[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’. That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings. That format will be followed in the précis. The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception; 3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword. Each chapter is about 1400 words.]
If you want to understand something, it may help if you compare it to something else. If you want to come to terms with what it means to be a dog, you can look hard at what it may mean to be a cat. There is more to this than just looking at a portrait from different angles, or looking at a sculpture in the round. By comparing one case to another, we get a cleaner view of the essential attributes of each – what distinguishes one from another is part of what defines each.
I should say of course that this notion is not new. At some time many millennia ago, some of our earthly ancestors noticed that a stone moved faster downhill if it was smooth and round than if it was uneven and jagged. Comparing one case to another to identify its properties is a process that it is at the heart of our experimental or scientific method, and the process that has underlay the development of the laws in England, America and Australia over more than one thousand years.
So if you want to try to see what makes one nation tick, as we say, it may help to look at it compared to another nation. And a good way to start that process is by looking at aspects of the histories of the two nations that are being compared. That is what this book seeks to do with the two nations that we know as America and Australia – to compare the two of them by looking at key aspects of the evolution of both of them.
This is not a potted history of either, but a collection of snapshots of each taken side by side as these nations negotiated some of the principal stepping stones in their progress across the stream of history. I have the pious hope that what passes for the subject matter of the snapshots may be uncontroversial if not prosaic, leaving discussion only for the inferences to be drawn and comments that might be made, but experience suggests that such a hope is likely to be illusory and hardly pious.
Both America and Australia started out as refuges for rejected boat people, two terms of abuse now in some quarters, but although they share an original common ancestor, their stories are very different. How, and why, is this the case?
I should disclose my more significant sources of prejudice. I am an Australian white male, middle class professional, who is much closer to death than birth. I have no political affiliation, but I have a mistrust of government in general, and politicians and their parties in particular. My perfect government is one that has as little to do with me as is decently possible – especially the part that hands out speeding tickets. I have made a handsome living from a profession that we in this country derive from England. I have an unlimited sense of admiration for the contribution that England has made to the civilization of the West and to the history and character of both America and Australia, and an almost equally unlimited frustration at the inability of my nation to cut what I see as apron strings tying Australia to England, and to stand on its own two feet. A dark cloud hangs over my descent to the dust – that I shall leave this earth before my country gets what I regard as its independence. I have no belief in a personal God, but I believe that the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are a little like cutlery – they are what distinguish us from the gorillas. As the white people took America and Australia, they committed crimes against the native peoples of those lands in ways that violated every part of the great religious laws that I have mentioned, but in common with most other people, I have no real idea of what to do about those wrongs now.
Doubtless other of my prejudices will become apparent to you as you go through this book, which I hope that you will enjoy.