Part III Chapter VI [The Australian Crisis, by C.H. Kirmess, 1909]

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

Chapter VI

A transformation scene in the North.

The Imperial garrison had hardly arrived in the Japanese settlement when the Federal Government began to regret that it had ever consented to its establishment. It had done so in the belief that the internal dissensions in Australia would be prolonged. The rapid and complete triumphs of the Commonwealth army had proved the wrongness of that assumption. Immediately after the occupation of Perth, the Federal Executive cabled to London that it was now prepared to garrison and to police the Northern Territory with Australian troops. But Great Britain was not at all pleased with the offer and objected that Australia was still practically at war with Japan. Melbourne, however, hastened to deny the existence of a state of war as strongly as it had insisted on it a few months ago. Tempora mutantur.

Every report of the excellent relations between the garrison and the invaders increased the disgust of the Commonwealth patriots, whose secret hopes that the Imperial force would serve as an exponent of white supremacy were quickly superseded by suspicions that the whole display was more in the way of a compliment to the Japanese than a measure of protest against their claims. The Extremists, particularly, professed deep anxiety lest the British statesmen should be encouraged by the exemplary friendliness which had sprung up between their soldiers and the public enemy of Australia to make permanent the present arrangement. Under the constant pressure from all sides, the Federal Government continued to urge its request. Its main point was that London had promised the substitution of Australians, and that otherwise the Commonwealth would not have acquiesced in the matter at all.

Great Britain was very unwilling to withdraw its men. At the same time, however, its rulers had learnt by the experience of the past half- year and were not at all desirous of further colonial quarrels. Already the temper of the great southern dependency grew very ugly over this affair. Press and politicians there threatened that Federal troops would be sent into the invaded district even without Imperial permission, and that England would be given a chance to prove whether it would dare to interfere with Australian actions on Australian soil. If so, then, it was pointed out, let Canada look to it that it might not be treated one day after the same fashion in Columbia, or New Zealand in the North Island, or South Africa in any of its own large possessions. In fact, here were all the materials for another national explosion in all the autonomous dominions, cowed as they were for the moment. Faced by these awful possibilities, Great Britain felt inclined to yield, especially as the Commonwealth merely proposed to place a garrison in the Northern Territory, not an army.

But there was another factor which had to be reckoned with — the Japanese Government. Though no doubt well informed about the new Federal demand, it maintained a correct silence, any arrangement about the Northern Territory being clearly an internal affair in which only the Empire and the Commonwealth were concerned. An opportunity to speak their mind, however, came to the discreet advisers of the Mikado when the impending change was communicated to them by the allied power. Then Tokio, calm and courteous as usual, mentioned its misgivings. It recognized that it had no voice in the matter, but asked to be allowed to express regret that its former subjects should lose a protective force which had shown them so much kindness, and also to utter a hope that the successors would cultivate similar good feeling. Only thus the full benefits of the labour of the immigrants could be secured for their adopted country. For the refugees were proud of their race and conscious of the service they were rendering to humanity by civilizing the wilderness. They were also very sensitive, a quality which they shared with all Japanese, for whose resentment of irritation or insults nobody could accept responsibility, least of all their own Government, which was only too painfully aware of this particular national failing.

The Imperial authorities did not hesitate to cable a full account of the diplomatic pronouncement, so carefully veiled in its language and yet so ominous, to Melbourne. But the Commonwealth was bent on having its way, and London did not care to oppose its demand much longer. Hardly had the consent been gained when two crack steamers of the Federal fleet were raced from Adelaide, where they had been overhauled, to Perth. There Colonel Ireton embarked with a large special staff of the most energetic and promising officers and 350 picked men, who had all been through the Western campaign (November 2, 1912). The whole force proceeded by sea directly to the Northern Territory and arrived at the mouth of the inlet, on which the Japanese main settlement was situated, on the morning of November 11. On the same day the British garrison evacuated the fort for their successors and was taken by the Federal steamers to Port Darwin, whence they returned to Singapore. Both these vessels were fitted with wireless telegraphy. One anchored in the harbour of Port Darwin, the other in the inlet leading to the fort. In this way Colonel Ireton was in practically uninterrupted communication with headquarters in Melbourne.

The Japanese settlers extended an outwardly cordial welcome to the new garrison. They sported once more their large stock of Union Jacks. But the Australians were less appreciative than their predecessors and refused to salute the flag, the use of which by the aliens was, speaking strictly, improper. Moreover, as soon as they had entered into possession of the fort, they lowered the British ensign flying over it, which had originally been supplied by the Japanese, and unfurled the Commonwealth banner. The significance of these actions was not misunderstood by the ceremonious Orientals. The friendly services of the polite brown men, so highly valued by Tommy Atkins, were now rarely asked and always paid for, a practice which reduced the mutual relations between the two races to cold formality and prevented absolutely the growth of a better understanding. Colonel Ireton did not regret this development. He had his instructions. The encouragement of fraternizing tactics was not mentioned in them. His garrison was expected to show plainly by its conduct who was the sovereign of the country. His duty was to explore the invaded district thoroughly, to gain an intimate knowledge of the enemy’s methods and resources and, if possible, some insight into his further plans; in a word, to prepare everything for the ultimate campaign. And he set to work upon his task with rare zeal.

