Geoffrey Blainey

Australian historian

Geoffrey Norman Blainey, AC, FAHA, FASSA (born 11 March 1930) is a prominent Australian historian, academic, philanthropist and commentator with a wide international audience. He is noted for having written authoritative texts on the economic and social history of Australia, including The Tyranny of Distance.


  • Mapmakers of Europe and navigators of the Indies once thought Australian seas washed the isles of gold. Even after navigators had seen the north-west coast of Australia it was named on one map the coast of gold. Unknown coasts were treasurelands; imagination shaped and gilded them. Then slowly Dutch and British voyagers tarnished the gilt, and Australia turned from a land of reward to a land of punishment when Great Britain dumped convicts and guards at Sydney in 1788. The imagination of the ancients had more truth than the knowledge of the moderns, but for two generations the settlers did not know that their prison had bars of gold.
    • The Rush That Never Ended (1963)
  • Poland is like an island on the north European plain. At times the island has been swamped by a tide of iron or steel helmets converging from Germany and Russia. At times it has drifted suddenly with the current; if the continent of Africa had drifted relatively as much as the boundaries of Poland have drifted in the last two hundred years, then Africa would at one time have touched the north pole and at another the south pole.
    • Across a Red World (1968)
  • The compound of bigness and communism made Soviet Russia very much an ogre in the 1920s and accentuated her isolation from the rest of the world. In turn the Soviet's acute sense of isolation, the sense of living in a perilous world and, above all, the bitter memory of foreign intervention between 1918 and 1920, made her, in self-defence, more authoritarian in her internal policies, and spurred the campaign to regiment and unify her people and fortify her economy, thus conferring on the word 'communism' an additional wrapping of terror. This sense of isolation must have also intensified the Soviet Union's desire to extend her territory and her sphere of influence in eastern Europe, and she seized the opportunity which came at the end of the Second World War.
    • Across a Red World (1968)
  • With the help of hindsight it is easy to imagine the stone-age migrants moving along the shortest possible route to Australia, but there is no reason why they should have taken the shortest route. Australia was merely the chance terminus of a series of voyages and migrations spread in all probability over many generations.
    • Triumph of the Nomads (1975)
  • The convict era gave Australia a high English and Irish population and a predominance of men, a tendency to disdain authority and resent policemen, and probably a love of leisure and an indifference to religion. The convict era imposed on governments from the outset a high and detailed role in economic and social life. Some of these convict influences were fragile and were quickly erased or reversed by the waves of free immigration; some were reinforced by later events, so that they persist to this day.
    • A Land Half Won (1980)
  • The continent had to be discovered emotionally. It had to become a homeland and feel like home. The sense of overpowering space, the isolation, the warmth of summer, the garish light, the shiny-leafed trees, the birds and insects, the smell of air filled with dust, the strange silences, and the landscapes in all their oddness had to become familiar.
    • A Land Half Won (1980)
  • I do not accept the view, widely held in the Federal Cabinet, that some kind of slow Asian takeover of Australia is inevitable. I do not believe that we are powerless. I do believe that we can with good will and good sense control our destiny.... As a people, we seem to move from extreme to extreme. In the past 30 years the government of Australia has moved from the extreme of wanting a white Australia to the extreme of saying that we will have an Asian Australia and that the quicker we move towards it the better.
    • "The Dilemma of Asian Immigration," The Age (March 20, 1984)
  • The argument by white and black Australians that the events of 1788 are primarily to blame for the plight of many Aborigines is far too negative. The solutions which have been proposed - massive land rights, white confessions of guilt and the granting of hereditary privileges to Aborigines - essentially look backwards. Moreover, the solutions are based on a version of history which is much less valid than its exponents believe.
    • "Not Because they Are Aborigines, but Because they Are Australians," The Australian (October 10-11, 1987)
  • In a democracy, all voters are equal but not all are responsible. Compulsory voting ignores that elemental truth.
    • "The Infantile Custom of Compulsory Voting," The Australian (February 21, 1990)
  • Whether we like the idea or not, war has again and again been seen as the great auditor, the special testing time, of a nation's strength and fibre.
    • "Gallipoli: A Battle for a Mammoth Prize," The Australian (April 24, 1990)
  • When traditional Australians argue that Asian migrants should be welcome but that the ethnic mix of the nation should not be altered too quickly, they are labelled racists. But when ethnic minorities lobby politicians to enlist as many new migrants as possible from their own race, this is applauded as multiculturalism.
  • Some historians looking back on our era will probably marvel at the fragile economic arguments used to justify the present migration policy. Even more they will wonder at the self-deception of those who defend the policy largely in the name of ethics and morality.
