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Saturday, 30 January 2010
Australian Federation, Military Implications, The Strange Account
Topic: Gen - Australia

Australian Federation

Military Implications

The Strange Account

 

Thomas Bland Strange

 

Thomas Bland Strange (15 September 1831 – 9 July 1925) was a British soldier noted for his service with the Canadian militia during the North-West Rebellion of 1885. In 1889, Bland Strange toured Australia. During this time he visited the main cities and spoke with many prominent men. On his return to Britain, he wrote this very insightful article regarding the situation in Australia regarding Federation, its needs and the problems attaching to the idea. In it he clearly identifies Germany as the key threat to Australia. He also foretells the possibility of an alliance between Australia and the United States. Strange also envisages an Australia that is made up of Continental Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, a prescient idea that found articulation within the Federated Constitution. The article "Obstacles to Imperial Federation the Disunited States of Great Britain" was published in The United Service Magazine, with which is incorporated the Army and Navy Magazine, Volume II New Series, October 1890, to March 1891, (London 1891), pp. 159 - 169.

 

Obstacles to Imperial Federation the Disunited States of Great Britain.
By Major-General T. B. Strange

II. Australasia.

Of all the disunited States of Greater Britain, Australasia appears the most disunited, a heptanarchy, a modern edition of the strife that the historian likens to the wars of the “Kites and Crows," which was waged by our Saxon ancestors in the old land one thousand years ago.

Except in its change of weapons, from sword to tariff, the race seems but little changed in its determined and dangerous dislike to national organization. When last united under a Saxon king (though flushed with victory over the invading Harold Hardrada, to whom our English Harold gave but seven feet of English soil, when he asked the whole), they marched against the Norman, the loss of a single battle, an arrow shot at a venture, decided the fate of England. The Saxon never again attempted organized resistance to a handful of invaders, so few that their very language passed away from among us, though for a few centuries they left us the Norman power of ruling, which seems to have disappeared. Hereward the Wake, the last of the English, died like a true Englishman; surprised, unarmed, he fell fighting in a circle of slain foeman. Eight centuries later, amid the bloody surprises of the Indian Mutiny, another Wake, a civil magistrate, with a handful of native policemen, defended Arrah until relieved. In these days, a few weeks of war results in the dismemberment of empires. Will undisciplined courage forever succeed, despite deliberate dissension and its inevitable unpreparedness!

Mr. Gossip tells us in his article, “that he hangs his obstacles to Imperial Federation on the peg of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the Bulletin, and the Boomerang. It is necessary to have a clear appreciation of the value of the sources from which he supplies his fulmen brutum for our benefit, and to consider if it is likely to be a true index of sober Australasian opinion.

When in Australia I saw, in Melbourne, a statue lately raised to General Gordon; New South Wales had sent her contingent to his rescue, and then repented of her generous act. I read in the Bulletin that Gordon “was a sainted nigger butcher," deserving no statue, which is likely to be the true expression of the generous heart of Australia?

De mortuis is no concern of the Bulletin, which respects nothing human or divine. [Vide cartoons of the Bulletin.]

When the Honorable Mr. Dalley died, the Bulletin suggested the monument of an ass in a lion's skin; England has placed a memorial to the Australian statesman in Westminster Abbey, the Valhalla of her heroes. Which treatment of her son does Australia really desire?

So much for the dead; now for the living. If we took the separatist Sydney Telegraph, Bulletin, and the Boomerang, as the formulators of present Australasian political creeds, and accepted the gospel of St. Gossip, we should have to take au serieux, the grotesque illumination of its missals, and believe that Sir Henry Parkes was leading his New South Wales' battalions to defend the boundary of the much irrigating Murray; while sturdy Duncan Gillies, with his kilt tucked up, ready to wade in, was marshalling his mounted rifles from Mordialloc. [The autumn manoeuvres are held near Mordialloc, where the Australian Battle of Dorking was supposed to be fought by the clever writer of an Australian pamphlet.] Certainly the figure of Sir Henry Parkes, the G. O. M. of Australia, looms large across the Pacific, not as a Separatist, but as the leader of the movement for Australian Federation, while the Premier of Victoria and his colleagues of the other colonies, are no whit behind in the movement; indeed, Australasia has for some years had a Federal Council, from which, however, New South Wales and New Zealand hold aloof. New Zealand would, I believe, prefer federation with England to legislative union with Australia. There are tariff difficulties, but they will be got over, and a federated Australia at no distant date will, like the Federation of Canada, be better able to demand due consideration of her interests in the Council of the Empire that is to be. Great Britain places no obstacle in the path of Australian Federation. “Divide et impera" has long ceased to be the policy of Britain to her Colonies, if it ever was.

