Us and the U S – Chapter 8

Us and the US

[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.]



The nations that we know as America and Australia still see themselves as predominantly white.  They got to be that way with laws that each passed to preserve its racial integrity, although they may not have used that language. Before they could get to that stage, white people had to be introduced on to lands previously used or occupied by people whose skins were coloured.  The colonies had to be settled and then peopled.  Without white migrants, the whites would not have gained supremacy.  It is therefore obvious that migration is essential to the history of each of these two nations.

There is an essential difference to the course of migration into each country.  For the most part migrants to America arrived under their own sail or steam, or by dropping down from Canada.  For the most part migrants to Australia arrived with the help of government.

We saw that the first settlers did not come to America under the aegis of the government of England.  They were either quitting England for religious purposes – these were in truth refugees from persecution on the grounds of religion – or they were going out in ventures of what we would call venture capitalism, intent on making a new life – and profits.  The Americans soon learned how to combine a pious love of God with a pious regard for wealth.  The Puritans back home had never had any problems on this.  Any espousal of poverty would have been as sure a sign of madness as an espousal of democracy.  Their place as God’s elect justified them in this world and the next.  Their success on earth here was proof of their acceptance in heaven.

Four years before the colony at Botany Bay started, Benjamin Franklin had said that America was a good place to get rich and that ‘nowhere else are the labouring poor so well fed, well lodged, well clothed and well paid as in the United States of America.’  This was a land, he said, ‘where a general happy mediocrity prevails.’

The population in 1800 was north of five million, but it was close to doubling in twenty years.  Napoleon needed to fund his war – and more agony for Europe – and the Louisiana Purchase and the brutality of President Andrew Jackson on the Indians opened up vast areas of new land when the population in Europe was exploding.  Immigrant ships dared the Atlantic, and more than 30,000 arrived each year.

Naturalization Acts had acted as a colour bar since 1790, but the inflow from Europe was colossal.  In the century after 1815, about thirty million crossed over, and it ran at about one million a year during World War I.  The California Rush for gold in and after 1849 put before the world the dazzling promise of America, and public and private money was spent on selling America.

There were other things beside the huge wages.  Liberty.  The vote.  No political police.  No conscription or aristocracy.  No censorship.  No arbitrary arrest.  No secret police.  No legalized class distinctions – except those based on colour.  (American Negroes did not go into the melting pot.)  There was no state church or any tithes backed by the state.  Since there were few poor, there were no poor rates.  After the Depression, the epoch of unrestricted mass immigration had come to an end.  Now politicians are competing to show who can slam the door the hardest.


There is likely to be a great difference in outlook between someone going to the New World to glorify God and to make their fortune and someone who is expelled from home because he has got seven years for theft – or the troopers that have been sent to act as prison wardens for the refuse of their nation at the other end of the world where Tiger snakes and trap-door spiders kill people and sharks eat them.

It was not until after 1830 that free migrants to Australia exceeded convicts.  The U S was closer and the voyage was shorter and cheaper.  Australia competed by paying the fares of British migrants.  This was funded from the sale of land which in turn made land much dearer than in the U S.  Well over half of the migrants coming to Australia up until, say, 1970 had all or most of their fare paid for them, and they might look to being looked after on arrival.

The founders of Australia had a very different attitude to government than Americans – one government that had encouraged them to go and another government that paid their way and showed what it had to offer when they arrived.  As a result, Australia remained much more firmly British and, for a very long time, a lot less cosmopolitan, than the U S – and a lot more staid.  Geoffrey Blainey said: ‘Here was one of the mainsprings of the welfare state which emerged so clearly in Australia and New Zealand.  As most migrants were subsidised, they tended to lean on the government that initially cared for them.  Self-help dominated American attitudes, but ‘lean on the government’ was common amongst Australian attitudes….Nothing did more to give Australia an ethnic unity than the practice of selecting and subsidising the migrants.  This sense of unity was to encourage later generations of Australians to fight on Britain’s wars on the far side of the world.  In contrast, in the United States the ethnic disunity helped to deter that nation from fighting in foreign wars.’

We might add that the U S attracted more people of means, more middle class settlers, in its formative years.  These differences still run very deep indeed.  Among other things, telling Australians that they will have to lose their entitlements may not fall far short of telling them that you will take away the air that they breathe.  It is likely to sound downright silly.

After the colonies federated and became States, all of them adopted a policy of subsidising migrants from Britain before 1914.  The whole scheme was determinedly ‘White Australian’, a label then used with no blushing at all.  Indeed, in some quarters there was antipathy to Italians on the ground that they were not quite white.  After World War I, those on the Labor side began to be hostile to open-ended immigration.  It was ‘Populate or Perish’ against ‘Save Our Jobs.’  But the closeness of the savage Japanese invasion, after the fall of Singapore, revealed the vulnerability of that vast empty nation.

It was a Labor Government, followed by a conservative government uninterrupted for a generation, which saw a massive increase in assisted migration after World War II, and a much broader migrant pool including European refugees.  This time it would be European migrants like Greeks or Italians who would feel the brunt of the natives’ blunt insularity.  The wave of post–war immigration helped to put aside the old Anglo sombreness, and the waves of Asian and African immigration after the Vietnam War have helped even further – until the rednecks got restive about colour and refugees, and their leaders toed the line.

Us and the U S: Chapter 7

Us and the US

[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.]



By1763, Britain controlled the eastern part of America.  The French authority had effectively ended in Canada, and the Spanish risk had gone from the south.  Someone had to pay for the war and for servicing the security of the colonies.  After Cromwell, the English feared standing armies, but they decided to maintain one in America.  The British war debt had to be serviced, and the American population was about one-fifth of the British and Irish populations combined.  The government wanted to spread the financial burden to the colonies – and spread the burden more equitably among taxpayers of the Crown. The Americans said that they should not be taxed by the British government unless they had a direct say in that government.  Their slogan was ‘No Taxation Without Representation’.  That issue led to the American Revolution.

The colonial opposition erupted in Vesuvial proportions when the English parliament passed the Stamp Act.  Although the colonists targeted George III, they knew very well that the only source of power to make a tax law was the British parliament.  George III did not have the power to levy taxes.  That was the whole point of the two English revolutions of the seventeenth century of which the Americans were the beneficiaries.

George III was, as the head of the executive, obliged to enforce statutes against those who chose to secede – just as President Lincoln would be.  But the king’s ministers, Townshend and Grenville, were not up to it.  Grenville was silly enough to ask when the colonies had become ‘emancipated’.  Meanwhile, the colonies were uniting in a way that had seemed to be beyond them before they found a common oppressor.  The language on both sides got more heated.

