Of all life’s difficulties, arriving penniless in a foreign country with just the clothes on ones’ back and a suitcase or two must rank as one of the more traumatic ones.
Yet in Australia, hundreds of thousands of migrants did just that, and lately the boatpeople are trying to do the same.
I wonder how many of us have ever arrived penniless anywhere, away from own language and customs, trying to make sense of a world that is totally foreign?
Of course, many might venture for a holiday to foreign places but still rely and hope that English is spoken and that the request for a train-ticket or directions is understood. Not many of us speak other languages. Our favourite overseas destinations generally seem to gravitate to England, the US, New Zealand, Fiji or Canada. Of even greater comfort is a well stacked portemonnaie.
In the past there was a group of brave Australians who did venture to a far away non-English speaking country with hardly any possessions, dirt poor. They were the very first of Australian Diaspora. They intended to set up for good, a new society with ideals of justice, sharing of the common good and away from the disappointment of what Australia had failed to provide them.
“We’ll all share alike, all be equal, and live as happy as turtle doves!”
“Yes, but who will do the washing up?”
This was the catchcry in about 1893 of their leader William Lane with a shearer asking the question about washing up.
The recent news about “The Tree of Knowledge” in Queensland’s Barcaldine, the birthplace of Australian Labor Party in 1891 as a result of the Shearer’s Strike, is what prompts me to write about this amazing piece of history that seems to have got lost somewhere.
It has me baffled that Ned Kelly or Bradman the cricketer rank in Australia’s history so much more than the heroic attempts by hundreds of Australians to start a new life elsewhere.
It is especially puzzling when amongst those Australians it included Dame Mary Gilmore (nee Cameron).
The Shearer’s Strike in 1891 resulted in many being imprisoned, when on March 7 a contingent of the United Pastoralists’ Association arrived at Clermont. They were surrounded by 200 rioting unionists.
At Barcaldine hundreds of shearers “stared down” soldiers rifles and hundreds marched behind the Oddfellows’ band. There were threats of woolsheds being burnt down, railway-lines being dynamited and things were getting out of hand.
Thus the ALP was born, and so was a communism believing group of people led by the charismatic, teetotaller and abstemious William Lane.
The seeds of leaving Australia to set up an Utopian community in Paraguay was born out of those tumultuous years both before and after the shearer’s strike when the pastoralists managed to introduce non-union labour including Chinese and Kanak non-union labourers, shearers and rouse-abouts.
During 1893 on board The Royal Tar almost 500 Australians set sail for Paraguay. They would try and set up a socialist utopia, live in peace and harmony, with equality for all. Can you imagine the feelings of those true blue Aussies and shearers to boot? On board were many tents, building materials, horses and buggies and also included a piano and organ.
After arrival, the men were to set up dwellings on a large tract of land that the Paraguayan Government had leased to the group providing that a minimum number of new Australian settler families would farm and cultivate that land within a certain time frame.
The group included many married couples of whom some of the wives and children would follow later, after the tents and other temporary dwellings were set up in the jungles of Paraguay. There were just 3 single women on board but many bachelors!
The present boatpeople arriving in Australian waters do not have a welcoming committee or a friendly Government that those Aussies had in Paraguay so many years ago. There are no speeches held, nor are they given tracts of land to cultivate.
Some of you will point out that the Australians entered Paraguay legally and that the present boat people are “illegal”.
Desperate refugees’ plights are far worse than our own 1893 Diaspora. Would it not be nice and civil and obliging our Human Rights obligation if the mainly Afghans, Sri Lankans and some others were at least allowed temporary settlement on shore rather than in the isolation of detention camps at Christmas Island.
They might have been smuggled by unscrupulous dealers but they are not illegal people.
Australia is the least populated continent in the world. This is why migrants were and are still allowed to settle here by the hundreds of thousands.
My own parents arrived here with just the clothes they were wearing and a few suitcases. “Speak f***ng English?”, we were told, and Italians and Greeks were dark skinned garlic eating, knife pullers. Anyone darker and the White Australian Policy could prevent settlement in Australia till 1973.
The Paragayan Utopia failed for many reasons. The insistence of temperance by William Lane in favour of the local ‘yerba mate’ tea drink did not go down well with the Australians that had solemnly promised him total sobriety, (after a couple of beers), before departing from Balmain, Sydney.
A very youthful Caroline Jones retraced their steps and an ABC documentary was produced in 1975. The centenary of the 1893 departure of The Royal Tar was celebrated in 1993 which I attended with a few hundred others.
There are some books written on this fascinating piece of Australian history. It does not seemed to have gripped historians to any degree though.
Perhaps it is all too boring a subject. Perhaps the idea that Australia was once seen by some as less than a desirable country? Perhaps also that the word Communism is part of this story?