Sir Henry Parkes's dictum, “that there must be more separation before there is union," is evident, for the vast territories of Queensland, South and West Australia, invertebrates by extent of territory and sparseness of population, must reproduce themselves by division, from climatic and other causes.
The northern territories are tropical, despite the white oligarchs of labour, who (because they cannot endure the sweltering toil of the sugar plantations, demand the exclusion of coloured labour) will not be able for long to retard the progress of so fair a portion of the globe, not even by using Exeter hall as a cat's- paw. There is, unfortunately, another white race established close to their northern unoccupied territory, said to be more ready with “bullets than Bibles." They have lately wedged themselves in among our missionaries and traders in Africa.

Mr. Gossip does good service to the cause of Imperial Federation when he states plainly that the hauling down of our flag in New Guinea, under Lord Derby's administration, accompanied as it was by the disingenuous statements of that nobleman and air. Gladstone, was a bitter humiliation, and a tangible injury that has produced a feeling of mingled contempt and hatred to the mother-country among a large portion of the people of Queensland, and Australia generally. This, and the French Recidivists being sent to New Caledonia, are, in my opinion, the only two real grievances of Australia, and are, the principal cause of the violent reaction against the proposed unity of the Empire, which goes by the ill-selected name of Imperial Federation.

The, feeling, though perfectly natural, is illogical. The only remedy against its recurrence is the insistence by the Colonies to a voice in the foreign policy of the Empire, if they are men enough to share the responsibilities, which would be reduced to a minimum by a Federal Union with Great Britain on equal terms.

Such confederacy would do away with the necessity for foreign alliance. Any concession at the expense of the Colonies to obtain it is futile as well as disgraceful. No foreign Power can trust us, as we can have no continuity of policy with our Parliamentary institutions. In our late efforts, we have abdicated solid land for promises that could not even be put on paper without upsetting the English Government that ventured to make the treaty. At best, the promises of a military power to aid us are a good deal like the friendly promises of aid from a dog to a fish.

Federation with our Colonies would create so strong a power that no single State, or even coalition of Powers, would venture try assail it. At present Australasia taxes herself for the maintenance of men and forts, for the defence of her soil, and contributes her quota to the navy of the Empire. Any war in which England might be engaged (as to the necessity for which no Colonial representative has vote or voice) would put a heavy strain on Colonial defences, and increase the outlay necessary, besides causing commercial losses. Colonists see that this is that taxation without representation which separated us from the thirteen Colonies now the United States of America, but they dread the alternative; of separation at present. With a calm reliance on the dull amiability of England, they propose to retain the connection, and such protection as it involves, until they are able to stand alone. This, Mr. Gossip plainly states, is the view of many. Then the old country will be invited to “step down and out," to become a second Holland, or what she will; to devote herself to the cultivation of tulips, with or without the protection of Germany. Suppose Australia adopts the “cut the painter" policy, declaring her independence. In the face of the earth hunger that pervades the armed nations of Europe, in whose teeming work shops, on whose partially worn-out farms, every able-bodied man has been a trained soldier and is still enrolled as a reservist, the thoughtful Australian must have grave doubts as to whether his golden continent would be allowed to grow in peace, unmolested, until the population was ten times larger than it is, to enable him to defend it. He is conscious that the sum total of the wealth of Australia, divided by the present population, shows that they are the richest and the most defenceless people in the world, without an army, navy, arsenals, or ammunition sufficient for a week's fighting. No use to speak of the impassable Pacific. It has been bridged by steam.

In the late manoeuvres, one British fleet failed to find another on the limited Atlantic trade-routes, and blockade has proved a failure. If the Imperial fleet cannot now secure absolute protection to the coasts or commerce of the Empire, consider what fleet an independent Australia would have to maintain, not merely to protect her own shores but her commerce on every sea.