No one could say that the American Revolution was democratic.  Its leading figures included Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams.  They were people of wealth, the local nobility.  The role of the people was more than a little too plebeian for some of the better secessionists. Washington referred to the common people as ‘the grazing multitude’.  Hamilton spoke of the ‘unthinking populace’.  Adams referred to ‘the common herd of mankind’.  Some thought that a third of the colonists favoured secession; a third favoured the mother country; and the other third thought they would wait to see who was winning.

In response to a tax on tea, a group of patriots made up as Indians dumped £10,000 worth of tea in Boston Harbour.  It is therefore only right that America today has a political association called the Tea Party whose platform consists primarily of a deep love of God and a deeper aversion to government and paying taxes.  The colonists were now in insurgency against their king and his government.  They, or some of them, engaged in acts of terror to achieve a political end, namely their independence from the mother country.  They were therefore political terrorists and insurgents, like the Jewish terrorists who blew up the King David Hotel to kill British troops in Palestine when it came under the aegis of Great Britain.

The war was a vicious guerrilla war and civil war.  The home side had great advantages, as the U S would find in Vietnam and Afghanistan.  The American colonists felt that they were fighting on the moral high ground, a position that they have never surrendered.  Appalling crimes were committed on both sides, especially in the civil war in the south between the Patriots and Loyalists.  There were, Churchill said, ‘atrocities such as we have known in our day in Ireland.’  But for the intervention of the French, this war may have gone on for years and degenerated into what would happen in Latin America with ‘Caesarism, military rule, army mutinies and revolts, and every kind of cruelty’.


Australia never had a revolution, but it experienced three tawdry revolts or rebellions that produced no clear winners.

The Rum Rebellion, as it is called, involved a conflict between a man who had form for being expelled from the penal colony, and a man with form for being cruel and mutinied against.  Bligh had his supporters; John Macarthur, the arrogant squatter, had many enemies.  But this was not some South American putsch, or even an American revolt.  Both sides were punctilious about legal forms, and both claimed to have the law on their side.  All parties submitted to the rulings of a legal authority that buried the issue.  There was something quite English about this battle for power.  ‘Australia’ had not yet been invented.  You could not see a coup unfold in the way that this one did in, say, Russia.

The source of the Eureka rebellion might be found in the failure of two thirsty diggers to get a drink at a pub.  The gold diggers went into revolt over mining licences.  Grog was again involved, heavily.  The governor, Sir Charles Hotham, was British navy, and, like Bligh, he was capable of the most frightening rage.  The Commissioner, Robert Rede, was a younger man who came from a good English family, and who had trouble concealing his contempt for the diggers.  Here was the stuff of class war.  Some of the diggers excitedly used words like ‘tyranny’ and even slogans like ‘no taxation without representation.’  They assembled under the Southern Cross.  They would not be treated like felons or hunted down like kangaroos.

Licences were burned.  The diggers took an oath.  ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.’  It was all over in fifteen minutes.  As usual, the coppers, or troops, killed more than they lost.  At least twenty-two diggers lay dead against five troops.  The Eureka Stockade was nothing like a revolution, but it may have given Australians a lasting lesson.  The genie of armed rebellion had been let out of the bottle, and the people did not like what they saw.  The Australian middle class would become timid.  Manning Clark said that ‘This dependence of the colonial bourgeoisie on London and their success in educating the working class in their own values laid the firm foundations for conservatism in Australia.’  The Eureka Stockade may or may not have been un-British, but it certainly now looks to have been un-Australian.

The attempts to romanticise the Kelly gang have largely failed – except for Sid Nolan, and some wistful descendants of one ethnic group.  The American rebellion succeeded, and it became a revolution.  None of these three Australian acts of rebellion ever looked like succeeding.  There was simply not the backing in the country for any of these rebels to carry the day, at least while they were outlaws.  Most of the other colonists were far too law abiding and intent on their own future to go along with that kind of thing.  The best that the rebels could hope for from posterity is that they would be prized for their very failure. That is something that Australians are prone to do, from failed and dead explorers, like Burke and Wills, to gallant failed and dead soldiers, like the many thousands left at Gallipoli whose chances of coming back had never looked too good.  And while Americans revere their patrician founders, few Australians had a good word for John Macarthur.  That bastard was far too big for his boots.

Us and the U S – Chapter 6

Us and the US

[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.]



In America, unlike England, the Puritan had his own way.  He was in the majority and he made institutions to his own liking.  The great American jurist, Roscoe Pound, said that ‘we are and long have been more thoroughly a common law country than England herself…..A fundamental proposition from which the Puritan proceeded was the doctrine of ‘a willing covenant of conscious faith’ made by the individual judgment in the first place.  No authority might rightfully coerce them; but everyone must assume and abide the consequences of the choice he made’.  Pound saw ‘an uncompromising insistence upon individual property as the focal point’ of the nation’s laws.

The notion of contracts between people does loom larger in America.  ‘The precedent of the covenant which made Abraham and the children of Israel the people of God, furnished the religious basis for the doctrine….’  One result was to favour individual choice over some feudal relationship.  This view brings to mind that Sir Henry Maine had said that ‘the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from status to contract.’  In the Old World – feudal Europe – your rights mainly depended on the box that you had been put in by superiors in your hierarchy.  You stood or fell on your status.   A noble was worth more than free man who was worth more than a serf.  In the New World, your rights mainly depended on what you had agreed to.  You stood or fell on your contract. 

The Puritans did not want to relax laws to allow fools to be relieved of their bargains.  If you were silly enough to enter into a bad deal, you would just have to live with the consequences.  There would be less sympathy for the loser.  They did not want government interfering with freedom of contract to look after those who should have looked after themselves.

Pound was writing in 1921, but his views still resonate in a nation that is slow to pass laws to help those who falter in the great race of life.  ‘Entitlement’ is potentially at least a loaded and dirty word in the U S.  Dispensations that elsewhere in the West are facts of life have in America become grounds for threatening insurrection, and this difference comes at least in part from an American determination to maintain a felt primacy of each one of us over government.

‘Conservative’ is a label given to people who want to keep government as spare as possible so that government has as little as possible to do with them.  They do not think that they should lose any rights unless they personally have agreed to the relevant change.  They see laws that are meant to help the less fortunate as going backwards and making people depend on their status rather than their contract.  At least in theory, people would rather stand on their own two feet than be allocated a seat in a drab government bus.

The pioneers were inevitably jealous of any government action, and Pound saw a ‘frontier repugnance to scientific law and the insistence of the pioneer that his judges decide offhand without study of what other judges may have done in European monarchies or in effete communities to the eastward.’  The customs of the times also led to a kind of starring role for the advocate, and that he be given as free a rein as possible.  To this day American judges’ charges to juries are so much shorter than in Australia where suspicion or underrating of the jury has led to incomprehensible minefields for trial judges and an entirely unacceptable rated of aborted trials and retrials.  You can still see this respect for the role of the jury everywhere in the U S today.  They think little of putting a brawl about intellectual property between Apple and Samsung in front of a jury – it would be unthinkable anywhere else.

