason though, craggy sandstone was replaced with something else. Not masonry, nor metal, plastic, nor glass.
It seemed to be part of what, domelike, was suspended above that foundation – but that was impossible too.
For what could be seen there was only able to be seen by glancing sideways at it in exactly the same way I’d learned to arrive here.
Then over there was moored the merchant vessel Julio mentioned.

It didn’t squat in the water like a duck.
Indeed the silver form hovered dead rock steady in place in line with the pier above. And while clearly being unloaded of cargo by some sort of conveyors and cranes the load came through the side of the vessel as of through no more than a beam of light.

Then when Colonello Bernadotte invited me into his citadel across the Bucky Fuller bridge more of the open sea came into view.
Out there were what I’d at first believed were waterspouts – but at the top huge shapes far too far away in the mist of their own making to see clearly.
Then as I watched one of these leviathans began to move.
I paused on the bridge and Julio came to stand beside me.
“What in God’s name are they?”

“Oh Englishman. You still have a God?
Interesting that, and more interesting that you don’t recognize the French warships out there”.

“Okay. For your information over the other side of the bay is a broken down merchantman I’d assumed brought you here and out to sea are a few small warships. The one leaving was the ‘Temeraire’, a mere sardine at 89,000 tonnes. You may have noticed how quickly she accelerated and climbed out of sight?
Oh indeed, that waterspout trails behind them wherever they go, even over land, for it sucks up their energy as well as it may be directed, and therefore used to destroy their adversaries.

The others from left to right are ‘Le Terrible’, ‘Indominatable’. ‘Implacable’, ‘Josephine Baker’, ‘Le Enfant Terrible Bardot’ while the little one darting about is the ‘Wellington’, ships’ tender which collects the ordure and brings it back to be composted on shore.

Christ ! Said the big Queenslander.
Some bastard’s bound to pinch my beautiful bike while I’m playing Doctor Who in this dimension.
Sooner its sorted out the better.

11 years ago

So what did you pretend to offer – a Vigoro, was it?
For that effort I reckon you should pass around the hat and shout me at least a Kwaka Vulcan.

Brian Conradsen
Brian Conradsen
11 years ago

Australia would never have been colonized if it wasn’t for opium trade. Australia should recognise this reality. A national liturgy, of sorts, is needed to recognise this. Perhaps inclusion of a stanza to the anthem? Perhaps “opiate day” added to the federal register of public holidays.


“What the…”

The importance of the opium trade is never made clear to resultant colonization of Australia. Who’d want to recognise that awful trade, history and past? Its bad enough having to deal with a convict history!

The process of successful colonization (of the new worlds) has hinged heavily on a successful economic trade.

Hence the original discovery, and later colonization of (mainly) Batavia by the Dutch, was justified by the trade in spices. The route via the South of Africa freed pre-industrial Europe from the blockade by the middle eastern merchants and caravaners.

Dutch ships would sail ballasted with bricks, fired in Holland, and returned with cargoes of peppers, spices and incenses. (The parliament buildings in South Africa, at least the Tuynhuis annex – is built of such ballast.) The Dutch trade to the east killed the African slave trade that had existed since biblical times along the East coast of Africa, where loaded dhows outbound from the spice isles, would offload their produce in Oman and Yemen, and then turn the money made on their spice trades into an added profitable slave trade; riding the Indo-African monsoon to Zanzibar and to the rich Arab slave markets centred there. There to seek and buy able slaves for on sale in Hormuz, the good bay of Bombay and onwards to the Sultans of the east.

Fortunately for the Africans the favourable sea route did not demand the size nor sophisticated ship needed to round the African and Madagascar capes, which regularly resulted in treacherous seas destroying the best ships of that time. So the loads of humans-to-spices, human-pound for pepper-pound, never approximated the really big head-count of the later slave trade to emerge on the African West coast.

For the Portuguese pombeiros having recently learned the slave trade from the Arabian trades of Oman – transferred their industrious ability to the huge colonizaion of Brazil. This trade was massive, by East African standards, and in a short time, more than 70% of all the slaves that were ever to cross the Atlantic where bundled to the slave epicentres of the new world at Salvador, Natal, Forteleza and San Luis on ships flagged to the Portuguese king. In these ports human slaves from Senegal to Angola were traded pound for pound with the delectable sweet trade of sacks of sugar. The limits to both these trades, was a questionably safe ratio of free-board to leaky ship. For these big ships once designed to round the Cape of Good Hope, the Porta, Luauda, Natal sail was a milk-run. The profits huge, and the king and Jesuits profitably appeased.

And Australia in all this?

Err…. well then the Brits arrived. Their buccaneers had for a long time traded the edges of the slave trade, and the Coffee Shops that arose in London to finance these risky ventures were soon to raise even more capital so desperately needed even bigger and better ships. And England, having sunk the Portuguese and Spanish fleets was now the new Johnny-come-lately to the market. Their primary focus to their own colonies, (foregoing the huge battles needed to reclaim the established Portuguese and Spanish lands of the new world), seeking out their own new creative trades with their own colonies. The trade triangle that now emerged was trinkets/wine London-Africa, slaves Africa-Virginia, tobacco Virgina-London. This trade set the UK up as the biggest maritime nation of the pre-industrial age.

But then slavery was finally deemed inhuman, not largely because there was a large established breeding stock of slaves in the new world.

Yet give the emancipationists their due.