Had Federal Union been established, as it would have been, on the serious demand of the Colonies, instead of their ill-advised vapouring about independence, the cession of New Guinea would have been as impossible as the cession of the Isle of Wight. There is no use trying to conceal from ourselves the fact that Colonial statesmen and soldiers (and there are already a few Colonial soldiers) realise the fact that the larger portion of New Guinea, being German and Dutch, gives a base of operations to the strongest military power in the world (rapidly becoming a naval power) upon an island larger than Great Britain, as close to Queensland as Liverpool is to Dublin.

The Australian who looks beyond his continent, the Englishman whose mental vision penetrates the fog of his own island, notices that the German patriotic and philosophic spectacles see conveniently when opportunity occurs. They discovered when Schleswig-Holstein should be absorbed into the Fatherland, when Elsace and Lothringen had to be restored, when the Teutonic Boers required support and sympathy by extension of German influence in Africa.

Soon they will see that Holland, with its old King and his child daughter, require protection and absorption. They will then incorporate the only maritime people who ever “swept the chops of the Channel with a broom." Do many people realise that Holland stands next Great Britain as a colonial Power, holding 688,000 square miles of territory, with 26,841,600 inhabitants? France comes a poor second, with 8,723,000 inhabitants and 382,700 square miles. [From Dr, Geffcken's British Empire, written before the scramble for Africa in the present year.]

The home system of defence by large maps has not prevented the angry colonist from seeing how the hutch possessions, Java, Sumatra, and the chain of islands under Dutch power trend to New Guinea.

The Dutch have 30,000 sepoys in Java and their Indian possessions. When they are under the pickel haube, [“Spiked helmet” of the German army.] how long will it be before German influence works its way on to the unoccupied continent of Australia?

At present the German colonist is welcomed as an industrious, quiet settler, but with Imperial Colonial Germany in New Guinea, he may become a disturbing element, necessitating conventions and treaties, always of questionable advantage to the weaker power.

To turn to another great military power, Russia, to check whose advance a treaty is about as futile as an agreement with a glacier, for both are impelled by physical causes to descend to the plains. We believe, however, the Russia glacier will melt under the sun of Hindostan, gleaming on a hundred thousand British bayonets, and on the weapons of twice that number of the most warlike races of India, our staunch Allies. But if Russia does ever, through our own imbecility of divided councils, overrun India, the restless Sikh and Moslem, under Muscovite officers, will eventually appear on the Queensland coast to share in the scramble for the golden continent. "Not in our time, O Lord!" I hear it said; but if he comes, the climate suits him, and he comes to stay. Let not any confident Queenslander imagine for a moment that the disciplined Sikh infantry and the Mussulman Irregular Horse are not a match for the best bush chivalry of Australia, or that they in any way resemble the mild coolie or box-wallah who has already invaded Australia, except in that they can endure heat and require but little food. How plain is it that the interests of the Empire are inextricably bound up together. One is so tired of the oft-repeated, never acted-upon truism "United we stand, divided we fall," and the fall of England from her height would be the greatest.

It cannot be denied that many colonists have republican sentiments, and look to the United States for protection. No doubt Jonathan is preparing to pickup the pieces of the Empire John Bull seems determined to throw away, and aims at the leadership of the English-speaking race.

But how would the race fare under Jonathan? Would he protect countries that make hostile tariffs against him, would he admit their products duty free, as good-natured, much-abused John does. As to his treatment of secession, the Southern States are an answer for the Colonies to consider.
If America could defend Australasia by economic bluff, all would be well, but no country except England accepts bluff. From the nature of their institutions are the United States of America likely to be a great military or naval power, capable or willing to take a lion's share in the defence of a world-wide Federation as Great Britain easily could, if she would rise to the situation?
I have not dwelt on the fact that France in New Caledonia, though an irritation is not a danger to Australasia, because France has a diminishing population, and is sunk in parliamentary impotence, from which isolated states seldom emerge. The same might be said of ourselves except that we have colonies to rouse us, through a Federal Council or elected senate.