Empanelling a jury is like calling a parliament – you are calling on the people to give a decision and to express their will on issues that are central to their government.  It is the primary safeguard that we have against abuse of power by any arm of government – legislative, executive, or judicial.  It is the Americans who realise and practise this the best.

Another major difference with the Americans is the role of the Bill of Rights, and the consequently more political role played by the United States Supreme Court.  Otherwise, as befits a common law country, the differences come from different rules and customs in the conduct of trials.  The Americans have tended to avoid the rule that says that the loser pays, and they have been using contingent fees much longer than others.  The rule about parties relates to class actions in which the Americans have been undoubtedly the pioneers.  The Americans see litigation as a function of government and an exercise in social engineering.

Sir Lewis Namier said that the U S is ‘a refrigerator in which British ideas and institutions are preferred long after they have been forgotten in this country’.


The progress of the laws of Australia has been rather more sedate, as you might expect from a process that has remained determinedly English and that has eschewed experimentation and innovation.  Right from the start, the Australian colonies were very different to the American in the way that their legal systems developed.  The English brought to Australia a fully developed body of common law and constitutional law and an official whose duty it was to administer justice according to the rule of law.  Given that Australia started as a British jail, it is not surprising that this was a strictly government job.

The authority of Phillip and Collins and others was set out in their commissions from the government on behalf of His Majesty King George III.  The English parliament would then create legislative bodies in the colonies and courts to interpret or enforce the laws made in London or by colonial councils or parliaments.  Then the English parliament made laws giving independence to the colonies.  When the colonies decided to federate, they asked the mother parliament to pass a statute to that effect.  The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia is contained in a schedule to an act of parliament in Westminster.  Then the Imperial Parliament freed its former colonies from the power of intervention from London.

The jurisdictions of state superior courts are commonly defined by reference to those of the Royal Courts of Justice under Queen Victoria as adopted by English legislation, which is now in legislation of the states.  The profession is still divided like the English between barristers and solicitors and wigs and gowns, and Father Christmas suits are still worn in crime.  It would be hard to devise a more prosaic story.

But, prosaic though it may be, the legal system inherited by the Australians is in broad terms doing the job required of it – in large part because it is prosaic.  It may be that Australians do not have the same taste for fireworks or theatre in the law that Americans do.

Another major difference comes in the attitude in the highest courts to issues that might fairly be described as political, and to what might for the want of a better word be called tone.  Australian judges, by and large, are like the English in one respect.  They understand that the most important person in court is the loser.  Both sides, but especially the loser, must think that they have been given a fair go.  If the Americans have done better in preserving trial by jury, and achieving political movement through the courts, the Australians have done better controlling the political heat in court and respect for the judiciary.

Passing Bull 151 – Civilisation of the West


You can stand by for a tsunami of bullshit about ‘western civilisation’ following the efforts of private patrons to stimulate the study of that subject at tertiary level.  A devotion to western civilisation has become popular if not de rigeur to those on one side of what are called culture wars.

Civilisation is a bit like an elephant – you may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it.  Well, that used to be the case, but I doubt it now.  Elsewhere I said:

In my view a nation or people cannot call itself civilised unless each of the following five criteria is met. 

  • It has a moral code that respects the person and the dignity and the right to property of each person in the group.
  • It has a mature and stable form of democratic government that is willing and reasonably able enforce that respect and those rights, and to preserve its own democratic structure. (I have opted for democracy because it seems to be the fairest mode of government and to be the best able to deliver the other objectives.)
  • It observes the rule of law, including the proposition that all are equal before the law, and it seeks to protect the legal rights of its members.
  • Its working is not clogged or threatened by corruption.
  • It seeks to allow its members to be able to subsist and, after providing for their subsistence, to have sufficient leisure to pursue happiness or improvement in such ways as they may choose, provided that they do not harm others.

All that would have been Greek to Kenneth Clark.  There is no mention of religion, art, beauty, courtesy or refinement.  (Just imagine if you sought to apply any of those five criteria to the current White House.)  If Clark ever spoke about the rule of law or corruption I missed it.

Most of Asia, Africa and South America have trouble on each heading and face disqualification on each of the middle three.  But when you look at the rest – referred to as ‘the western world’ – you get little cause for comfort.  One Oxbridge version of civilisation was said to have been born in ancient Greece and Rome.  I regard that suggestion as silly – slavery and empire alone are two disqualifiers – but modern Greece and Italy do not offer good government and they pose as big a threat to the European Union as the U K.  Poland and Hungary look equally unattractive for other reasons.  Spain may recover and survive.  That leaves France and northern (Protestant) Europe.  The U K and the U S are sharply divided on issues that affect how their historical inheritance of good government and economic management may pass on to the next generation.  Their moral and intellectual collapse has appalled their friends.  It would be idle to suggest that Donald Trump understands much less respects ‘western civilisation’.  His supporter, Nigel Farage, is not much better.  The U S is forfeiting its status as leader of the western world.

The people who are called ‘populists’ are driven by those with a chip on their shoulder who want to throw over the establishment and inherited traditions.  They are not there to promote civilisation in any of its forms.  The glue that held together the old view of western civilisation – Christianity – is dissolving.  It and other major institutions have ceased to command respect.  Philosophy died years ago and has not left much treasure.  Inequalities of wealth and income are getting worse and do not look like getting better.  And that’s before we recall that the unimaginably rich tyros of technology are providing us with toys that dull minds and abolish manners.

It will therefore be interesting to see how the champions of western civilisation tout its values during the next rounds of the culture wars.  It’s probably just as well that most people frankly couldn’t give a damn.  Indeed, that may just be the foundation of their claim to be civilised.


Politicians, like the rest of us, need to get back to the basics. If they can prioritise the core tasks and responsibilities, and implement them efficiently while ignoring the white noise, they may be surprised by how much voter support they will garner.

Chris Kenny, The Australian, 5 May, 2018.

A banal homily from one who makes a living from white noise.


President Trump’s peace through strength policies are working and bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula,’ Messer wrote in his letter.  ‘We can think of no one more deserving of the Committee’s recognition in 2019 than President Trump for his tireless work to bring peace to our world.’

The Guardian, 15 May, 2018

For some reason, ‘peace through strength’ reminded me of Arbeit macht frei.

Us and the US – Chapter 5


[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.]



The word frontier means that part of a country that ‘fronts, faces, or borders on another country.’  The Oxford English Dictionary offers a U S variation: ‘That part of a country which forms the border of its settled or inhabited regions.’  A frontiersman is ‘one who lives on the frontier, or in the outlying districts of civilisation’.  The areas inside of the frontier are described in one definition as ‘settled’ or ‘inhabited’ and in the other as ‘civilisation’ – the subjects of our story regarded the three terms as identical.  Both America and Australia were huge expanses of land that were occupied by natives and then settled by white people, and people in both countries had a sense of moving frontiers, but the whole notion of ‘frontier’, of being a pioneer, looms much larger in the American consciousness.

