Australia’s destiny: As indicated by geographical position [26 May 1906]

[Editor: Mr. W. M. Steinbeck gives his thoughts on Australia’s future. Published in The Barrier Miner, 26 May 1906.]

Australia’s destiny.

As indicated by geographical position.

The following is a resume of an address on “Australia’s Destiny as indicated by Geographical Position,” some time since given by Mr. W. M. Steinbeck before the Broken Hill branch of the A.N.A.:—

A nation’s position in the scale of civilisation is largely determined by its geographical position. Where, as in most tropical countries, the means of existence are to be obtained without care or forethought, mankind is found degraded and but little developed. In Polar regions, where life is maintained solely by hunting and fishing, and where environment precludes the possibility of anything but the barest subsistence, the same degradation is observed. Temperate climates, with their regular succession of seasons, stimulate development. Heat and cold render necessary changes of clothing; the approaching winter must be provided for; ingenuity and prudence result. The mountaineer, in addition, becomes hardy and peculiarly self-reliant and independent. The coast dweller develops courage, resourcefulness, and habits of observation.

Moreover, nations migrating to regions possessing a different climate, develop under its influence new characteristics. No more striking illustration of this fact can be found than the present condition of the Anglo-Saxon and Hindoo races. Both sprang from a common Aryan stock. The one migrated westward, and eventually reached the cold shores of the North Sea. The struggle for existence led to the abandonment of nomadic habits; the race became hardy, venturesome, and piratical. Soon the neighboring islands, long preyed upon, were occupied, and the comparatively high civilisation of Roman Britain was overthrown. But the piratical tribes, now restricted to narrow and well-defined limits, eventually consolidated into the mighty Anglo-Saxon nation.

The Hindoo, on the other hand, in his southward migration, reached the fertile Ganges Valley. A moist, enervating climate, where, the abundance of food, supplies made labor unnecessary, in a few generations changed the hardy hill men into a weak and servile race, fated to be the sport of subsequent bands of marauders. Countless other examples might be cited.

The French Canadian and the Chilian Spaniard have lost many of the essential national traits of their European relations, and the Australian of the future will, too, show the effects of the natural conditions which have made the phenomenal progress and development of the past possible, and by a proper conception of their significance work out his appointed destiny.

As will be seen by the foregoing examples, the geographical position is chiefly a matter of (a) climate, (b) environment. Let us briefly consider the probable effects of the Australian climate. The greater part of Australia is much hotter than the British Islands. The average summer temperature of England is less than 70 degrees; one-sixth of Australia has a summer heat averaging over 90 degrees; that of two-thirds of the Continent averages over 80 degrees. Hence, we may reasonably expect certain physiological changes to result. In the first place, the Australian of the future will become browned, “sun tanned,” and approach the hue of the Italian or the Macedonian. The trend of modern scientific research goes to prove that color is the result of a condition of the blood resulting from climatic influences. Though a short residence in a hot region is sufficient for a good coat of tan, many generations must elapse before color becomes a hereditary and racial characteristic. Still, the Australian may look forward to saying goodbye to the blue eyes and fresh complexion that are “so English.” A study of nations similarly situated leads to the conclusion that the future Australian will be less stoutly built, taller, and of looser frame than his ancestors.

With regard to the probable mental effects, it should be noted that there are marked differences between the peoples of warm, cold, and temperate lands. The latter are stolid, trustworthy, persevering, and deliberate; the former are impulsive, enthusiastic, somewhat inconstant, fond of pleasure and ease. The cold, temperate lands are pre-eminently the home of mechanical and inventive genius; the warmer, of music and the arts. A consideration of these differences has led one writer to the opinion that “character is a function of latitude.” Our climate ranges from warm and temperate to tropical. Our future nation will experience the inevitable consequences of such a climate.

But in the abundance of healthy outdoor life, and in the strenuous efforts which must be made to conquer, and utilise the semi-desert interior of our Continent, we have great safeguards. Civilised man, unlike the savage, may rise superior to his surroundings. Universal physical education of the young, supplemented by a reasonable amount of subsequent military training, will not only fit the body for toil and sustained effort, but will do much to foster habits of order, self-control, and determination sufficient to counteract the influences of even the most enervating climate. And though we must acknowledge that “the men who do things” generally hail from more bracing climates than ours is generally, there is no reason why the Australian race should not be virile and strong in mind and body, and at least the equal of any other.