The obstruction which has been submitted to by the English Parliament has brought on us the contempt of the Colonies, where, however, it has had its counterpart, termed “stonewalling." The Colonial electors, however, have of late dropped the most notorious obstructives; and coalition governments, as in England, exist in the best governed colonies. Unfortunately, Colonial political leaders are like the Salvation lasses, who beat the tambourine to the noisiest popular melody, and dance backwards, before the following army: neither leaders nor soldiers look where they are going. Is there nothing, of the same sort at home, others also even statesmen do not seem to realise that the majority is seldom the noisiest? And though noise often prevails. the reflex waves of public opinion, are so rapid among an impulsive people like the Australians, that a statesman who worthily loses his seat is apt to return to power quickly, as in the case worthily Sir Samuel Griffiths, of Queensland, who, at the Colonial Conference in London committed Queensland to a share in Australian naval defence. The Queenslanders repudiated the action of their representative, and e had to resign his political leadership. He is again in power, with a colleague who advocated separation from facet Britain on account of the New Guinea episode. The people of Queensland, though most amiable and genial personally, nationally have the passionate irritability of character due to a hot climate, which we must not always take seriously, though the results will surely be serious unless the phlegmatic home officials, men on high stools at the Colonial Office, are sent out to learn something about the Colonies. [Lord Knutsford himself gaily tells us he never saw but one Colony, and that was a small one.] The Colonial Office failed to support one able governor who was within his rights; he was subsequently worried to death, and his nominated successor rejected by the clamour of the Irish element. The third, an able administrator, returns, it is said, because his salary is not sufficient to meet the expenses of entertainment.

The latest demand is for lords as governors, and yet Mr. Gossip complains! He tells us “Colonial governors are, by nature, habit, and training, fervent advocates of Imperial Federation." He must know that the modern colonial governor strictly conforms to the type he is sent to represent, a constitutional roi fainéant, who reigns but does not govern, and is never a fervent advocate of anything; as to their habit, nature, and training, it is often liberal. A Conservative government gets rid of a troublesome opponent by making him a governor; while a Liberal government, more consistently, appoints one of its supporters. The speeches of Colonial governors of late steer very clear of Imperial union, but rather lean towards prophetic pictures of colonial independence in the near future, pleasing to the super-fervid patriot of the Sydney Telegraph type, who, nevertheless, is not satisfied ; for appetite grows with feeding, while the quiet, undemonstrative believer in British connection, goes home from a public function depressed with the feeling "that there is no King in Israel, and every man does what is right in his own eyes." Not a comforting; feeling for the student of Scripture, who remembers the events which led to the sacred writer's remark.

The Irish element is strong in Queensland and Sydney, and Irishmen generally being illogical are against Imperial Federation for the Colonies, though they desire it for Ireland; but that element is not strong in Victoria and the other colonies, where the leading Liberal and Conservative journals were against Mr. Dillon's mission.

Accidentally, I followed the footsteps of both Mr. Parkin and of Mr. Dillon. l can fully endorse Mr. Nicholls's statement of the general success of the lectures of Mr. Parkin on National Federation.

I left Sydney by the same steamer as Mr. Dillon. While in Sydney I should riot have known of his presence except by tilt' reports of the newspapers, and I witnessed what was described in the press all over the world as his triumphal departure. Lt reminded me of certain battles in which I had in earlier years borne a part. When I read the newspaper reports I did not recognize the battles. When I reached America and read the papers, I did not recognize Mr. Dillon's triumph. I have been urged to describe what I saw. I saw no special crowds; I heard no cheering, but as we steamed off, two small harbour ferry boats followed us, one with a brass band playing “They are killing men and women for the wearin' o' the green," the other with a cargo of school-girls (belonging to a convent, I was told), who stultified the ballad by wearing and waving green scarfs without any Herodian slaughter resulting as a penalty. I saw a tall, thin, pale gentleman standing by the taffrail, with three or four others, taking off their hats - Voila tout. There certainly was no demonstrative enthusiasm among passengers or crew. It is thus that newspaper history is made, and the opinions of a people gauged. It is hard for any man to judge of the prevalent opinions of a people if he confines himself to a class, or belongs to a political party. I belong to no political party. But I write what I do know, and testify to that which I have seen. My acquaintance in the Colonies has not, like Mr. Froude's, been confined to the purple and fine linen part of the population, though hospitably made a member of many clubs, from the " Plutocratic " to the " Bohemian," and I came to the conclusion that Melbourne at least was a city mostly occupied by millionaires and mechanics. I was neither. Their relations were amicable then; they are somewhat strained at present. The strikes had just commenced in London, and I was somewhat roundly reproved at an Australian breakfast table for questioning the wisdom or justice of certain impulsive Australian employers of labour subscribing to the dock strike in London before due inquiry into the merits of the case. The action was defended on the grounds of philanthropy. I suggested the truest charity would be to relieve the glut of labour in London by paying the passages of the willing unemployed to Australia. I was told by employers that the working men of Australia, their political masters, would not tolerate any such practical sympathy; and some employers confessed that they subscribed to the London strike to secure popularity for their firms. Some having set the example, others were, bound to follow. I ventured to suggest their chickens might come home to roost. Events have amply justified the opinion.