The issue is linked in America to the notion of the pioneer, someone who goes before to prepare the way, someone who starts an enterprise.  In business, we speak of the entrepreneur, but both of the terms pioneer and enterprise are more prominent in the life of America.  Pilgrims are by definition wanderers.  The passengers on the Mayflower were called Pilgrims and from the moment that they stepped ashore, they were facing a frontier.

It was life and death stuff.  The savages, as they were called, were savage in a fight.  They were adept with a bow and arrow or a tomahawk – part of the emblem of –the Chicago Blackhawks ice hockey team – and they taught the white man the art of scalping.  (Scalping is not encouraged in ice hockey, which gratifies those who cannot imagine a more violent form of sport – apart from American football.)  The wars fought by and against the Indians were fought off and on for three centuries.  They were nothing like European wars.  They were more like what we now call guerrilla wars, and they are the most savage wars of all – just ask any American who made it back from Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

For much of its history, therefore, the Americans were frequently exposed to the violence of war in its most acute form.  Did Americans become addicted to violence?  The survival of the Indians depended upon their skill in bushcraft, and hunting, and killing – quite apart from the wars between Indian peoples.  They believed in massacre and torture in war, so that to Cotton Mather, the Indians were ‘unkennell’d wolves’.  The white men responded in kind.  And early on, there was always the threat of invasion by the French, Dutch, or Spanish.  The American colonists therefore learned to make major improvements to the rifle.  So began the American romance of the gun that so dismays and appals the rest of the western world.

Hunting in Europe was a jealously regarded privilege of the better people.  But the American gun was not for sport – it was for sustenance and protection.  The need for food and self-defence made ownership of and expertise with guns an inevitable fact of life.  So, the wagon trains of the pioneers went on under cover of the gun.  The bloody violence has been endlessly celebrated, glossed, and mythologised by Hollywood, Walt Disney and television.  It was in the West that the marriage of God and the dollar reached its apotheosis in the Mormons in Utah.

The English common law had not encouraged the duel, the logical climax of so many westerns.  The Americans have always preferred to answer fire with fire.  The violent phase in the West lasted about four generations.  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that in Texas ‘a man is not born to run away.’  Paul Johnson said that the ruling was ‘to put it mildly, robust’.  Mr Johnson may not have been aware that his Honour stopped three bullets during the Civil War, but the gunfighting – the violence of self-help – did have some kind of legal underlay that distinguishes the U S from the U K and Australia to this day.

The lawless violence of the West would be sustained by such charmers as Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Godfather.  Europeans think that a primitive frontier streak of violence can be seen behind even the most urbane contemporary American.  This is a part of the frontier that just will not die, and it is an altar on which groups of schoolchildren are shot and killed each year.


The experience of Australian settlers in opening up the land for farming is described by Patrick White in The Tree of Man, and the story of the deep outback – the ‘Never Never’ – is told in Voss, but Australia has nothing like the history of the frontier that the U S has.  Nor does it have an affinity for the gun or the celebration of lawless violence that others fear in America.

Australians associate the names of Burke and Wills with the annihilation of frontiers by being the first to cross the country from south to north, and dying on the way back.  This was tragedy mixed with farce – something that Australians are rather good at.

America offered a lot more rich country to farmers than did Australia.  The soil and climate and water and plant-life were all so much more amenable.  Once you get out of the coastal fringe there, the going is hard.  The landscape can be threatening, and lethal, in summer or winter.  Sensible Australians maintained a healthy fear of the real outback.  It is just too easy for white people to die out there.  Some Australians have a kind of nostalgia for the mythical ‘bush’, but they are serious and sane about guns and violence.

A large part of the history of rural Australia involved trying to ‘unlock the land’ seized by squatters.  They became unloved in Australia in a way that distinguishes them from American pioneers.  The shearers were ruthlessly exploited by squatters and publicans.  They said they believed in ‘mateship’, a very dicey word in AustraliaGood mates were good haters.  They formed unions that fought battles, close to civil war, against the pastoralists, mine owners, and ship owners.  They were defeated by money, police, scabs, and the mantra of ‘freedom of contract’.  The shearers’ strikes contributed a lot to class warfare in Australia.  They were also part of the history of the Labor Party.  It would espouse a doctrine that is the purest heresy for a majority of Americans today – socialism – but an essential part of the Australian way of life.  No Australian politician would dare interfere with our health care laws.

An American observer said that the U S frontier was ‘productive of individualism,’ that ‘the tax gatherer is viewed as a representative of oppression’, that there was ‘antipathy to control’, and that ‘the tendency is anti-social’.  An Australian observer conceded that ‘the most discreditable and dangerous component of the [Australian] legend is its racism’, but he took concluding comfort from the view that ‘nothing could be more thoroughly within the tradition than to give it a go.’  To both, we might give the answer of the American general at Bastogne – ‘Nuts’.

Here and there – The faith of Ali


The life of Muhammad Ali reminds me of the life of Miles Davis.  They both show that we here in Australia have never understood how poisonous the problem of race is in America.  In his new biography Ali, A Life, Jonathan Eig quotes an author in Ebony saying of the words ‘I am the greatest’:

Lingering behind those words is the bitter sarcasm of Dick Gregory, the shrill defiance of Miles Davis, the utter contempt of Malcolm X.  He smiles easily, but, behind it all….is a blast furnace of race pride.

That about sums it up.  People talked a lot about three things that got up their noses about Ali: his loud mouthed boasting and his cruel taunting of his opponents; his embrace of another faith, in the very unattractive Nation of Islam; and his evasion of military service and his opposition to America’s war in Vietnam.

There was one thing that got up people’s noses that they didn’t talk so much about – the incredulity and jealousy of a large part of the white population that a black man was better than any white man – and was happily sticking it right up them.  That was, I think, the biggest problem facing President Obama – as now evidenced by the horrific fruit of the white backlash and the election of a president who unashamedly believes that white people are superior to black people.  (I may have added that Ali’s hopeless promiscuity may have upset some – but that’s a relative issue in a nation that turns out presidents as unfaithful as many of those in the U S.)

The taunting was part of the circus act, and, I think, part of the way for the young man to mask his fear in confronting men who could kill him.  It was also meant to unbalance or unnerve his opponent.  Ali saw himself – correctly – as being in the entertainment industry.  He invited aggravation toward himself to sell tickets.  Who wants to see a brawl between friends?  The author freely concedes his view that Ali often went over the top – especially with Joe Frazier.  There is a record of a conversation between the two before any of their three fights.  They were joking, bragging, and singing.

Ali: We don’t wanna be seen too much together, you know.

