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Four Countries, One Continent

A counter-factual history of Australasia in the 20th century

January 1, 2001. Federation Day. Huge crowds gathered in Sydney to witness the re-enactments and grand parade, and join in the celebrations to mark the centenary of their federal nation. As the long parade snaked through the city towards Centennial Park the watchers gave little thought (if any) to the number of state floats. One float for each of the four states, and one for each of the four territories. Observers had also come from each of the other Australasian countries, but neither they nor the crowds seemed to consider what might have been.

The federation that they were celebrating had arisen as a result of a decade of intense public and political debates. These processes had culminated in the federation referenda of 1899. The voters in the colonies of Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales had supported the proposed federation, while those in Queensland had rejected it. No referendum was held in New Zealand or Western Australia. Delegates from the 'Yes' colonies went to London, and after agreeing to amendments to their proposed constitution, a bill was passed by the Imperial Parliament to establish The Australian Commonwealth on the first day of the new century.

Names and boundaries
Two of the changes accepted by the delegates provided for the name of the new country to be The Australian Commonwealth, rather than the Commonwealth of Australia as originally proposed. Western Australia and Queensland objected that 'Australia' was the name of a continent that they also occupied, rather than just the south eastern corner of the landmass. Another made the results of any referendum on a proposed change to the constitution to be advisory to the Parliament rather than statutory. Given the close vote in some of the colonies, and the rejection by Queensland, the delegates were more than happy to accept this last change.

The limited geographical extent of the proposed new federation, compared to that debated for so long, lead the delegates to suggest that, before the federation could come into being, there should be a review of the existing colonial borders. Borders had changed several times during the lifetimes off all concerned, and the delegates wanted to have their federal compact finalised before any of the referendum results might unravel. Over several weeks in November 1900 the colonial politicians negotiated a new set colonial borders at a special conference in London.

Thus, on the 1st January 1901 The Australian Commonwealth, with its four federal states of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania came into being. The four states, however, had the borders now accepted but which at the time were very new. While the Tasmanian and Victorian borders had remained much as before, New South Wales surrendered its Murray Darling basin to South Australia, and its southern alps to the new federal capital territory, including the continent's highest peak, Mount Kosciuscko, as befitting a national capital. In return for these sacrifices, New South Wales 'regained' the whole Moreton Bay district from Queensland, including Brisbane, that it lost in 1859 while inland southern Queensland was added to South Australia. The South Australians agreed to forego their desert lands in return for the agricultural heartland of Adelaide's natural hinterland in the Murray Darling basin. Most of the western areas were added to Western Australia, and the Northern Territory* was divided between Western Australia and Queensland. The delegates from the nascent Commonwealth were able to consolidate the the most productive and populated areas of the south east for the Commonwealth while excluding the vast peripheral areas that were little developed and consisted of interior deserts, northern tropics, barren coastlines and the isolated south west. Queensland and Western Australia, having rejected federation, found themselves in control of these rejected lands, known initially in Western Australia as the 'Eastern Territories'.

As well as the Australian Capital Territory the Commonwealth soon acquired other territories: Norfolk Island in 1911, Macquarie Island in 1922 and the gigantic Australian Antarctic Territories in 1933, thus extended its territory into oceans and the South Pole. The Australian Commonwealth also continued to expand its industrial bases, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, and surrounded itself with high tariff walls and and an exclusionary White Australia Policy. 'Self sufficiency' was a central goal of public policy for at least sixty years. The Australian Commonwealth has been, and remains, the major industrial and agricultural force of the four contries, with the largest population and densest settlement.