The Central News says: -
The secretary of the Employers' Union of Australia has telegraphed to this country a long statement setting forth some of the chief points in their view of the present situation of affairs in the labour dispute. lie points out that the greater portion of the contributions sent to tile London Dockers' Fund last year actually came from tile employers and from great commercial institutions, and they were sent solely to relieve distress. The Labour Council was merely used as a channel for transmitting those funds, and the gifts did not emanate from, nor were they principally contributed by, the labour party. The present strike originated in the officers of the Labour Union insisting upon the complete affiliation of the various labour organizations, a stop which was calculated to intimidate the employers. The various classes of workmen who have joined the strike are as follows:- Sailors, firemen, trimmers, cooks, stewards, gas stokers, wharfmen, and coal miners. The average wages earned by sailors, including money made by overtime work, amount to £10 per month ; firemen make £9 per month; trimmers, £7; cooks, £10; stewards, £9 ; besides having all requisites for their work provided free. Gas stokers earn 70s. a week; wharfmen are paid 10s. for eight hours' work, and 60 per cent. more than that for overtime. Coal lumpers, who are paid by piece-work, receive 2s. an hour, and when permanently employed, receive an advance of 50 per cent. upon that sum for all overtime work. All other trades are equally liberally paid. In conclusion, the secretary says that the employers only demand freedom to employ free men, without restriction or dictation from the Unions. All workers who are not members of the Union, and who are willing to accept employment at the present time, are vigorously boycotted by members of the Union.

I had read and listened to debates in every legislature in the Colonies, and had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of many of their talented, genial public men-few more talented and genial than the governors. I met with kindly receptions both in the mansion of the squatter and at the farm-house of the free selector. I attended meetings of farmers, mechanics, and fruit-growers, to whom I spoke on Imperial Federation. In New Zealand I was kindly asked to accompany an influential member of the legislature in his canvass through his district, as large as an average English county, also to speak on Imperial Federation. Of course, avoiding politics local and Imperial, I had to answer the questions, and got the opinions of all sorts and conditions of men. They were almost invariably favourable to British connection, though they had not thought deeply about details of Imperial Federation (have we done so at home?), being more occupied with local matters, as we are. There are few men of leisure in the Colonies, and politicians think only of votes. It is not a question that will come to the polls, and we shall drift apart unless the people of the mother-country take the initiative.

Of course, among my interlocutors was the inevitable Irishman who could not be satisfied. Being of a belligerent race, lie took exception to there being any federation for defence, as all the world should be at “pace." I had to remind him that the last advice given to his followers by the Prince of Peace was: "Let him that hath no sword sell his garment and buy one." Everywhere I went in Australasia I met with kindness and politeness from all classes.

Sir Charles Dilke has just published a most able work, Problems Greater Britain; but he does not seem to have been there very lately.

As to Mr. Gossip's other complaint, that the bait of titles is used by the Imperial Government for strengthening Imperial anion, I may venture to suggest that if the attempt were made it has not been a success; for Sir Richard Cartright in Canada lately brought in a motion for practical annexation to the United States; and Sir Thomas McIlwraith is the leader of the party for separation from the mother-country in Queensland.

