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Australian International History - Essay Example

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Australian International History

This is in spite of (or should one say, because) of the fact that, ethnically, the majority of Australians are British, mainly penal settlers; the original habitants of the country-the aborigines-constitute a mere 2% of the present population.2
Although some Australian writers of the early twentieth century, perhaps as a reaction, have gone to the extent of denying British influence on Australian life and institutions in general, this is a denial of the truth. The relation between Britain and Australia, "both official and sentimental"3 is complex, and "till 1914, Australia depended on Britain for much of its prosperity, by choice."(the emphasis is mine)4 As Keith Hancock said, it was "not impossible for Australia, nourished by a glorious literature and haunted by old memories to be in love with two soils."5
The imbroglio over an independent defence for the dominion was the chief political issue between Britain and Australia during the pre World War years of the twentieth century. In 1899, 16000 Australians had voluntarily served in the Boer War. Neville Chamberlain, who later became Prime Minister of Britain, enthusiastically pushed for the formation of colonial armies (India, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) that would fight anywhere across the Empire. Although New Zealand was agreeable to providing soldiers for this force, both Canada and Australia balked. Australia wanted an army for its own protection and not for being deployed to Europe. Political events of the time, like the Boer War, which undermined British supremacy worried Australia. It felt that it could be attacked in its position as a colony of Britain. When Japan defeated Russia (Russo-Japanese War, 1905) and showed inclinations to spreading out militarily into Asia, Australia worried that it might also divert its covetous eyes to acquisitions on Australian territory.

Britain did not initially encourage Australia to develop itself militarily, because it did not take the idea of a defence force for its dominion seriously. Besides, it was felt that should any enemy commercial ship defeat an Australian gunboat in an engagement, it would reflect on Britain, as a defeat of Imperial forces.6 However, the increasing threats to British supremacy, and the spectre of a Germany strengthening its military spurred Britain on to urge its colonies to develop their own military. In 1906, the Imperial Admiralty proposed the establishment of a separate navy stationed at Melbourne, and was generous in funding this as well.7 Alfred Deakin, Australian Prime Minister, wrested a concession from Britain-that the personnel from the Australian navy could be interchanged with those of the Imperial. This would give them (the Australian navy) the necessary expertise. Admiral Sir John Fisher of Britain also provided, by default, an impetus for the development of the Australian navy. Fisher believed that if a flotilla were developed, such that the British Isles instead of being defended at her borders (by battle ships) could have torpedo ships that prevented enemy vessels from setting out from their shores, it would be in the larger interest of Britain.8 This led to the addition of ships to the Australian Navy, and an ...Show more

Summary

The dawn of the twentieth century saw the birth of a new identity for Australia. On the 1st of January 1901, the six British colonies of New South Wales, Queensland, Southern Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia were unified into a federation-the Commonwealth of Australia-with a constitution of its own, but with dominion status…
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