[The anniversary of the birthday of the colony] [26 January 1875]

[Editor: This untitled article about Anniversary Day was published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 January 1875. Anniversary Day was later known as Australia Day.]

[The anniversary of the birthday of the colony]

To-day is kept as a public holiday as the anniversary of the birthday of the colony. At present it is only so celebrated by New South Wales; but the time will come when it will be a national Australasian holiday, for the founding of the settlement in Port Jackson was really the founding of the whole Australasian Dominion. Acting under the influence of the latest excitement, our various offshoots find that it suits their patriotism better to commemorate the day on which they separated from the parent colony of New South Wales, than to celebrate the day on which the great system of colonization of which they form a fraction was commenced. But when the Australian colonies are united into one whole, as they will be some day, they will then all look to their early origin, and they will see that the one important date for them all, the one birthday of the Australian Empire, was the day when Captain Phillip planted the English flag by the side of the stream that runs into the Sydney Cove, and laid the foundations of the first of British Australasian colonies.

The Government which dispatched the expedition had but little notion of what it was doing for the spread of British commerce, for the alimentation of British manufactures, or for the increase of British power; nor were any members of the expedition much more forecasting. It was nominal exile for many, practical and real exile for many more. The enterprise did not seem to be a promising one at first, nor could anyone foresee the dimensions it would ultimately assume. The country was unknown, its commercial capabilities were unknown, and its principal value in the eyes of the Government of the day, was, that it was so very far off. Now-a-days the descendants of the first colonists, and those who have come to claim their share in Australian fortunes, are spending their money freely to diminish that distance, and by telegraphs and lines of steamers to bring this remote part of the Empire into closer contact with the nation’s centre. All this difference has happened since 1788; and in fact, in looking at how much has been done in the time, we ought, in all fairness, to count the first twenty years of the colony’s history as practically amounting to nothing. Very little indeed was done until the community became self-supporting, and the basis for self-support was not established until the production of wool furnished a remunerative export.

If it is asked whether the Australasian Dominion has really been a benefit to Great Britain, we ought to answer by another question, namely, whether any other portion of the Empire has ever returned so much for so little Imperial outlay? The whole cost of Australia to Great Britain from first to last has been, although economists occasionally grumble at it, a mere trifle. It has not equalled the cost of the Abyssinian war, and not very much more than that of the Ashantee war. At the present moment the cost to Great Britain is scarcely anything, while the advantage of Australia is enormous.

In two respects, particularly, Great Britain has gained by the planting of this distant part of the world. In the first place its manufacture in wool and the great commerce that is sustained by that manufacture have been enormously nourished. Let any one compare the industry of Yorkshire now with what it was when English looms depended, so far as the import of raw material was concerned, mainly on Spain and Germany. Let it be imagined for a moment what a crushing disaster it would be if Australian wool ceased to arrive in England; the magnitude of such a disaster represents the gain to England from the colonization of this portion of the globe.

Another great advantage has been the benefit done to the commerce of the world, and therein primarily to England, by the production of Australian gold. Large as that supply of gold has been, it has not been too much for the monetary requirements of the world, and our gold exports are still looked to with avidity. It is true that Australia is not the only part of the world that has helped to supply this need, California having also borne her share; but the Australasian supply has been a most important element of modern commerce, and has conferred immense benefit on Great Britain as the most commercial nation in the world.

If Mr. Mort succeeds in bringing into practical operation his method of remitting fresh meat to England, Australia will have laid the mother country under a third great obligation, and will have helped materially to feed her people, as well as to feed her manufactures, and to feed her commerce.

Australia has also served a good purpose as an outlet for part of the surplus population of the mother country. It has not in this respect done all that it might have done, because the mother country itself has never regarded the settlement of its surplus population as a national duty, and because America, being nearer than Australia, has absorbed the larger proportion of that surplus. Still Australia has done something to find homes for those who found the world too tight for them within the narrow limits of the mother country; and there are few of those who have ventured their all here who find any particular reason to regret it.

Without any undue assumption of national superiority, we may perhaps with pardonable pride consider it fortunate, not only for England but for the world, that it has fallen to our own countrymen to colonise Australasia. As yet, no other race has ever shown itself so apt at the work of colonization. Frenchmen, with all their gifts and versatility, have not succeeded in this particular department, and Germany has never yet had a good chance. It has always been found that the Germans make admirable colonists in English settlements, and, considering the administrative skill which is found in such great perfection in the Fatherland, we know of no reason why colonization on a large scale under the German flag should not be a success. But in the history of the world it has so happened that Germany has not till lately attained its own majority in Europe, and now there are no spare Australias left on which it could exercise its colonising ability. It has therefore had to make a present of its surplus population to other countries, and America (North and South), and Australasia have reaped the benefit of German industry and frugality. The Dutch, though their navigators were amongst the earliest explorers in this part of the world, had not a sufficient population of their own to have colonised Australia rapidly, nor from what we have seen at the Cape of Good Hope, are we entitled to consider that they would have proved better colonisers than the British. We may, on the whole, therefore, count it a fortunate circumstance, that Australia fell to the lot of the race best fitted rapidly to develop its resources. We may own to many blunders both of omission and commission, we may admit that we have not done all that it was possible to do, and yet we may fairly claim the credit of having done in Australia a work that no other nation would have done better.

Looking forward to the future, we can see no limit to the possible growth of the Australian Empire. An English journal once described Australia as “a desert fringed with verdure.” We have come now to know better than that, because we have altered the meaning of the term “desert.” What the early colonists condemned as barren and unproductive territory is now found to be country of the finest pastoral character, and that which the early squatter condemned as the poorest grazing ground, is now yielding harvests. In the early days of South Australia, Colonel Gawler condemned the Adelaide plains as utterly unfit for wheat; now the farmers of that colony are growing wheat almost as far north as the head of Spencer’s Gulf. There are very few countries of the world in which there is not some barren land; even in densely populated England there are still sandy heaths and rocky moors; and in Australia it is probable that there will be patches that may remain for ever unproductive. But when we have done all that can be done by storing water, by planting trees, and by sowing fresh grasses to turn the natural resources of this country to account, there will not be very much left of what will be called Australian “desert.” At present, we have done but little more than look out upon the land and catch the first glimpse of what its resources are. There is for generation after generation indefinite employment in filling in the work, the outlines of which have been carved out by us, and succeeding generations will look back upon the congratulations which we now offer to ourselves on our present success, and smile to think with how little we were satisfied. It is our part, however, in this generation to do very largely pioneer work, and to hand forward to the next generation an inheritance enriched by our labours.

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 26 January 1875, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
Ashantee war = a reference to one of the wars between Great Britain and the Ashanti Empire (located in the area of modern-day Ghana, West Africa); there were five Anglo-Ashanti wars, in 1824-1831, 1863-1864, 1873-1874, 1895-1896, and 1900-1901 (the fifth Ashantee war was known as the War of the Golden Stool)

Australasia = Australia and New Zealand; in a wider context, it can refer to Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and neighboring islands

Mort = Thomas Sutcliffe Mort (1816-1878), an industrialist who helped to improve the refrigeration of meat (born in England, migrated to Australia in 1838)

verdure = the lush greenness of flourishing and healthy vegetation

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