In the jumble of colonial politics, however, he is the colleague of Sir Samuel Griffiths, the declared advocate of Imperial Federation. It is very well known that the list of contemplated recipients of honours is made out by the colonial ministry of the day. Their supporters are naturally nominated, and the magic letters are stuck on to the names at the Colonial Office, apparently without reference to the fact of the recipient being a Republican, Separatist, or a United Empire Loyalist. The proposed honour is sometimes declined.

So far from the leader of the present Conservative Government being an “Imperialistic plotter," he has decidedly thrown cold water on Imperial Federation, for which the Bulletin applauded him. It may be doubted whether applause from such a quarter would be welcome to the recipient.

The dread of the democratic element that would be introduced, if the Colonies had a share in the government of the empire, is a deterrent to the aristocratic and older Conservative party of Great Britain; but as Federation would be limited to foreign policy and defence, there is no place for social questions in such a scheme.

Perhaps the strongest share of the clamour for separation is due to the use that is made by politicians of the “Australian Natives, Association”; its very name proclaims indifference to and ignorance of the outside world. The “black fellow" is irresistibly recalled to the imagination by the ill-chosen title of the associated Australian born, from the nature of things, young men.

In the country districts the Australian born is a fine animal, brave, athletic, and genial with the sunshine of his climate-with a self-confidence, as a rule,: only equalled by his ignorance and consequent indifference to matters outside his continent. He would make an excellent officer if a Federal Military College, like that of Canada, existed for the training of the jeunesse dorée of the golden land. The Canadian graduates are held in high esteem in the British army, succeeding equally in civil or military careers, from the boy Surveyor Corryell [Unfortunately, history is not one of the Sergeant Corryell, though snow-blind for days, caused himself to be guided in front of the scouts of the Alberta Field Force until he recovered sight, and led the advanced scouts to the conclusion of the campaign in the far North of Canada.] to Lieutenant Stairs, R.E., the trusted soldier of Stanley.

The city-bred Australian mentally resembles his country comrade, but lacks the physique, and has some temptation to lapse into the “larrikin."

School of Victoria, and but little of it in the other Colonies. When speaking on this subject to a wealthy and cultivated Australian, a graduate of Oxford, I was told, “They did not desire their young people to waste time over the histories of played-out old peoples, but to make history for themselves." I got no clear answer to my query, “What sort of history do you suppose will be made by a people who are not only ignorant of the history of the great race from which they sprang, but of all other races?”

I ask the reader to picture to himself the mind of a young person, almost devoid of historic knowledge, living in a far-off Colony, where nature assumes a somewhat monotonous aspect, where there are no historic associations. As our appreciation of general literature is mainly due to such historic knowledge, is it surprising that the young Australian of both sexes, though musical, is not an imaginative or reading person? The readable poetry of Australia has been written by old-country men, and is more appreciated by them than by the Australian born. Upon these practical but unimaginative people depend the future relations of their country to ours. The old Colonist is passing away, and is succeeded by his sons, who talk as if they, and not their fathers, had built up the marvellous growth of the Antipodes. Let them see that they are fit to stand in their fathers' shoes.

There are few grander men, mentally, morally, and physically, than the old Australian Colonist. He is the survival of the fittest, for the weak went to the wall. Generally of good birth, sometimes of humble origin, but with solid schooling from the old country, especially the Scotch, they have further educated themselves at many a lonely outpost of civilization. I have heard them sneered at by Separatist compatriots as bucolic intellects. I have found the reverse, especially in the cooler climates of New Zealand and Tasmania. They form, all over Australasia, a natural aristocracy, without an exact counterpart in any part of the world. They know that union is strength, and are, as far as I have seen, United Empire Loyalists to a man. But they are outvoted by their own shepherds and the mechanics of the towns, and they believe that England has thrown up the game of Empire. Is it so? The People of Great Britain must answer before the race of old Colonists die out, or United Empire will never be.

T. BLAND STRANGE, Major-General.

 

Further Reading:

Australian Items

Militia 1899 - 1920

 


Citation: Australian Federation, Military Implications, The Strange Account

Posted by Project Leader at 8:06 AM EAST
Updated: Saturday, 30 January 2010 8:59 AM EAST

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