Queensland gained direct control of the British colony of Papua in 1905 and took over the British role in the joint condominium with the French in the New Hebrides in the same year. These were two of the 'rewards' for the loss of Brisbane and the south. Although much deprecated at the time, they ultimately heralded a new direction for Queensland. In the same year the Queensland Free State was established, with its capital at Townsville, and French influences, channelled through the condominium from around the French Pacific, building upon resentment at London's compliance in the loss of Brisbane, gradually increased. A joint Franco/Queensland force occupied German New Guinea in 1915, and France strongly supported the cession of that territory to Queensland at Versailles in 1919. This influence increased further when, following the Nazi occupation of France in 1940, the Vichy authorities in the New Hebrides and New Caledonia surrendered to Queensland forces and both territories came firstly under the 'protection' of the Free State and then, following the end of World War II, sovereignty was formally transferred to Queensland in 1949 in return for support for French claims in Indo-china. Control of the British protectorate in the Solomon Islands was transferred to Queensland in 1946. Thus, the Queensland Free State is today a major South Pacific nation, with French and Melanesian influences significant in its culture.

Western Australia's ruling elites, having rejected federation, continued to thrive on its gold boom in the early 20th century. In 1908 the new 'eastern territories' were formally united with the 'old colony' and became the Union of Westralia. The acquisition of much of the former Northern Territory and western South Australia added thousands of square kilometres of deserts and tropics to the colony. There were strong feelings in Perth that the new lands were a punishment for not federating but, as with Queensland, these views ultimately changed. The new acquisitions were accompanied by extensive public works spending. The Great Indian Ocean Railway project, commenced in 1908, gradually linked Darwin and the coastal towns of the north west with Perth by 1919, while the Great Desert Railway, begun at the same time, linked Kalgoorlie and Alice Springs with Perth. The dominance of Perth was reinforced by a continuing refusal to this day to construct a rail link between Darwin and Alice Springs. As Singapore moved towards independence the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island were acquired in 1955 and 1958 respectively and today form the Union's only external territory, the Indian Ocean Islands Territory. Large areas around Darwin, Wyndham and Broome were opened in 1910 to settlement by 'British Asiatics', mainly from Malaya and Borneo, as well as Burma, India and Ceylon, but also from the Dutch East Indies. Extensive irrigation and plantation cultivation of rice, tropical fruits and spices, the development of fisheries, and the exploitation of huge iron ore reserves, made the area by 1939 a major supplier of foodstuffs to east Asia and industrial raw materials to Japan. Westralia today is significantly integrated into the south east Asian economies, with Malay and Indonesian languages very widely spoken.

New Zealand emerged in 1907 as a Dominion that, like the Australian Commonwealth emphasised its imperial connections and its 'Britishness'. The Dominion also focussed on industrial growth and acquired Pacific and Antarctic territories. In many ways it was a smaller version of the Commonwealth, and from 1936 onwards a series of economic agreements provided a sense of co-operation between the two countries, although the Australians insistence of observing their White Australia Policy prevented any parallel co-operation in political affairs.

Threats of war
During World War I the four countries co-operated within the Imperial order and the WANZAQs** became legendary for their fighting skills. Military co-operation, however, did not engender political solidarity, and during the Great Depression of the early 1930s New Zealand and Australia became increasingly isolationist while Queensland became further entangled with France and the Pacific and Westralia with Japan and South East Asia. It is perhaps fortunate that the land borders in Australia mainly crossed deserts and lightly settled areas. The one exception was where the borders of Queensland and Australia met on the Pacific coast. Fortifications marked this border - most notably the Commonwealth's Fortress Gympie - as did large quarantine and border crossing stations. The Queenslanders were fond of referring to their lost 'southern territories', while the Australians responded to this irredentism with ever increasing trade barriers and slurs on the 'frog islanders'.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939, and especially of the Pacific War in 1941, initially brought forth diverse responses from the Australasian countries. The Australian Commonwealth used its industrial and agricultural strength to support the Allies 'to the last man and the last shilling'. The Queenslanders used the opportunities to further expand their island territories before being shaken by the Japanese invasion and occupation of New Guinea, Papua and islands in the Solomons and Hebrides. Necessity forced an uneasy alliance with the Australian Commonwealth, but old animosities remained below the surface. The Westralians at first tried to take a neutral stance, but the Japanese occupation of south east Asia and then a refusal of their demands for a protectorate over the iron ore fields of the Pilbara lead to the bombing of the northern towns and the temporary occupation of Darwin and Port Hedland. As with Queensland, an uneasy alliance with the Commonwealth was entered into, but also like the Queenslanders, the Westralians considered the Australians to be arrogant, overbearing and well protected by the buffers that their countries afforded the industrial commonwealth. Attempts by the Australians to use the war as a security pretext for extending their White Australia Policy over the whole continent, with little sensitivity to the complex multi-racial societies that had developed in the north and west, only ensured that as soon as the war ended then so did the formal alliances. Despite these political animosities, the WANZAQs again fought with distinction, and all four countries contributed to the occupation forces in Japan. The intense threats of the war also had some impact in promoting some sense of common identity and purpose among the peoples of the four countries, and in 1951 as the Commonwealth celebrated its jubilee a 'Greater Federation Movement' opened branches in all countries.