Frazier: Yeah.  They’ll think we’re buddies.  That’ll be bad for the gate.

Ali: Yeah.  Ain’t nobody gonna pay nothing to see two buddies.

Later the relationship soured.  Both suffered lasting damage from their three bouts – Frazier spent nearly two weeks in hospital after winning the first.  Ali would apologise to Foreman for calling him an Uncle Tom.

Ali thought differently to most of us.  In many ways, he had the mind of a child.  He didn’t want to go to L A for the trials for the Rome Olympics.  He was afraid of flying.  He was persuaded to take the chance.   So he went to a disposals store to buy a parachute – which he wore on the plane.  His graduation from high school was an act of charity, and he flunked the army IQ test.  He could see some big pictures with great clarity, but logic was not his go.

Ali was therefore the perfect dupe for crooks and odd-balls like the Nation of Islam.  And they milked him for all he was worth, and then they denounced and betrayed him.  He nevertheless maintained his faith.  Mr Eig does not doubt the sincerity of that faith, and nor do I.  While most fighters sought refuge and protection from the Mob, Ali found it in a religious sect.  A lot of Americans would have been more at home if he had stuck with the Mob.

As for Vietnam – well, supporters of that war are as thinly spaced now as supporters of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria.  Ali’s position may well have affected that of Dr Martin Luther King.  He said that America could only be saved with ‘radical moral surgery’ and ‘I can’t segregate my conscience.’  Mr Eig says:

Ali’s stand against Vietnam made him a symbol of protest against a war in which black men were dying at a wildly disproportionate rate.  Black men accounted for 22% of all battle deaths when the black population in America was only 10%.  Why was America spending money and tossing away lives in the name of freedom in a distant land while resisting the cause of freedom at home?  Why, yet again, did the interests of black Americans seem to diverge from the interests of the nation as a whole?  Ali raised these troubling questions as opposition to the war rapidly spread.

Ali based his opposition to the war on his religious beliefs.

Many great men have been tested for their religious belief.  If I pass this test, I will come out stronger than ever…..All I want is justice.  Will I have to get that from history?

When he said that, Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world.  He had staggered that world by beating Sonny Liston – twice (although some thought both were fixed).  Ali was at the height of his powers, the prime of American manhood, but the white establishment was now bent on taking out this uppity nigger.

When Ali declined to accept induction, the commissioners of the most corrupt sport on earth moved to ban him.

Never mind that they had long tolerated the mafia and professional gamblers in their sport.  Never mind that Ali had not yet been convicted of a crime.  Never mind that boxing’s rules contained no requirement that its champion be a Christian or an American or a supporter of America’s wars.  None of that mattered.  Guided by anger, prejudice, or patriotism, boxing’s rulers decided that Muhammad Ali was unfit to wear the sport’s crown because he was a Muslim who refused to fight for his country.

Ali had been fortunate early in his career in being managed by a group of right minded business people from home.  They arranged very fair contracts and helped him with tax and saving for the future. But he was like a child with money.  He liked the feel of cash, and he threw it away.  Later he would come under the control of a promoter who had been convicted of murder.

Now a group of very senior black athletes met with Ali for hours to try to get him to change his mind about the army.  President Johnson had offered him the deal given to Joe Louis – he could just put on the uniform, and fight exhibition matches.  He could play down his religion in public, and remind the Nation of Islam, who had dropped him, that he was no good to them serving his term of five years – which was the maximum, that he got.  ‘Everybody had a chance to ask him all the questions they wanted to.  Eventually, everybody was satisfied that his stand was genuine based on his religion and that we should back him.’  Given what was involved, Ali must have had real faith.

More than four years later, Ali’s appeal against his conviction and sentence came on before the Supreme Court.  The government argued that Ali was not a pacifist – he had merely said he did not want to fight the Viet Cong – ‘No Viet Cong ever called me nigger’- or for a country that treated him as a second class citizen.  He was just making political statements.  That argument prevailed five: three.

Justice Harlan was to write the decision.  His clerk had read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and was persuaded of the sincere pacifism of this sect.  His judge then changed his mind: four: four.  The decision would stand, and Ali would do five years.

But this would not look too good.  Then another judge came up with a technical point.  The appeal board that rejected Ali’s claim had not given any basis for its finding – without knowing why his claim had been rejected, how could they have given him a fair hearing?  Well, that does look thin – there is no authority except the decision referred to in the footnotes* – but the justices thought this was better than an all-white court jailing a champion on a split vote.  And they did so unanimously.  Ali found out about his release as he was buying orange juice at a small grocery shop in Chicago.  He shouted the store.

Most of us know all about the fight against Foreman, the Rumble in the Jungle.  I saw it live in the basement of a near blood-house pub in Elizabeth Street.  I was amazed and enthralled – as was a large part of the world.  It was a massive achievement.  On reflection, both Liston and Foreman lost to Ali for similar reasons – he was able to survive and score well for seven rounds – they were used to crushing their opposition in two, and they were not equipped to go anything like the distance.

After that, you may wish to skim read.  It’s mostly downhill.  Dirty fights; whoring (he was in bed with two whores on the afternoon of a big fight); brain damage; corruption; theft; waste; and an uneasy peace.  We were moved by the lighting of the flame at Atlanta, by the film Once Were Kings, and by the funeral.

Ali was fortunate to die when the U S still had a literate and honourable man in the White House.  This is what President Obama said.

‘I am America’, he once declared.  ‘I am the part that you won’t recognise.  But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own.  Get used to me.’  That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic, as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right.  A man who fought for us.  He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.  His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and public standing.  It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled and nearly send him to jail.  And his victory helped us to get used to the America we recognise today… Muhammad Ali shook up the world.  And the world is better for it.  We are all better for it.

What a giant!  Muhammad Ali had the clout and the gifts of Babe Ruth; he had the courage and the devotion to his people of Jackie Robinson; he may have lacked that aura of saintliness that we see in Mandela, Ghandi, and, yes, Lincoln; but because of Muhammad Ali, his nation, however defined, has changed forever, and for the better.

The book had another message for me.  We should ban professional boxing.  It is a cruel and unusual punishment, and we should not pay men to beat up other man and shorten their lives.  This is a denial of civilisation.

*According to Wikipedia, the likely source was the book The Brethren by Woodward and Armstrong.  In 2013, A TV film was released, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.  Christopher Plummer played Justice Harlan.

Us and the US – Chapter 4


[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.]



The American Indians were not subjected to the same kind of annihilation as the Aztecs or Incas had been, but then the English had thought that the Spanish treatment of natives was cruel.  One Elizabethan commentator thought that the Spanish were morally inferior ‘because with all cruel inhumanity…they subdued a naked and yielding people, whom they sought for gain….’ Were the English and then the American and Australian colonisers any better?

