Australia is an island
History frequently makes attempts to repeat itself, but never quite succeeds in the attempt. If the British Navy, concentrated in the North Sea to defend Britain, were obliged to leave Australia defenceless, a striking historical precedent would occur to the minds of those who had sufficient leisure and learning, at such a time, to draw the analogy. It may be remembered that Britain was once a colony — an outpost of the Roman Empire.
While Britain was a Roman colony, the British were “protected,” by the Roman Legions, to such an extent that the British themselves, for a couple of centuries, had no need to fear foreign invasion.
But then suddenly the Mother Country, Rome, was menaced by invading Goths and Vandals — and Mussolini’s forbears decided that the Empire could go hang, but that Italy must be defended at all costs. Accordingly, the Roman Legions were withdrawn (and quite justifiably so) from the far-flung colony of Britain. Even the Governors and Governor-General were withdrawn, the loans and investments were written off as a dead loss; and Britain, a defenceless colony, was promptly invaded by the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. Such is the parallel from history which we may be confronted.
But history never exactly repeats itself. If it did, we should have to decide that mankind is incapable of learning from experience. There are invariably new factors when a historical situation looks like being repeated.
In this instance the new factor is aeroplanes. By means of a sufficient fleet of aeroplanes, Australia could defend itself against any possible invading force, which would be obliged to come here by sea. Australia, from the military point of view, is an island — even more so than Britain has been throughout all history. Australia can only be invaded and invested by troops brought in ships across oceans. For the price of one battleship, 250 bombing aeroplanes could be built and maintained. With two thousand such aeroplanes, for the cost of only eight warships, Australia could be defended for all time against all comers.
This is the spectacular new historical development which makes it possible for us in Australia, with only seven million people, to hold this continent intact. Aeroplanes, as far as the defence of Australia is concerned, have made the British Navy obsolete, or, from our point of view, unnecessary.
With a population increased to ten or twenty millions we could feel absolutely confident of being able to repel any invading force which might, if it could reach these shores, attempt to occupy our territory. Even with our present population, we believe that we could make things so hot for an invader that he would consider the attempt unprofitable.
But it is aeroplanes which will save us. Australians are aviators — that is scarcely to be denied. As soon as we have aircraft factories here, and the manufacture of oil from coal or shale, we shall be able to defend ourselves, and to build our national life without fear of violent interruption, from any quarter whatsoever.
Aeroplanes, oil from coal, and more people — but particularly aeroplanes is the paramount factor in Australia’s defence policy.
We face this fact not because we think the British navy would not defend us: but because we think that the British Navy, in our emergency, might not be able, through preoccupation at “home,” to reach these waters.
Facts are forcing us into national self-reliance: the national self-reliance which presages adult nationhood.
Aeroplanes, which were invented in Australia by Hargrave in the year 1881, might be considered, by those who believe in God, as a special provision of the Deity for the national self-defence of this Commonwealth.
P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 159-161