Post-war booms
Following the end of the war, Queensland consolidated its role in the South Pacific (to the irritation of the New Zealanders), and accepted large numbers of French and francophone refugees, while Westralia accepted large numbers of refugees, Asian and colonial, from South East Asia and actively supported the struggles for independence in Indonesia (creating tensions with Queenslanders along their border with Dutch New Guinea) and later in Indo-China (again creating tensions with the francophile Queenslanders). In 1961 the Westralians, backed by the US, arbitrated between the claims of Queensland and Indonesia to Dutch New Guinea before all parties agreed to a solution brokered in the UN. The long Queensland/Westralia border was intermittently closed and re-opened as these tensions waxed and waned. The Australian Commonwealth remained determined to preserve its 'Europeanness' or 'Whiteness', and took in large numbers of refugees and migrants from western and central Europe, as did the New Zealanders. Industrial production increased, with greater demand for raw materials from Westralia and Queensland and increasing markets for manufactured goods during the post-war boom. The Commonwealth also acted a magnet for migration from rural Queensland and Westralia to the manufacturing centres in Sydney and Melbourne, and especially Brisbane which grew rapidly as a post-war industrial boom town. Populations grew rapidly in all four countries and the economic prosperity of the post-war boom helped eased some of their international tensions. Border crossings, however, were notorious for their long delays and invasive searches. The Australians imposed severe dictation tests*** and routinely turned away large numbers at border crossings.

The huge interior of the continent within Westralia was organised in 1946 as the Territory of Centralia. A space and rocket station was developed at Woomera, near the Australian border, and later American spy bases were developed at Pine Gap and North West Cape. These bases were developed in the context of the QWANZUS Treaty**** that had been signed in 1951 before the peace treaty with Japan was concluded, and which continues to provide the basis for contintental defence co-operation. The Woomera station, in particular, allowed for some co-operation between Westralia and Australia, although the South Australians were not adverse to claiming that the area should be retroceded to Australia, and a heavy Westralian military presence was always maintained along its border with the Commonwealth. A mini cold war affected all four countries from the late 1940s until the mid-1970s. The Australians, always promoting their white purity, were ever ready to point to any sort of criminal activities in Queensland and Westralia as the inevitable result of such 'half-caste' societies; while the Queenslanders and Westralians in turn, ever looking northwards and westwards, regarded the Greater Federation Movement as at best suspect and more likely subversive of their national interests. People of mixed race were subject to constant petty harassment and segregation in the Commonwealth, while campaigns against 'Feds in our Beds' continually occupied the resources of intelligence organisations in the Union and Free State. Radio, and later television, broadcasts were continually aimed into neighbouring countries to promote or denigrate social and political theories and actions. Newspapers and books printed in one country were frequently banned or heavily censored in another. Despite these differences, the WANZAQ mythology, membership of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations (all four countries were foundation members) and involvement in regional organisations such as QWANZUS have provided some basis for ongoing dialogue between all countries.

