Part I Chapter II [The Australian Crisis, by C.H. Kirmess, 1909]

[Editor: This is a chapter from the novel The Australian Crisis by C.H. Kirmess.]

Chapter II

An unadvertised immigration policy

For several years preceding 1912 constant reports of famine in Japan had reached Europe. Travellers had vouchsafed for their accuracy, and much money had been collected abroad, especially among the sympathetic British. The Government of the Mikado did its best to prove its concern and goodwill by continuing an ostentatious policy of emigration to its new possessions, Korea and Southern Manchuria. But those countries carried already large populations, and could only absorb limited numbers. For this reason the Japanese statesmen were compelled to look towards other emptier lands, and they began by turning their attention to the opposite shores of the Northern Pacific. How their bold policy was assailed by the white settlers of the Western Canadian and United States slopes, and how in the end it had to be abandoned, the present generation remembers well. The Eastern Island Empire had to recant its claims for equal rights and recognition of its subjects with the white citizens of American communities. Its submission to the inevitable was rewarded by the successful placing of a loan of £20,000,000 in London, New York, Paris and Berlin.

Foiled in this direction, yet strengthened financially, Japan had leisure to contemplate its failure with a view of profiting by its lessons. Publicity had beaten it. Everywhere on the west coast of North America there lived already too many white men, and every move had therefore been detected and counteracted swiftly. Japan was indeed in serious straits. Cramped for space in spite of victory, surrounded by overcrowded or inaccessible nations, oversea expansion was its necessity. Still suffering from the stress of the Russian campaign, it could think of war only as a last extremity. And the habitable parts of the globe were divided up and strongly held between the White Powers. The problem was to discover a district nominally owned by one of them where the white man had not entered into full possession, and had thus not morally forestalled the right of other races to settle, as long as-they were content to do so, under the foreign flag; a district, in other words, where the first steps of peaceful Japanese immigration could not rouse the fierce indignation which they had caused elsewhere. Such a district existed, nearer and more convenient to Japan than any other possible field of exploitation — the Northern Territory of Australia, with its 600,000 square miles and less than 1000 white people.

Japan had long cast longing eyes in that direction. Since the end of the year 1906, a steady stream of its subjects had invaded Java and Straits Settlements. But Java is one of the most thickly populated islands in the world; its acquisition by the Mikado would have meant, apart from other probable complications, the repetition of another and more troublesome Korea. The Straits Settlements were one of the master-keys of British dominion, and were, therefore, well out of Japan’s reach as conquests. But as stepping-stones towards the Commonwealth, the temporary penetration of both was invaluable. Thus the ambitious Island Empire cautiously felt its way towards its goal, until its rebuff elsewhere and the slowly-awakening consciousness of Australian public opinion made its rulers fearful of being anticipated by an influx of State-assisted white settlers into the north of the Commonwealth.

Those developments may have precipitated the crisis. But several other facts, which have lately leaked out, seem to prove that Japan had selected the year 1912 for its descent upon Australia for some considerable time past. It is necessary to turn to the Island of Formosa for confirmation. Its helpless population about this time was said to be in such violent ferment (even after more than ten years of Tokio administration!) that a strong army of occupation was necessary. Tokio intimated further that it was desirable under the circumstances to isolate the malcontents from the outside world and from outside encouragement, and it adhered to this policy rigidly, to such an extent that news of interest from the little island dependency hardly got into the European and American press at all in the years just preceding 1912. Formosa seemed to be entirely forgotten — exactly as was desired by Japan.

Yet during this period of silence a very special system of immigration into Formosa was carried on under the direct supervision of the Japanese Government. In some respects it was military settlement, so that the semi-official admission merely strained the truth. But it had several other remarkable features. The immigrants were not soldiers of the line; they were reserve men who had served a full term, and were now in the very prime of life and vigour. People of low stamina might pour into Korea, Manchuria and North China, but they were carefully excluded from Formosa. The plain of Gilan, on the east coast, had been chosen for the site of the settlement. It presents tropical conditions similar to those of the Northern Territory. A still more approximate climate could have been met with on the west coast, with its full-length expanse of alluvial plains twenty miles wide, bounded inland by low hills gradually leading up to the Formosan Alps. But it would not have been so suitable for the purpose, owing to the openness of its geographical situation, facing China, whence it had been colonized. Swarms of junks were always employed in commerce with the mainland, and pried into every corner in the search for profitable business. The populous ports were frequented by European steamers. So there could have been no secrecy for uncommon proceedings.

