Section 43 [The Foundations of Culture in Australia, by P. R. Stephensen, 1936]

[Editor: This is a chapter from The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936) by P. R. Stephensen.]

§ 43

“Populate or perish”

All parties agree that population is Australia’s paramount need. Australian is perhaps the only country in the world which has actually a need for more people. If this continent is destined, as we believe, to be the future home of the white race, it is essential, and urgently necessary, that the white population here should be increased to at least twenty or thirty millions: a number finally adequate for defence against any possible military invasion. This is a primary Australian need, and its consideration takes precedence over all other political questions in Australia to-day.

It is the truly national, and non-party, question: and it is also an “imperial” question — but, curiously enough, the “Little Englanders,” the British who at present live in Britain, cannot see it as such. With chronic unemployed in Britain numbering approximately five millions for many years past, British statesmanship, both in Britain and in Australia, has not been able to devise any practicable scheme of migration from Britain to Australia.

This fact is so astounding that it merits the most careful thought. I have come to the conclusion that the question of populating Australia is one of those fundamentals on which the two countries will not easily be able to agree. I have come to the conclusion that British and Australian interests are in direct conflict on this issue — and that the “Little Englanders” do not want Australia to have a big population!

If the Empire is indeed a “great family” (as the late King described it in a broadcast speech), then we must be permitted the occasional luxury of a “family squabble” and some forthright speaking to our “cousins” or “brothers” overseas. A united family does not mean a family in which awkward questions are never discussed. Here then is an Australian point of view, and the answer to it would be awaited with interest:

An increase of Australian population means an increase of Australian industry. This must directly conflict with “British” industrial interests. If Australia’s population mounts to twenty or thirty millions, or even to ten millions, Australia will tend more and more to become industrially self-contained. In fact, Australia might then become another America, an industrial rival to Britain in world markets. With anything like equal populations in Britain and Australia, it is Australia which would become, and very rapidly, the wealthier and more “powerful” country of the two, for Australia has infinitely the greater natural resources; including coal, iron, and the raw materials of every kind which Britain lacks. It is therefore directly contrary to “British” interests that Australia’s population should increase. “British” interests require that Australia should have a small population!

This argument is a stunner. At present I can seen no reply to it from the “British” point of view. From the Australian point of view it implies that Australia must secure its population in the teeth of active or passive “British” hostility.

Here, then, is the fundamental conflict between “British” and Australian opinion, which no amount of mild palavering at Imperial Conferences will be able to solve. I believe that the “British” statesmen, in Britain, see it more clearly than do the Australian statesmen, at the present time. It is assumed, in Australia, that the British are anxious to send us their unemployed. Nothing of the kind! The British know only too well that a million Britons sent here would breed like rabbits, that Australia would then become industrialised, would even begin to manufacture wool for export as finished goods — and that this process, under the mad economic system of to-day, would create an even worse unemployment problem in Britain than already exists there.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 149-151

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