The American colonists found themselves in wars with the Indians without getting much help from England.  The colonists long thought that London was far too tender toward the Indians.  The line of the ‘frontier’ of white settlement kept getting pushed westwards until it finally disappeared about two hundred years later.  One American mightily stirred by a royal proclamation limiting white expansion was a man named George Washington.  He was a soldier and big-hitting landowner who had no time at all for the Indians – ‘a cruel and bloodthirsty enemy on our backs.’

The Founding Fathers had views in common about slavery and the Indians – the Indians must not be allowed to get in the way of the growth of America.  When Jefferson submitted his draft Declaration of Independence to Congress, they struck out that inane clause about Negroes but they let stand a clause that referred to ‘the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages sexes and conditions’.

Well, the Indians need not have expected any mercy from that quarter, and for that reason, while both sides sought Indian help during the Revolutionary War, it was generally the British who got it.   The Indians knew that the American hunger for land could never be satisfied.  Any protection that they had had from England evaporated with the Declaration of Independence.  Gunboats, and not just Gunboat Diplomacy, would be used to push the Indians across the Mississippi.  The killing grounds under Andrew Jackson were blood-curdling.  The well-known adventurer and sharpshooter David Crockett said simply: ‘We shot them like dogs’.  This was ‘undistinguished destruction of all ages sexes and conditions’ that the whites had charged the Indians with in the Declaration of Independence.  It was a form of bestiality that can only be explained on the footing that the white people regarded the Indians as having no more significance than being part of a hostile landscape that had to be cleared for white settlement.

It is hard to find a humane view, even a civilised one.  Abraham Lincoln was the first to refer to Indians as ‘Native Americans’.  Treaties were made, but not kept.  In the end there was no land left to seize and no tribe left to betray.  After the defeat of Custer at Little Bighorn in the Great Sioux War, the massive reaction ended with the slaughter at Wounded Knee in 1890.  A poet named Helen Hunt Jackson produced an itemised account of white breaches of treaties called A Century of Dishonour.  In 1877, President Hayes had said: ‘Many, if not most of our Indian wars have had their origin in broken promises and acts of injustice on our part.’

We are talking about a ‘civilised’ nation depriving an ‘uncivilised’ people of their rights, of their very being as a people.  The American Indians never resolved the dilemma of assimilation, and a kind of cultural death, or staying separate.  Neither have our aboriginals.


It is as well to remember that the Europeans that the Australian Aborigines were to confront were not the flower of the Enlightenment.  Most of these white people had been cast out of their own community.  And they were held in line by a brutal and inhuman regime maintained by troops not far from the bottom of their own barrel.

The instructions of Governor Phillip were silent on treating with the natives about what we might call ownership or land rights.  His instructions were predicated on the assumption that title to the land had vested in the Crown.  The English at Botany Bay in and after 1788 proceeded on the footing that the land that they were now occupying had belonged to no one.  The Latin term is terra nullius (‘land of no one’).  In 1992, the High Court of Australia said that all this was wrong, and that it was simply false to say that in 1788 Australia belonged to no one.

But for more than a century after 1788, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia were deprived of their rights by a sustained course of conduct by the governments in London and Australia that was based on an expressly racist premise.  The High Court of Australia said that the Aboriginal people of the continent came to be treated as ‘a different and lower form of life whose very existence could be ignored.’  From time to time, London expressed horror at what was going on, but it was easy to be pious at that distance.  The Aborigines never had the power in combat that the Maoris showed in New Zealand, and they were never offered treaties of the substantive kind offered to the Maoris – and, it might be added, that the Maoris got more return from their treaties than the American Indians ever would.

A Prime Minister, Paul Keating, said: ‘We took the traditional lands and smashed the original way of life.  We brought the diseases.  The alcohol.  We committed the murders.  We took the children from their mothers.  We practised discrimination and exclusion.’  In 2008, the Parliament apologised.  Many Australians were opposed to giving such an apology, and many others still mock it now.

Two things at least are clear.  First, the Aborigines did not ask the white people to occupy this country and they did not consent to that course.  Secondly, the Aborigines have suffered immense pain and loss as a result of the white occupation.  What is there left to argue about?  In both America and Australia, the white people came and took the land from the weaker native peoples who were already there and both God and humanity went clean out the window.  The natives were, one American general said, just ‘destined to disappear with the forests.’

But moral outrage over sustained hypocrisy should not lead us to forget that de Tocqueville thought that whatever ‘we consider the destinies of the aborigines of North America, their calamities appear to be irremediable’, or that more recently Paul Johnson thought that the alternative to assimilation in the U S was ‘continuing friction, extravagant expectations, and new forms of exploitation by white radical intellectuals.’

How different was the American or Australian experience to that of the Boers in South Africa?  They saw themselves as successors to the Hebrew Patriarch.  They were the children of God in the Wilderness, and Jean Calvin had taught them that they were the elect ordained by God to rule over the land and all the natives that they found on it.  Was a Bantu any more appalled by a Calvinist than an Iroquois was by a Lutheran or than a blackfella was by an Anglican?

In both America and Australia, a race that saw itself as superior annihilated whole tribes and cultures of what it saw as an inferior race; the one difference is that the American natives offered stronger resistance and that led to government responding with more armed force and duplicity.

Here and there – Two leaders – to whom do I refer?


He views the world as revolving around himself.  He has no interest in anything that does not concern him personally.

He thrives on conflict.

He is better at tearing down than building up.

He is immensely vain.

But he is also very insecure.  There was a flaw in his upbringing, and his education was at best suspect.

He cannot stand any slight on his character or upbringing.  He is likely to react irrationally and violently.  People doubt whether once he has got to the top he will be able to restrain himself.

He therefore hates the press, and sadly for him, his nation has plenty of quality press.

He adores being adored.  He thinks that it is only natural that he should be adored.

He is therefore at his best before an adoring crowd.  You can see him drawing support and relief from the adoration.

He loves rallies, parades, and ceremonies – anything to do with the military is terrific.  He likes dressing up as a member of the military, and mixing with them – although deep down, he does not like or trust them.

He prefers being adored to governing.

His government program is driven by a need for revenge.  One is less coy than the other about what is being avenged.

He is barely literate.  His written utterances would ill become a ten year old boy.  But for those who want to see, those utterances show a very bent and nasty man who could do you a lot of harm.  Some people see him as being so unhinged as to be mad.  The written communications of both are scarcely literate, but one unloaded one long endless tirades, while the other issues short bitchy pouts after dawn.

He knows nothing about trade, economics, international diplomacy or the law.  He is the most undiplomatic person ever born.  He had had little or no experience in government before getting the top job.  And it shows; and just before dawn, he knows that it shows.  This feeds his insecurity and anger.  And it makes him worse at governing.

But his supporters say that his very inexperience is a blessing.  He is untainted by the old regime that it is his mission to destroy.