Many reports compiled by the Colonel or members of his staff, dealing with the subject, very detailed and from every conceivable point of view, are now in the Federal archives. Through all of them runs the same note of astonishment at the efficiency of the Japanese organization which is also sounded in the official reports of the British garrison, though the Australian comments are more subdued and tinged with a bitterness reminiscent of Thomas Burt’s diary. Great changes, of course, had taken place since the latter was written. The soothing influence of womanhood, of motherhood, was now penetrating the whole settlement. Numbers of children were born there daily. Perhaps no other fact did more to deepen the coolness between the two races into revengeful estrangement. For the Australians, who keenly missed appropriate sex partnership of their own race, watched helplessly the rapid progress of the despised Asiatics from a mere horde of invading nomads into a settled nation bound to the conquered soil by the most sacred ties — by little brown babies quite unconscious of their own significance, all young Australians — Austral-Mongoloids. And the white heirs to the Continent had to stand by impassively, condemned to look on and to record the event. Contrary to ordinary Oriental customs, the women were splendidly cared for. They were forbidden field work and other hard tasks. District medical officers made regular rounds several times a week through all dwellings, and in the capital the married couples frequently assembled in the Public Hall to hear lectures in their own language, probably on sex hygiene and the treatment of infants. Evidently the Japanese authorities had thoroughly mastered, and were not afraid to carry into practice, the principle that public health and the protection of child-life before and after birth is the first duty and the grandest asset of a progressive State.

The neighbourhood of the main settlement had been cleared for miles from bush and jungle: irrigation had turned swampy lagoons into paddyfields protected by strong embankments at the mouth against the brackish water of the inlet. A mixed system of farming had been devised. Each family owned a plot of some acres which the proprietor cultivated individually and the produce of which belonged to him. But large areas of the richest agricultural and pastoral land were reserved near each village and were worked by gangs of the male inhabitants, who had to give their services in regular rotation once or twice a week. These gangs were also employed to clear the country and to make roads. And they did the harvesting both in the private and public blocks, under the leadership of the elders, who directed them in such a way as the condition of the fields seemed to demand, without fear or favour of individuals. Such a system was possible only for a highly enlightened race or for a slavishly disciplined one. While it lasted it must beat out of sight any results obtainable by individualistic white colonization. The Turanians bade fair to establish a record which Aryan people would be unable to equal. If they were allowed to go on, their claims to possession would become ever stronger by right of their achievements.

That the invaders had no intention of leaving Australia was evident from the diligence with which they made themselves at home. Several roads were made connecting the capital with the outlying settlements and the latter among each other. Their construction was solid though rough, and they led over the high ground, wherever possible, so that they were little exposed to damage by floods in the wet season. Where swamps had to be crossed, the roads had been steadied with logs, and light wooden bridges, easy of repair or renewal, were thrown over creeks. Then there was the network of telegraph lines. It was really difficult now to get lost in the district, which less than a year ago had been an impenetrable wilderness.

Relentless war was waged by the Japanese against vermin; thus they justified their possession of arms. They drove away the romance of the tropical bush, and wherever they went they created an atmosphere of hard work-a-day reality. But this was the inevitable result of civilization, which at last had come in triumphantly in spite of the Australians who had hesitated too long about it. The wholesale destruction of game in the vicinity of the main settlement compelled the garrison to rely for its food supply almost entirely upon Port Darwin, where Federal depôts had been established. Several vessels catered for this service, and combined with this open purpose the more secret one of closely watching the coast.

The Japanese possessed two steam launches, a cutter and half a dozen whale boats. A wharf was under construction for building more small craft locally. The timber was derived from the opposite shore of the inlets about two miles further up, where thick forest slipped down nearly to the water’s edge. In this locality a saw mill was situated. That was not the only factory. Near the wharf a flour mill was in course of erection, though the machinery had not yet arrived. Around it several large stores for the collection of surplus produce had already been finished. Each stood isolated, surrounded by a high earth rampart and a ditch filled with water. These were the largest buildings in the capital, with the exception of the central offices, the headquarters of the district and municipal authorities and the terminus of all the telegraph lines. In an adjoining outhouse, a steam engine, coupled to a dynamo, furnished the necessary electricity. The public hall was another large edifice and appeared to serve both as a temple and a lecture-room, where often in the evenings addresses were delivered to crowded audiences. As the Japanese language was employed exclusively, the whites had not even a decent excuse for being present. The purpose of these meetings, however, seemed to be quite harmless; apparently they dealt chiefly with demonstrations on agricultural subjects, such as irrigation and the use of modern implements.