The contrast of seclusion on the east coast was great. The Chinese had never crossed the mountains. What population there was consisted of half-tamed aborigines, living in stone huts and tormented by incursions of the fierce, nomadic hunter tribes of the hills. Jungle and thick forests encroached on the plain, which is shut off by high ranges descending vertically thousands of feet into the sea. It rises towards the interior in well-formed tablelands like the Northern Territory, though, of course, on a miniature scale. Here the parallel ends, for the towering Alps of the Formosan background, which send their rushing torrents down throughout the years, have no counterpart in tropical Australia. Yet, on the whole, the climatic conditions are similar. Equal methods of cultivation are rewarded by equally generous results in suitable parts of both countries. In summer the heat is very humid and enervating in Gilan, and people who have lived and worked there would feel the drier heat of the Northern Territory as relief. Considering everything, there can be no doubt that a better acclimatizing stage could not have been fixed upon on the road from temperate Japan to the torrid north of Australia.

At the end of the first quarter, 1911, several thousand Japanese had been concentrated in the plain of Gilan. They lived in large sheds at first, and were subject to severe discipline. No effort was spared to give them a thorough agricultural and pastoral training. According to one investigator, every twelfth man had passed a special Government course in those branches, and was now appointed headman of his fellows, for whose due efficiency he was made responsible. Every form of suitable cultivation was practised, but the greatest care was taken to raise a sufficiency of the necessaries of life, so that the new settlement might speedily become self-supporting. Rice, cane, sweet potatoes and various vegetables were grown on the plain, where goats, pigs, and poultry were also kept. The uplands were given over to wheat and other cereals, and to the pasturage of horses, cattle and sheep. Much attention was paid to the making of roads. In short, it seems that no detail was neglected which might in any way contribute to the success of the great enterprise of which the Gilan colony was only the preparation.

Many medical officers looked after the health of the settlement, and their exertions kept down fever and tropical diseases. Epidemic appears not to have occurred at all. A well-planned diet, combined with thoughtful management, which insisted on just the right measure of arduous open-air toil, and varied it with regular military exercises, promoted moral steadiness and healthfulness. Physical weaklings were eliminated by a judicious weeding-out process, and were repatriated without delay. On the other hand, reinforcements continued to swell the ranks. These newcomers, stimulated by the results already achieved, sought to surpass them in their own domain, and a healthy, absorbing competition between the camps sprang up. Nothing could have pleased better the supervisors of the experiment. It was certainly a difficult task to hold together such huge numbers of vigorous men long enough for effective training. Mere discipline could not ensure final efficiency. The settlers must also be willing to learn, and to that end they had to be kept in good spirits. Their tempers were, indeed, sorely tried by the incessant hard work until the introduction of a keen sense of rivalry provided a more personal interest and added a new zest to their labours.

Everything went well until the monsoonal deluges of autumn prevented field work to a large extent. Then, at last, the men began to get out of hand. Family instincts could no longer be repressed by toil, high promises, and the weeding-out of the less disciplined. Small bands deserted and roamed the hills searching for wives among the natives. As often as not they never returned. When the need for female partners made itself felt so pressingly, the authorities yielded to it. That they had delayed the matter so long, till nearly the end of 1911, was part of a deep-laid scheme. For the master-minds who had conceived the great enterprise were determined to bend even the natural passions of men to the service of the cause.