Notwithstanding his ignorance of government, he occasionally indulges in micro-management when in the mood.  The results are awful.

He loves to proclaim his love for his country – in part in the hope that this will fuel his country’s love for him.

But in truth his love of himself is so great that there is little room left for love of country, and none for love of God.

One relies on others wanting to appease him; the other is keen to appease his strongest opponent.

He lies all the time.  That is to say, he is fundamentally dishonest.  ‘Conscience’ is a word that could not be applied to him.  Such a thing could only get in the way of his ego.

He therefore has no understanding or respect for the principles of decency that underlie his position.

He is therefore open to fraud and corruption, although one of them, for family reasons, is far more into nepotism than the other.

In truth, he has little respect for decency and no time or room for truth.

His propaganda team therefore has carte blanche.  They may or may not accept that their dealings with people reveal that they hold other people in contempt.

He pursues scapegoats relentlessly.  One premise of that pursuit is that he can do no wrong.  Another premise is his capacity to lump people together and regard them as inferior – and therefore ripe for target practice.

One is more reticent than the other about identifying his scapegoats but their cadres pursue them relentlessly – and smile while they do so.  This only unsettles a small number of their followers, and any dissent is brushed aside.

There is another term that could never be applied to him – tolerance.  If you think that tolerance is the fine fruit and the vital root of western civilisation, he is therefore a threat of the kind that some are wont to call existential.

Another term that could never be applied to him is contemplation.  He looks like he might have a nervous breakdown if he was locked in a room on his own in order to meditate.

Because of his character flaws, he has no friends, and his relations with women are fraught.  Each of the three women who got close to one committed suicide, or tried to, and for one of the suicides, it was her second attempt.  The other has not been able to keep his hands off women, and his third marriage is obviously stressed – his third wife stalks about like a startled POW.  (Perhaps she is.)

He doesn’t drink but his taste for food is very odd.

They have different views on military service.  Although one was knocked back for officer training – twice – he was rightly decorated for bravery in battle.  The other evaded military service with the same dedication with which he would later evade paying tax.  Another word you could never apply to him is patriot – at least if being a patriot means doing the right thing by your country where you could evade such service by a mix of cowardice and deceit.

He would like life tenure – but only one gets it.

Because of those defects in his make-up, he is the worst possible person to lead his country.  But he manages – just – to persuade enough people to support him to enable him to get the top job.  On one view, neither of them ever got a majority vote, and the same people who supported each of them must know that when the end comes, he will turn on them – viciously.

Us and the U S – Chapter 3

Us and the US

[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.]



The Mayflower arrived off Cape Cod in November 1620.  There were forty-one families and they were what we call Puritans.  These very religious people thought that the Church of England was too much like the Church of Rome.  We might now call them fanatics, or fundamentalists.  They wanted a religion free of abstraction in thought and hierarchy in action.  God was over all, but no mere mortal could be superior to another.  They had been persecuted because they were dissenters.  In the New World they could start a new life and they would have the numbers.  Their country would be God’s own country because they were God’s chosen people.  As John Winthrop said, ‘Wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill…. we shall be… a by-word throughout out the world.’

On their way over, they entered into a written covenant.  The critical words are ‘combine ourselves together in a civil body politic.’  We may owe allegiance to an English king, but it is we who will combine to make our new world.  If that combination comes into effect with the blessing of God, well, then, how can we fail?  These boat people brought to the New World God, conviction, strength, and a contract.  They set out as families and for good reason thought that they were exceptional.  They were nothing if not American.

In 1606, the Virginia Company was formed to recover for Christ ‘a number of poure and miserable souls wrapt up into death in almost invincible ignorance.’  Well, it was unlikely that the colony set up at Jamestown could survive on the conversion of the Indians.  There was capital was riding on this venture.  This was not the work of government – people had sunk their own money into the company.  The colony started to take hold when investors were offered land in return for their capital.  Later settlers were offered land in return for labour.

The colony at Chesapeake Bay nearly went the same way as the first Virginia settlement. It was saved by the enterprise of a mercenary called Captain John Smith.  Smith was candid.  ‘For I am not so simple as to think that any other motive than wealth will ever erect there a Commonweale’.  He wondered about people ‘making religion their colour when all their aim was nothing but present profit.’  Tobacco would do for Virginia what wool would do for Australia.  The company also said the colonists would have ‘the rights of Englishmen’, and the first General Assembly of Virginia met.

Rhode Island arose for those who had had enough of the Brethren.  So did Maine, parts of which had been dominated by the French.  Salem was settled and The Massachusetts Bay Company was formed in 1629.  Later, John Winthrop, a Cambridge man trained at Gray’s Inn, arrived.  He rejoiced that the Indians had been wiped out by smallpox.  Winthrop was in truth a dictator, and Salem was more intolerant than England ever had been.  The purges of alleged witches at Salem are a lasting stain on the nation and a reminder of the threat that religious fanatics pose to others.  They prefigured Senator McCarthy.

Maryland was named after a Catholic queen.  New York was named after James II, the Duke of York, after it was changed from the Dutch New Amsterdam.  William Penn arrived in Delaware for what was to be Pennsylvania.  This future state was handed over for the release of a debt of £16,000.  Penn was settling for the benefit of the Quakers who had been shockingly mistreated in the other settlements. Quakers from the Rhineland settled at Germanopolos.  Philadelphia would be the birthplace of the American Declaration of Independence.

In the meantime, people from across Europe were settling.  The American colonies were from the start far more middle class and cosmopolitan than the Australian colonies, and they were always much better equipped to lose any sense of dependence on the Mother Country.


The coming of the white man to Australia was not attended by any romance at all.  The First Fleet assembled at Portsmouth.  There were two warships, six transports, and three store ships; there were nineteen officers, eight drummers, one hundred and sixty privates, thirty wives and twelve children.  There were more than seven hundred convicts, about a quarter of them women.  Assembly and provisioning took months amid chaos, squalor and despair; the shopkeepers at Portsmouth lowered their shutters, while slatternly female convicts lolled on the decks with such clothing as they had.

They dropped anchor at Botany Bay on 20 January 1788, after a journey of more than eight months.  They arrived a year and a half before the fall of the Bastille, a signature prison of the Old World and Ancien Régime.  They did not like what they saw, now blasted by a summer heat.  They found a better spot, Sydney Harbour, one as gorgeous as the two they had stopped at on the way – Rio de Janeiro (also built by convict labour) and Cape Town (whose Robben Island is now a shrine to the imprisonment of the great Nelson Mandela).  On 26 January 1788 the white people hoisted an English flag. That day is celebrated by some annually as Australia Day.  It does not have quite the same élan as Bastille Day or Independence Day.