Climate also determines the productions of a country, and thus to a large extent the occupations of the people. The productions of the southern half of Australia give us no concern. Their wonderful development—we sell more per head than any other people in the world — is sufficient evidence that their treatment is proceeding on right lines: while the matter of scanty rainfall, necessitating conservation of water and irrigation, is not a result of geographical position, but of land contour. We have, however, a difficult problem in our northern and tropical territories. No nation has yet succeeded in developing such a region without the assistance of some less civilised race, inured to the prevailing climatic conditions. The fact that so rich a territory, capable of yielding a profusion of tropical products, has been allowed to remain so long practically undeveloped is an admission on our part of the difficulty of the problem. Two courses are open: we may occupy or develop the country ourselves or we may employ an alien people to do so, under conditions which are certainly not consistent with our own ideas of freedom.

The determination of the Commonwealth Parliament to take this matter in hand is, indeed, a matter for congratulation. Unfortunately, the cotton, sugar, etc., which our northern lands can produce so well are almost universally the product of cheap labor, and if we undertake to produce them by the work of our own people we must make sacrifices. What greater assistance or more tangible “protection” could such industries have than the resolution of every Australian to use these products of his own land in preference to others?

As a “no man’s land,” North Australia is a grave source of danger; and we should occupy and make use of it without delay. The bringing into Australia of hordes of aliens of lower civilization — (I omit the word “colored” as unscientific and quite unnecessary) — is one that we should only contemplate when all other means have failed — when the only alternative is to keep possession in this way or to give way to some other nation. Our commercial prospects are of the brightest. We have the growing markets of the East at our doors, and should he in a position to be fearless of competition. The islands surrounding us to the north are rich in all the tropical products for which Australia is the natural collecting and manufacturing centre. As yet our energies are mainly directed to production, we are content to be merely traded with. Our commercial representative in the Far East has to continually complain of our lack of business enterprise, which results in orders being placed elsewhere, but this is only a temporary matter. The demand for Australian products will result in the commercial education of our people, and we can with confidence look forward to the time when our wheat and wool will be carried to Europe and our coal to West America in Australian-owned ships.

The Panama Canal, now being constructed, by bringing Eastern America into close contact with the Pacific, will have its effect on Australian trade. It will probably take from us more than it gives in return. Australia need have little fear of permanent, occupation by a foreign Power. The trade routes to Europe are all practically in British hands, and with our fleet so well distributed as it is it hardly seems possible for a foreign Power to attack Australia in force — except, perhaps, from the north. It seems incredible that trouble can come from America or Africa, where the influence of the Anglo-Saxon race predominates.

From the north there is certainly an element of danger, though the real “yellow peril” is, perhaps, not what some writers would have us believe but lies in the industrial awakening of a people who, guided by Europeans, seem able to manufacture and distribute at prices which mean social and national ruin if they are allowed to compete with us. It is fortunate that Japan, the nation which could interfere with us most easily, is bound to our Empire by an alliance which, from motives of mutual advantage, seems likely, to be permanent.

Another danger lies in the possible Germanising of Holland and the transfer of the Malayan Archipelago to German control.

There is no excuse; however, for Australia remaining in the present condition of inactivity in defence matters. However favorable our present position, the time will come when we shall have to defend our land, and we should prepare for that time by a universal system of military training. Australia’s policy is primarily defence, and we take a very light view of our responsibilities until the possibility of effectual defence is assured.

In conclusion, what of Australia’s national destiny? We now enjoy the greatest of freedom. Under the British flag we are enabled to work out for ourselves theories of social and industrial legislation which we should not have the opportunity to do were we an independent nation groaning under the heavy burden of taxation that our defence would demand. All that is good and glorious in the Empire is ours; it is our own fault if we perpetuate the bad and inglorious. While it is not to be supposed that Australia will for ever remain a subject State of Britain, surely we may look forward to the time when a close federation of the different parts of the Empire shall have taken place — a federation in which each member shall have a responsible share, and which shall unitedly guide the common destiny of the whole Empire to its final consummation.

The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) Saturday 26 May 1906, page 3

[Editor: Corrected “its geographical positon” to “its geographical position”; “into a a weak” to “into a weak”; “Clilian Spaniard” to “Chilian Spaniard” (i.e. “Chilean Spaniard”).]

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