Some formal links continued to function between the countries. The Federal Council of Australasia continued to meet every second year with all four countries represented. A system of ad hoc committees of ministers with similar portfolios meant that some limited co-operation was achievable. This was most notable in the area of Aboriginal affairs. All countries followed similar policies of segregation and then assimilation, and even in non-Aboriginal affairs the societies of each country tended to be strongly hierarchical and based on ethnic and religious differences until the 1970s. In Westralia, Aborigines were alternately encouraged or forced into 'homelands' in Centralia and their movements controlled by a system of 'native passports'. Similar systems operated in Queensland, but with many regional variations. In the Commonwealth the prevention of inter-racial contact between Aborigines and non-Aborigines became obsessive with strict controls on where Aborigines could live, who they could associate with, and acceptable occupations being strictly enforced by a bureaucracy in each state generally known as a 'Native Welfare Board'.

Each country developed a political structure that was at least nominally federal, although the Australian Commonwealth remains the only federation in which the federal units (states) have sovereign powers. Queensland consists of five prefectures, each headed by a prefect and an elected council, and six territories directly ruled from Townsville through directly appointed sub-prefects. Westralia has five provinces, each headed by a premier elected by a provincial assembly, and two territories with broad internal autonomy through a partly elected assembly headed by a chief minister appointed in Perth. In the Australian Commonwealth each of the four states has an elected bicameral parliament lead by a responsible premier, while the four territories have an appointed administrator and a partly elected council. New Zealand, by contrast, has a highly unified political structure with a unicameral national parliament and local municipalities.

During the 1970s old antagonisms lessened to a degree. The election of a Labor government under Gough Whitlam in the Commonwealth in 1972 heralded the end of the White Australia Policy, and in 1975 the Quadripartite Migration Treaty was signed by all countries to regulated the movement of people between all countries on a similar non-racial basis. Several great infrastructure projects involving two or more countries also began during this period: The North Australian Railway linked the Queensland coast to the Westralian rail system and increased markets for another Westralian project, the Ord River Scheme; the Grande Route Pacifique was initiated to provide a single six lane highway from Adelaide to Cape York via Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Townsville, scientists from all four countries, in equal numbers, were invited to participate in an Australasian Space Port project at Woomera, and university entrance requirements were harmonised in all four countries to encourage greater international research and study. An Australian common market began to form with the signing of various free trade agreements on an industry-by-industry basis.

Sport had always provided for a certain level of contact between the countries. Rugby Internationals between Queensland, New Zealand and Australia had been annual event since 1926, Australian Rules Football was played between Westralia and Australia, and winning the Australasian Shield was the goal in cricket between all four countries. Although these tournaments provided for contact between countries, they generally also fueled competing nationalisms until recent years when large commercial interests have gained control of all the major sporting codes and reduced their nationalistic components in favour of overt corporate promotions.

Despite a common heritage of British political institutions, the influence of French political modes and Melanesian cultures has been very strong in Queensland, of Malay and Indonesian commercial and cultural ways in Westralia, and of Maori and Polynesian factors in New Zealand. Australia has sought to draw on its diverse range of European cultures, and it remains the most European of the countries.

Thus in Queensland French has official status as the second language, and all official publications and communications are in English and French. The Sorbonne University maintains a campus in Cairns, and there is an extensive range of French language literature, notably novels and television soap operas, produced in Townsville and Noumea. Melanesian cultures predominate in Papua, Niugini and the island territories. The Queensland Broadcasting Corporation (QBC)***** operates separate English, French and Pigin language radio and television services broadcasting from Townsville. The study of Pigin is becoming increasingly formalised, and it is intended to become an official language by 2020.

In Westralia English remains the only official language, but well over half of all Westralians now speak and read Indonesian fluently and the language has been compulsory in schools since 1980. The 'Grand Mosque of the North and South' in Darwin is the largest mosque in Australasia, and any town of size in Westralia will have a mosque as well as a church. Extensive maritime trade links connect most Westralian ports to ports in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the Universiti Tenggara has campuses in Darwin, Broome and Fremantle as well as Denpassar, Jogjakarta, Malacca and Kuching****** . The Westralian Broadcasting Corporation (WBC) operates several radio and television channels from Perth and Darwin, with transmissions on each channel in a variety of languages rather that specifically dedicated stations.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) operates radio and television stations in each state. English is the only language used, although community stations have been allowed to broadcast in other languages since the early 1980s. Great emphasis is placed on English language literature, film and other cultural activities, and there are strong links between the Australian universities and their counterparts in the United States, Canada and Britain as well as New Zealand. The New Zealand Broacasting Corporation (NZBC) operates in a similar basis to the ABC, although it has also been strongly incluenced by the QBC in recent years, and has recently begun to operate a separate Maori-language radio and television service.

