Hard choices: Defining Australia's national interest in an Asian century
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Australia is a prosperous country with a complex past and subject to geographical isolation and the tyranny of distance (Blainey, 1983). It is a large land mass, much of which is arid but rich in resources, and it is near to Asia on the one side and New Zealand and remote Pacific Islands on the other. It was sparsely populated by primitive nomadic indigenous people who had their own way of coping with the environment (Broome, 2002, ch. 1). Europeans initially settled Australia as penal colonies after the American War of Independence (Hughes, 1988). The size of the continent meant the settlement of separate colonies which subsequently formed a federation as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 (Clark, 1995, chs. 5–6; Welsh, 2004, ch. 9). The sparseness of the population and the proximity of Asia led to fears of an Asian invasion (Windschuttle, 2004; Day, 2005, chs. 11–12). In the gold rushes of the 19th century, there was an influx of Chinese immigrants (Fitzgerald, 2007; Day, 2005, ch. 12). In a very interesting book written in 1893, National Life and Character: A Forecast, Charles Pearson, former Oxbridge don and King's College London Professor who became Minister of Education in Victoria, put forward this striking argument (pp. 84–85):
The day will come, and perhaps is not far distant, when the European observer will look round to see the globe girdled with a continuous zone of the black and yellow races, no longer too weak for aggression or under tutelage, but independent, or practically so, in government, monopolising the trade of their own regions, and circumscribing the industry of the Europeans; when Chinamen and the natives of Hindostan, the states of Central and South America, by that time predominantly Indian … are represented by fleets in the European seas, invited to international conferences and welcomed as allies in quarrels of the civilized world…
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