Though the discipline of the invaders was marvellous, they were managed so discreetly and their authorities dispensed with pomp and circumstance to such a degree that it was difficult to discover the real rulers. Colonel Ireton observed that much deference was paid by the multitude to the medical officers, which conduct is quite intelligible in the light of subsequent revelations regarding the part played by them in Formosa. But he soon noticed that they, too, received orders in turn from higher instances. At the head of the whole organization stood a board of five Elders, as they named themselves in English. Every member of this set seemed to wield equal power. In their dealings with the Australians, they consulted together about every step. The Board of Five was the final court of justice and inflicted capital punishment. Many of its responsibilities, however, were transferred upon the Headmen, who governed each quarter of the main settlement and every village. These again were assisted by small councils of the most worthy citizens. No military display was indulged in; although all the inhabitants of the capital owned rifles, they never underwent any warlike training within the knowledge of the Federal garrison for the whole period during which the latter resided in their midst. Nevertheless it is probable that at least one or two high military officers served in the Board of Five, that every headman was a staff officer, and that the village councils consisted in reality largely of former non-commissioned officers. Everything, in fact, was calculated to preserve discipline and to prepare defence.

After a fortnight of strenuous work, Colonel Ireton was able to draw a map of the invaded district, in which, besides the capital, seventeen outlying villages are shown, the nearest about twelve miles and the most distant over ninety miles away from that centre. He computed the population from the number of private dwellings, which were as a rule tenanted each by a family consisting of husband and wife. As every quarter of the main settlement contained between five hundred and six hundred residences of this kind, and the villages from one hundred and fifty to three hundred each, he calculated that the total number of adult inhabitants could not be much less than twelve thousand. In addition, there were the infants, which continued to be born at such a rate that the natural increase of the community at the end of the first year would amount to about forty per cent.

Colonel Ireton prided himself on his conviction of having charted everything worth notice. His surprise passed all bounds when a party of his men reported that they had discovered, on a hunting trip, a path not on the map leading south-east to the banks of Liverpool River, where they had met with a gang of about 150 Japanese actively engaged in clearing the land and utilizing the timber for the construction of houses. Near by were temporary shelters after the fashion of the aboriginal mia-mias. None of the gang understood English, so that no verbal information could be had, and protracted investigations failed to reveal any clue as to the manner in which these immigrants could have got into this place. But the headman of the nearest charted village, over twenty miles away, who was known to speak broken English, volunteered an explanation. He said that the gang had come from a settlement farther west, the inhabitants of which had quarrelled, because they belonged to adjoining districts in Japan, separated by fierce rivalries and long wars for ages. The faction whose forefathers generally had the worst of the deal had been taunted with the fact, when remembrances were exchanged, to such an extent that the strife of long ago had nearly been revived. To prevent such a calamity, it had been decided to remove one of the contending clans by forming a new community. The statement was so uncommonly straightforward that it roused the suspicion of the whites, for as a rule the Japanese were most discreet, especially where the concealment of internal difficulties was concerned. So the party visited several villages farther west on its return. But everywhere a full complement of male and female residents was found. It was strange, because no women were with the gang on Liverpool River.

The fact set the Colonel thinking. To his knowledge, all the western settlements were inhabited by couples. Therefore, if the story of the headman was correct the outside faction must have left its wives in the care of traditional rivals. That was most unlikely. Sexual jealousy was the only passion of the patient, toiling immigrants which had sometimes asserted itself so strongly in ugly brawls that its existence could not be hidden entirely by their leaders from the prying Australian eyes. Suddenly the truth dawned on Colonel Ireton. These womanless colonists were not exiles from another camp. They were new arrivals. Their presence meant that, while he was scouting inland to obtain accurate information with regard to the resources of the enemy, a steady stream of the invaders kept pouring in all the time. Until he should have discovered by which way they came and at what rate, all his calculations were valueless. It was certain that they did not enter the country from the official port, for his garrison watched the approaches and surroundings closely and Federal steamers patrolled frequently the whole western expanse of coast on their journeys to and from Port Darwin.

The waters farther east were supposed to be searched regularly by British men-of-war, for the prohibition of commercial navigation there had not yet been cancelled. In reality, the supervision was very lax. A small cruiser stationed at Thursday Island made occasionally the round of the Gulf of Carpentaria. It had never called at the Japanese port or in Junction Bay since the Federal occupation. Practically, the enemy had a monopoly of several hundred miles of coast line, where many sheltered inlets invited unostentatious landings. Colonel Ireton remembered that he had had a significant warning immediately after his arrival. The experts managing the wireless telegraph on board the steamer which conveyed him here had mentioned that the apparatus was intercepting wireless waves from an apparently very distant source. Two days later a Japanese steamer made her appearance and proceeded right up to a jetty running into deep water in the inlet, near the stores, where she discharged cargo for the settlement. The Colonel and his staff were invited by her captain to lunch on board, and were afterwards shown over the vessel, which was of the tramp type, tidily kept, provided with up-to-date discharging gear, manned by an ample Japanese crew, and fitted with apparatus for wireless telegraphy, a fact which interested the Colonel more than anything else. As he could not discover anything like a wireless station ashore, he concluded that the steamer must have communicated with other vessels far out at sea. Having accounted thus to his own satisfaction for the observation of his experts, he forgot the incident. But now he began to doubt the correctness of his former surmises and resolved to investigate personally and at once.

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

[Editor: Corrected “beeen overhauled” to “been overhauled”; “precedessors” to “predecessors”.]

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