Shortly afterwards, fourteen couples were joined in marriage; the colony had to be peopled.  The Protestant Ascendancy also had to be preserved.  On 13 February, Captain Phillip swore an oath about the real presence.  There had been trouble a few days before when the women had finally been released from their ships.  Some of the sailors got into the rum with the women, and there were appalling scenes of debauchery.  But somehow the colony survived until the second fleet arrived two and a half years later.  The financial drain might for a while have been a concern to London.

What were the convicts like?  Manning Clark said:  ‘When these men and women spoke for themselves before their judges, they seemed to be liars, drunkards, and cheats, flash and vulgar in dress, cheeky when addressing their jailers when on top, but quick to cringe and whine when retribution struck… they were men and women who aroused their contemporaries to disgust and apprehension, but rarely to compassion, and never to hope’.

There may have been a limit of, say seven years on their term of imprisonment, but for most it was a one way ticket – for the reason that they could never afford a return ticket.  By 1800, about two thirds of the colonists at New South Wales were free.  Transportation ended on the east coast in 1850.  More than 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia.  But free immigration was on the rise.

A Scottish military man was sent out with his own regiment after a kind of rebellion, and over a period of twelve years, Governor Macquarie encouraged emancipation.  He even offered land to aborigines.  A London commissioner recommended injecting terror back into transportation.  This suited the sheep farmers who were squatting on crown land and becoming rich off the sheep’s back.  Some of them even fancied their own kind of aristocracy.  The squatters were the big hitters in the first century of the white people down under.

So, one nation started with free enterprise and the better people seeking God and their fortune; the other was a government job to get the dregs off-shore.  One started with liberation and hope; the other with imprisonment and despair.  That is one hell of a difference.  One nation craved independence and won it; the other fears independence and ducks it.

Us and the US – Chapter 1


[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.]



Our two nations, Australia and the U S, have a common parent.  America was commenced by colonists from England.  Australia was commenced by colonists from Great Britain – the nation of Great Britain had come about by the union of England and Scotland during the nearly two hundred years that separated the first sustained English settlements in America in 1606, and the British settlement of Australia in 1788.

Historians broadly agree that the English nation and language were founded by Germans (Anglo-Saxons) in the six hundred years or so before the Norman Conquest.  They left almost nothing of the remains of the Romans or the native inhabitants who were there before the Romans came.  The Anglo-Saxons brought the institution of hereditary kingship, a tradition of popular assembly, and a system of incidental laws (or dooms or decrees) to supplement or articulate existing customs.  They made no attempt to codify all their laws.

The Normans, a tough northern breed that had come down into France, brought a strong central government.  They opened the way for royal justice and a law that was common to all England.  This is what they and we would call the ‘common law’ (la loi commune).  The Normans also brought the jury, at first mainly as a tool of government, but later as a mode of trial that the English and Americans would come to regard as an essential plank in their constitution.  Although the Normans came after the Germans, and although their conquest was complete, they did not contribute as much to the growth of English law as the Germans. One great American scholar said that ‘the English law is more German than the law of Germany itself’.  Germany would later adopt Roman law – as had France and most of Europe.  England never did so.

So, the first point about our common parent is fundamental.  England’s laws and constitution – their constitution grew out of the common law – were entirely home grown.  Unlike most of Europe, the English never adopted the Roman model.  They were always determined to go their own way.  You can now better see the differences between England and the Continent to this day.  Had either nation been created by France, Germany, Spain or Italy, the result would have been unimaginably different.

The period called the Middle Ages was characterised by feudalism.  The Roman Empire had maintained order.  When it collapsed, Europe entered a dark phase of disorder and violence called the Dark Ages.  People looked to a strong man for protection.  He gave that in return for loyal service.  The vassal paid homage to his lord by taking the hand of the lord between his own and affirming that ‘I am your man’.  This feudal bond was tied to the land and it worked up to the king.  Lords held land from the king and common people held land from a lord and they owed obligations to that lord.  Medieval people loved hierarchies.

Now, most wealth came from the possession of land and ownership rested with a ruling caste.  The land was worked by peasants who were tied to the land.  The power of government cascaded down through intermediaries.  These feudal ties and differences in caste were very prominent in the French and Russian Revolutions.  Six hundred years before the Russians cremated feudalism in a nation–breaking conflagration, the English king in his parliament had made a law that represented a political compromise between the nobility that held the land and those who actually managed the land.  It was a law that cut clean across the whole idea of what we call ‘feudalism’.

Here is the second fundamental point about our common parent.  By the time that England became a colonising force and then an imperial power, feudalism had ceased to matter to it.  The English were very far advanced in the destruction of caste and the promotion of the ideal of legal equality.  Things were very different on the Continent.

Before England founded either of our two nations, it had undergone two cataclysms that we now see as being essential to its nature.  To resolve a civil war, the barons forced King John to agree to the terms of what is known as the Great Charter, or Magna Carta.  We see it as England’s first statute.  It is revered as much in the U S as it is in the U K.  What it showed was that the king had had to negotiate if he wanted to keep his crown and that he had had to agree to accept express limitations on his powers.  The king also had to accept his general obligation to obey the law.  The fact that the king had been driven to negotiate is at least as important as the two most famous clauses:  ‘No man shall be taken or imprisoned … except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.  To none will we sell, to none will we deny or delay right or justice.’  If the king, too, had to negotiate, then he too was a politician.  Most importantly, the people through the lawyers – the common lawyers – could now say that the king was under the law because the law made the king.  This is the real beginning of what we call the rule of law.  That is central to England’s view of itself and is the third elemental difference between it and other colonising powers.

The other cataclysm, the Reformation, was nominally about religion but was really about politics.  Henry VIII wanted an heir but because of a conflict of interest, the pope refused to give him a divorce.  The English revolted.  They gave themselves religious home rule.  They would run their own church free from interference from another power.  They did this through their parliament, so greatly enhancing its power.  This is the fourth huge difference between England and other colonial powers – just look at the role of religion in the French and Russian revolutions.  And the lawyers were into this ruckus up to their necks.  How many of the failings of governments in Spain, France, Italy and Greece were due to their failures to tame their church?

So, by the time that we get to the two English revolutions of the 17th century, the English had put clear and reasonably firm limits on the supremacy of the crown, and they had broken the supremacy of the church.  A strong legal profession had destroyed the clergy’s monopoly of learning.  There was broad agreement that only the parliament could make laws and that the judiciary had to be independent.  The battleground was to be the distribution of the executive and revenue powers between the crown and the parliament.  That issue led to two revolutions in England, and then one in America.

It was put to bed, finally, during the 17th century.  The conflicts with the Stuart kings were resolved in favour of parliament in the Bill of Rights.  This is the platform of the English constitution as it stands today.  It provided the basis of the American Declaration of Independence, and Australia’s Constitution would be set out in the schedule to an English Act of Parliament.

The fifth defining element of England as our parent was its subscription to representative government through parliament, and a reverence for the healing and binding powers of the law.  Things were very, very different across the Channel.