Section 5 [From Phillip to McKell, by Rex Ingamells]

[Editor: This is section 5 of From Phillip to McKell: The Story of Australia (1949) by Rex Ingamells.]

The Commonwealth

In the first half of the Twentieth Century, Australia has advanced to undoubted nationhood through decades chequered and underlined with issues, events and achievements involving distinct political development, participation in world struggles, experience of boom and depression, embarkation upon programmes of social and community betterment, and the emergence of something like an adult national outlook with regard to domestic and world affairs.

Early in its career, the Commonwealth Parliament established the Education Test as an indirect means of assuring a White Australia. Queensland already had a Kanaka population working on her sugar plantations, a potential threat to Australian labour. The Kanakas were deported.

In 1905 and 1910 respectively, the Commonwealth took over administration of Papua and the Northern Territory, and, in 1911, authorized the construction of the East-West Railway, linking Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, to which point the West Australian Government had brought both its railway and the Pipe Line of C. Y. O’Connor.

Most characteristic of Australian industrial and political development have been the solidifying of Trade Unionism and the strengthening and growth of Labour. The election of Labour Ministers by the Labour Members, and the condition that, on matters of policy, the individual Labour member should vote as the majority decided, brought cohesion and power into the movement’s politics, and has vitally affected the whole Party System in Australia. Party feelings, in time of extreme difference, run high, and are on occasion bitter; but, on the whole, the Party System has served the country well.

The Federal Arbitration Court, set up in 1904, has had an eventful career in dealing with questionns of wage-fixing as impartially and wisely as its constitution and personnel, in circumstances of controversy, would allow.

In the Commonwealth’s first decade, all political parties concurred in the need for compulsory military training. This was introduced and remained in force until it was discontinued, in 1929, to be brought in again during the 1939-45 war. Following defence acts of 1909-10, a training college for officers was founded at Duntroon, on territory acquired, in 1908, for the site of the Federal Capital. News of German naval expansion accelerated the movement for an Australian Navy, and legislation on the subject provided that in wartime this should be controlled by the Admiralty. The first Australian naval battle was that in which the Sydney sank the Emden at Cocos Island, on 9 November 1914.

The Labour Party, in 1916, ejected those of its members, including the leader, W. M. Hughes, who were advocating conscription. The public, in the conscription referenda, approved the Labour attitude. During the second world war, conscription was introduced for immediate Australian defence only.

Colonial contingents had gone to the Boer War, but, in the two world wars, Australian Dominion troops played more vital parts. Together with New Zealand troops, they put a new name on the map at Anzac, and, in the second conflict, they most notably perfected methods of jungle warfare against the Japanese. But the second war affected Australia’s domestic affairs and national outlook more than did the first. During the six years, she became a country of vigorous secondary industries. The war increased her status in the world, as a strong Pacific power, and raised and extended her diplomatic representation overseas. Her foreign policy, under Dr. H. V. Evatt, became progressive for the principles of the Atlantic Charter and Collective Security. Following the advent of the Atom Bomb, Australian industrialization has become a vital link in the chain of Empire and Democratic Defence. Australian initiative pressed for a system of regional defence in the Pacific, and the Australian-New Zealand Agreement was signed at Canberra, on 21 January 1944, by the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers, Mr. John Curtin and Mr. Peter Fraser. The seat of the Commonwealth Government had been moved from Melbourne to Canberra in 1927.

In becoming Pacific-minded, the Australians are not thereby less, but more, world-minded. They are appreciating the realities of their country’s position, bordering upon the important Pacific area, and related with special significance to the other Anglo-Saxon countries of the Empire and the United States of America. That the Commonwealth turned to America for assistance, which England was not in a position to supply, in the days of Australian peril, was inevitable; and for the future much store must be placed upon the maintenance of American strength in the Pacific.

Air-mindedness in Australia today is a reflection of the people’s modernity and world-sense, as is the desire for greater British and European immigration, it being estimated that security alone demands a population considerably more than the present 8,000,000.

After the 1914-18 war, the Tariff Board was set up to watch over Australian manufactured products from cement to ships. Soon “Protection All Round” became the policy, and subsidies were extended to primary producers, so that exports of butter, dried fruit and other items competed cheaply in foreign markets. Some sort of Empire Preference was always maintained. The post-war boom was succeeded by the gloomy depression of 1929, which ran into the early thirties. The next boom was brought by industrial developments of the war against Fascism; and, in this new post-war world, Australia braces herself against tendencies that could carry the seeds of a further depression. A degree of industrial controls has necessarily been retained in the transition period from war to peace. There are great differences of opinion in the community as to the forms and management of restraints. Australia is a democracy.

On the debit side of Australian national development is a problem of erosion, one of growing seriousness to which the minds of experts are directed with some little success, and the question of her coloured minority, the Aborigines, who have never proved a considerable obstacle to settlement. Both problems are urgent, but that of the Aborigines involves indubitably the greater moral responsibility on the part of the nation. Leading anthropologists agree that Native Policy should become a matter for Commonwealth supervision, rather than for the separate States as at present.

Australia has had many illustrious Governors from England, both in State and Commonwealth, since Phillip, the benign autocrat, established the first settlement at Sydney Cove, in 1788. Under Dominion Government, the King appoints his Governors on the advice of his Ministers in the Dominion concerned; and there have been, to date, two Australian-born Governors-General of the Commonwealth — the first Sir Isaac Isaacs, the second Mr. W. J. McKell, now in office. The function of His Majesty’s Representative in Australia is subject, under the Australian Constitution, to much the same conditions as is that of the Crown under the British system. The history of England and of Empire has demonstrated how important, nevertheless, is the character of sovereign and royal representative. Australia has been singularly fortunate, no less since Federation, in the calibre and popular influence of her Governors.

Rex Ingamells, From Phillip to McKell: The Story of Australia, Jindyworobak Publications: Melbourne, 1949, [pages 26-31]

Editor’s notes:
Anzac = Anzac Cove, a cove on the western coast of the Gallipoli peninsula (part of the section of Eastern Europe held by Turkey), located on the European side of the Dardanelles strait; where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed and fought against the Turkish army in 1915

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