The invasion of the Northern Territory was timed to take place at the end of the rainy season (March, 1912), as later events have shown. That was obviously the correct moment, allowing the immigrants to begin cultivation of the soil forthwith and to gather the first harvest in the same year. But the official interest did not permit matters to rest here. It was desirable to bind the settlers to their prospective new homes by stronger ties than manual toil and its reward could forge. Only one possible way existed by which that goal could be attained: family settlement there. This was the consideration why the marriage of the colonists had been postponed. The idea was that the freshly united couples should spend a honeymoon of six or eight weeks in the plain of Gilan. Then the men were to be hurried off to their final destination, there to prepare proper shelter for their wives, who would follow a month or two later. During the last quarter of 1912 children would be born — natives of whom birthright, that most powerful moral or sentimental claim, would entitle to a share in the empty continent.

A simpler and more thorough method of colonization could not be imagined. It has become known to fame as the “Progressive Family System,” and admirers of Japan have called it its master-stroke of policy. The experience of many bitter failures, no doubt, led up to the evolution. For instance, the American venture suffered from being a mere migration of male coolies, with all the imperfections and vices attaching to that limitation. Evidently, a horde of bachelors, transplanted upon foreign soil, yet excluded from intermarriage because of race prejudice, could not really claim equal rights with the citizens thereof who represented families. Japanese genius had freed the Northern Territory settlement of this inherent weakness of tenure almost from the outset.

About the middle of January, every member of the huge immigration party, which, according to a conservative estimate, numbered now over 6,000 men, rejoiced in the possession of a wife. The young couples lived in wooden huts, constructed in advance by the men. The whole plan of accommodation and activity was as nearly as possible the prototype of the later Australian colony. The dwellings formed isolated villages of about 200 families each, some placed on the flats, others in creek valleys and on the high lands, and linked to a larger coastal settlement by roads and telegraph.

Suddenly the happy communities were alarmed by rumours of impending separation. It is likely that the men had been informed beforehand (some considerable time ago) that they would not remain permanently in Gilan. But that may have been forgotten. At all events, it seems that the reminder came as a rude shock. Still, the men were manageable. Anything can be done with the male Japanese once his patriotism is inflamed. But the women rose in fury. Perhaps they had not been warned when wooed by agency. Now, belated reasoning had no effect. All those subtle policy points, which awed the husbands even if they did not fully understand them, were lost upon the women. What they felt was that they were threatened with the loss of their husbands. The whole weight of female influence was brought to bear on the men. These grew restless. Contrary to regulations, the inhabitants of different villages gathered together to exchange views, and soon the whole colony seethed with discontent. The officers or headmen did their best to reduce their subordinates to order. In vain; the women’s influence proved stronger. The men began to obstruct the preparations for departure; punishment of the worst offenders led to open defiance. One morning, a medical officer, going his usual rounds in a village, was set upon by a female mob and beaten to death with stones and household implements. The headman, rushing to his assistance, was wounded and hunted into the bush. After that, the officers telegraphed to Kelung and to Japan for military help.

The Government was greatly surprised. Human feelings threatened to overthrow its careful calculations, because they had not been taken sufficiently into account. That dangerous Japanese tendency, often commented upon, of regarding men as machines, may be right enough where males are concerned. In the Manchurian war it led to frontal attacks against entrenched positions, and yet was a success. But now that the principle was extended to women it broke down. Quick measures of repression were necessary. Already rumours of revolution had got abroad. Tokio side-tracked them by a cablegram, admitting the existence of trouble in Formosa, but attributing it to rural workers and miners who had imbibed crude notions of Western Socialism. This was also a satisfactory anticipatory explanation as regards the approaching concentration of steamers in Formosan waters, which otherwise might have attracted attention. Everybody would now conclude that they were military transports carrying troops to the disturbed districts.

When the punitive force arrived the men had gone back to work. It was February, and the fields called for industrious hands. Preparations for departure were, however, quite neglected. This passivity did not prevent vigorous reprisals. The village which had given the signal for murder was burnt down, and scores of men and women died by the executioner’s hand. Very soon the men, overawed by wholesome judicial massacre, were thoroughly subdued. The great enterprise was saved at the brink of ruin, and full attention could now be devoted to the proceeding embarkation.