Heads of states and other symbols
It is perhaps a paradox that it is in the Anglophone Commonwealth and Dominion that the greatest questioning has occurred over the last decade on the role of the monarchy and republicanism. Since World War Two these two countries look especially to the United States and the idea of 'America' to distinguish them from the Free State and the Union. An advisory referendum to change the Commonwealth to a republic was narrowly defeated in 1999, but the national parliament has since resolved that while such a view should be respected, the inevitability of a republic requires that preparatory measures be taken now, and accordingly all use of the term 'Royal' in official names and functions (such as Royal Australian Navy) will end in 2001.

In Queensland the governor-generalship has in effect become a hereditary office, with descendants of the last colonial governor, Lord Lamington, having been appointed to the office since then. Formally created Earls of the Coral Seas during the 1954 Royal Visit there is currently political debate about replacing the office of governor general with the hereditary earldom. If this were to happen the next incumbent would be the Countess Josephine and her consort, the son of a Kanak ruler in New Caledonia. New Zealand is expected to follow the Commonwealth lead with regard to its governor general, but Westralia is more akin to the situation in Queensland. Following a succession of post war incumbents from British colonial governorships in Malaya and Singapore the heir to the last 'white' Rajah of Sarawak, Anthony Brooke, was appointed in 1958, and succeeded in 1969 by his nephew who had recently married a daughter of the Sultan of Brunei and who has held the office since that time. Thus, in contrast to the gradual republicanism of the the Commonwealth and the Dominion, the Free State and the Union are gradually moving towards the creation of indigenous monarchies.

These contrasting paths are evidenced by the four national flags. The Commonwealth retains its 'federal flag' adopted in 1901 but flown earlier as the emblem of the federalists. It remains the oldest of the national flags. The Dominion retains its blue ensign adopted as a colonial badge in 187x. Both the Free State and the Union, however, have recently adopted new flags based upon the badges of their old colonial ensigns. Westralia adopted its black swan flag to mark its centenary of self-government in 1990, while Queensland adopted its crowned cross flag in 1995 to mark the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Free State.

Now the Australians celebrate the centenary of their federal nation and its act of federation, with the star-decked blue cross of their federal flag flying proudly overhead, conscious of the possibilities for a further layering of nationalism in the form of a coming republic. The Queenslanders are waiting for 2005 and their centenary of a state beyond federation, the New Zealanders for 2007 and their centenary of dominionship and the Westralians for 2008 and their centenary of unification. Across a continent the blue cross and its stars flutter over the south east, a blue British ensign with red stars over the islands of the long white cloud, a golden banner with black swan over the vastness of the oriental west, and a tricolor with its central blue maltese cross over the azure Pacific.

'Four nations, one continent' - its not as grand a slogan as the nineteenth century federalists 'one people, one destiny', but Australasia remains the only continent with so few nation-states and such a startlingly rapid development of national cultures during the twentieth century.

* The Northern Territory was a part of New South Wales that became an exclave of the colony after the establishment of Queensland in 1859, and was transferred to South Australia in 1863, when it was briefly known as Alexandraland. The population in 1900 was about 4 800, of whom about 17% were European and about 50% Chinese.
** WANZAQ = Westralia, Australia, New Zealand And Queensland Army Corps.
*** A dictation test was a test whereby any customs or immigration officer could require a person seeking to enter the Commonwealth to write a statement in any language (Gaelic, Icelandic and Basque were popular choices) - any person who could not perform such a test was refused entry.
**** Queensland, Westralia, Australia, New Zealand and United States Treaty
***** known in French as the Société de Radiodiffusion Télévision Queenslandaise (RTQ)
****** known in English as the University of the South East: a Dili campus is planned to open in 2005.