So England sought new profitable markets, as the second leg of the triangle produced no more lucre. Thankfully a new generation of fare-paying immigrants to the United States transposed the slave leg, so West Africa was no longer a leg to the trade.

At this time the far east emerged as the next new destination. Here china, silks and once again spices were to be had, from both India and China.

But what cargo to load from ex-London, Cardiff, Swansea and Portsmouth?

Well nothing really, as the China trade was supported by the quick deal of opium in the far east. The English navy fully in control in the China seas, meant only the English could trade in the age old and established opium business. So throughout the early 1800’s empty ships would set sail, only to return in eighteen to 20 months loaded down to their gunnels.

It was at this time that the enterprising ship’s masters, seeking to enhance their profits, sought the ear of the UK government? What to do with the freeboard outward bound? Well, the US colonies had recently stopped the export of the UK’s incarcerated convicts to the new world, so here was a potential solution. Send the convicts to Australia!

Australia was known to be vast continent, ready for exploitation, but with no real potential yet established? The French were dallying an interest out there, and that interest ought be frustrated and prevented.

So to hedge a potential expansionist bet – colonize the place at the expense of the crown and issue contracts to the shippers to use their empty holds!

The shipping of convicts was an expensive trade for the crown. For these convicts could have been as easily sent to the English crown colonies of West Africa or South Africa at half the expense!

But thanks to the opium trade – and a slight swindle of the crown, a fleet of merchantmen could be put to use; and a new nation was born.

A that is the real truth, to the colonization of Australia and New Zealand.

11 years ago

Hello there Brian C,
A well composed precis’ of one aspect of fact you have there.
Without googling madly I can’t find much of an alternate history there – mind you truth is so often stranger than fiction.
Most people don’t know, for instance, that Joseph Banks was what we now call a ‘Spook’ – a senior manager of naval intelligence.

As for opium – it was legal in Qld right into the 1920s, I recall.
Without it the likes of Bully Hayes couldn’t have conned many Kanakas here to work the sugar cane. To put that into perspective my wife’s great grandfather ‘owned’ 80 Kanakas and built a church for them. (My apologies to the ancestors of so many worthy Queensland citizens for mentioning Kanakas. For what its worth I hate the term used that way too.)

So why was Australia established?
Easy Peasy –
Like dear Baldric some ambitious little schemer sidled up to someone important and whispered in his ear – “My lord, I have a cunning plan.”
Now whoever he was is arguable – but the plan was cunning, forward and both imaginative and risky in its scope for obviously we wouldn’t be here had it not succeeded.

A student of Naval operations and strategy would understand the term ‘Naval Chokepoint”.
Even now, after the age of sail, Australia is nothing but a humungous parcel of them.
Which is exactly why the Brits made sure they consolidated here before the tricky French.
After which, from stage right, came the poor convicts since, whatever their predilections or habits, they remained Crown Subjects and therefore perfectly legal occupiers of the land.

So while all sorts of other employment initiatives were progressively closed off for England and Ireland’s down and out – as Brian mentioned – New Holland became a viable prospect as the newest (and immensely valuable) chesspiece in the great game of empire.
All we needed was to wait for a quite nasty little slip of a girl to take up the crown.

PS.. Don’t forget that she wasn’t averse to imbibing in the odd bit of drug herself.

11 years ago

In the lines of my last I forgot to say thanks, Brian, for yours.

As for my own poor effort I simply approached things the way Robert G Barrett might on a bad day.
I dropped a few clues – the big Queenslander, wobbly – the ‘fume,’ so immediately recognized by our lad for what it was.

As it happens he’s yet to walk the rest of the way over that bridge, enter that citadel thing on the islet and encounter what mysteries are ahead.
Of course there’ll be baffling technologies that will have him temporarily confused as will the language barrier.

By now the reader should be aware that in this alternate Oz the Rum Corps has long ago been given the bum’s rush along with, it appears the rest of the English speaking peoples – not to mention the Septics and to boot, the Japs.
Yep. Buonaparte won Waterloo, consolidated empire and there’s been another dozen Napoleons since. Oz is under his management, the land forces are mostly Italian and his navy mostly French.

But since our lad is a Big Queenslander after the grand style of the abovementioned author I know for a fact that all you out there in cyberspace are all blue in the face, holding your breath and beside yourselves with curiosity wondering how our hero is going to evade provisional arrest and carry out whatever mission comes to his head.

Silly me. Did I say Bob Barrett?
Oh, now I’ve got it. Gee, what a dirty minded mob of readers you all are.

There you are with fingernails bitten to the quick waiting for our lad to insouciantly strut into the nervecentre only to be confronted with the result of affirmative action in the Napoleonic armed forces.
Nothing else but a bevy of drop-dead gorgeous dames wearing uniforms that could only pass as such at the Folies Bergere.
Go on, don’t deny it !

Next you’ll want them to drop their military discipline, abandon their scant clothing along with their apparent sapphonic tendencies and almost instantly and oh so enthusiastically get into a delicious game of Rug Rugby with our hero.

Meanwhile, somehow, our Colonello Bernadotte sits hog-tied in the corner, eyes bulging, brow sweating – unsure if he’s outraged, literally bulging with envy – or both.

Wrong. You only get to read the rest of the story when the Kwaka Vulcan turns up here with a full tank of gas.
PS.. Before anyone complains – this is alternative history. Only about one in a million Queensland lads have that sort of luck – and there aren’t all that many of us.