Here the marvellous organizing talent of the race had full play. A superficial survey of the transports, it is true, would hardly have suggested fancies of naval glory. They were tramp steamers of 2,000 to 3,000 tons, such as usually carry trade in Far Eastern seas, capable of a steady hourly speed of ten to twelve knots. Everything had been avoided which might have betrayed the real purpose. The exterior of each vessel was weather-beaten and grimy, but inside the greatest order prevailed. Each vessel could house 600 to 800 men in rough comfort. The bulwarks had been raised about a foot above the ordinary, which precaution gave the steamers the appearance of lying high in the water, and would deceive even critical observers, for none could suspect that the buoyancy was not real, and that every inch of space had been scientifically put to the best use. Each craft was fitted with wireless telegraph instruments and a searchlight. All were coaled sufficient to last for the whole distance, but 3,000 tons of best Japanese steam coal were shipped for emergencies by a steamer carrying the latest appliances for coaling at sea. Two swift destroyers acted as guardships and scouts. They had been cunningly disfigured to look like small tramps without losing too much of their speed. There were also cargo carriers and cattle boats, which sailed somewhat later.

The passage of a fleet through the Dutch Indies would have attracted notice. For this reason the transports and subsidiaries were despatched by three different routes, part passing between the Philippines and Carolines, thence through Dampier Straits, and skirting Ceram; part through the South China Sea and Sulu Sea, rounding the east coast of Borneo, and beating east through Flores Sea; and part sailing down West Borneo, entering Java Sea, and finding an outlet south through Lombok Straits. The collier and one destroyer went further west for scouting purposes, intent on passing through Sunda Straits into the Indian Ocean. As the whole plan had been carefully concerted no accidents occurred, but a Dutch cruiser sighted the destroyer while coaling at sea off Batavia. It happened at daybreak, and the Japanese vessels allowed themselves to be surprised. Though they separated at once, suspicions had been roused already. The destroyer steadily crept north, never revealing its true speed. Such a clumsy-looking, slow-going craft was, however, beneath Dutch notice, which turned to the more imposing collier. The latter boldly showed the flag of the Rising Sun, and steered straight for Batavia Roads, where she replenished her store of water. Her papers were perfectly in order: “ss. Honjo Maru, bound for Perth, West Australia, with a trial cargo of Japanese coal.” Dutch misgivings, if they existed, vanished before such information. Japanese enterprise was the talk of the day; their coal, perhaps, had not been heard of in connexion with Westralia so far, but everybody knew of the huge goldmines there, which might well look out for cheap fuel.

The collier left next morning and steamed up Sunda Straits, through which dangerous passage the destroyer had slipped during the night. Together they swept the Indian Ocean and Timor Sea to the east. Several proas supposed to have been in those waters never made port. All the routes converged in Arafura Sea, somewhere between Timor Laut and the Aroo Group. From this meeting-place the fleet made its accurately-timed descent, under the shadow of night, on Junction Bay. The strength of the first landing party can only be guessed at. Probably it consisted of about 3,000 men. It is certain that it was rapidly added to, and when the first collision between the races took place the number had at least doubled.



Source:
C.H. Kirmess. The Australian Crisis, George Robertson & Company, Melbourne, 1909

Editor’s notes:
connexion = an alternative spelling for “connection”

proas = plural of proa; a proa is swift Malayan sailing canoe with its weather side like that of an ordinary boat, whilst its lee side is flat; the canoe is long and narrow, and is balanced by a cigar-shaped log attached to a frame extending several feet windward; although native to the Ladrone Islands (Mariana Islands) and the Malay archipelago, proas are used in various forms in many areas of the Pacific Ocean

Tokio = an alternative spelling for Tokyo (capital city of Japan)

[Editor: Corrected “approaching comcentration” to “approaching concentration”; “great enterpise of which” to “great enterprise of which”.]

The Australian Crisis
[next chapter]

Speak Your Mind

*