  • The multicultural lobby has little respect for the history of Australia between 1788 and 1950. In the eyes of multicultural supporters, Australia was a desert between 1788 and 1950 because it was populated largely by people from the British Isles and because it seemed to have a cultural unity, a homogeneity which is the very antithesis of multiculturalism.
    • Eye on Australia: Speeches and Essays of Geoffrey Blainey (1991)
  • In economics, as in politics, no national reservoir can stand the strain when everyone is turning on the taps and few are bothering to see that the catchments to the reservoir are working.
    • Eye on Australia: Speeches and Essays of Geoffrey Blainey (1991)
  • Multiculturalism is really a policy designed for those who hold two passports and who can abandon Australia if our society collapses – indeed if it collapses through the foolish policies they themselves have imposed. For the millions of Australians who have no other nation to fall back upon, multiculturalism is almost an insult. It is divisive. It threatens social cohesion. It could, in the long-term, also endanger Australia's military security because it sets up enclaves which in a crisis could appeal to their own homelands for help.
    • "Australia: One Nation, or a Cluster of Tribes?", in Our Heritage and Australia's Future: A Selection of Insights and Concerns of Some Prominent Australians (1991)
  • To some extent my generation was reared on the Three Cheers view of history. This patriotic view of our past had a long run. It saw Australian history as largely a success. While the convict era was a source of shame or unease, nearly everything that came after was believed to be pretty good... There is a rival view, which I call the Black Armband view of history. In recent years it has assailed the optimistic view of Australian history. The black armbands were quietly worn in official circles in 1988, the bicentennial year. Until late in that year Mr Hawke rarely gave a speech that awarded much praise to Australia's history. Even notable Labor leaders from the past - Fisher, Hughes, Scullin, Curtin and Chifley - if listening in their graves in 1988, would have heard virtually no mention of their name and their contributions to the nation they faithfully served. Indeed the Hawke Government excised the earlier official slogan, "The Australian Achievement", replacing it with "Living Together" - a slogan that belongs less to national affairs than to personal affairs. The multicultural folk busily preached their message that until they arrived much of Australian history was a disgrace. The past treatment of Aborigines, of Chinese, of Kanakas, of non-British migrants, of women, the very old, the very young, and the poor was singled out, sometimes legitimately, sometimes not... To some extent the Black Armband view of history might well represent the swing of the pendulum from a position that had been too favourable, too self congratulatory, to an opposite extreme that is even more unreal and decidedly jaundiced.
    • "Drawing Up a Balance Sheet of Our History," Quadrant (July-August 1993)
  • In Australia democracy is less in favour in intellectual circles today than 30 years ago. The more emphasis that is placed on the rights of minorities, and the need for affirmative action to enhance those rights, the more is the concept of democracy - and the rights of the majority - in danger of being weakened.
    • "Drawing Up a Balance Sheet of Our History," Quadrant (July-August 1993)
  • Anyone who tries to range over the last 200 years of Australia's history, surveying the successes and failures, and trying to understand the obstacles that stood in the way, cannot easily accept the gloomier summaries of that history.
    • "Drawing Up a Balance Sheet of Our History," Quadrant (July-August 1993)
  • Those who one-sidedly depict the early European history of Australia are endangering one of the gains of recent years: the willingness to examine the long years of traditional Aboriginal history with sympathy and understanding. Just as the history of European Australia can be denounced from a one-sided point of view, so too can the history of black Australia be depicted by the one-eyed as a story of savagery. To revert to such denunciations would be a loss to all Australians, black and white.
    • "Black Future, Reverse Racism: The "Black Armband" View of History is Intent on Dividing the Nation Forever", The Bulletin, (April 8, 1997)
  • Full-blooded democracy still remains a brave new experiment, the history of ancient Athens notwithstanding. It would be unwise to assume that its victory across the globe is inevitable, for democracy is not always a simple mode of governing. It is almost forgotten that one reason why in this century the world stood three times on the verge of chaos - during two world wars and one world depression - was that the leading democracies were almost as prone to accidents and blunders as were their authoritarian rivals.
    • In Our Time: The Issues and The People of Our Century (1999)
  • During their long period of unease about a hot Christmas, Australians rarely noticed that they had more access than their British relatives to a vital part of the traditional Christmas story: 'the stars in the bright sky'. Eventually they ceased to lament that their Christmas came in hot weather.
    • Black Kettle and Full Moon: Daily Life in a Vanished Australia (2003)
  • The birth of the 20th century was like a flaming sunrise. More was expected of the century than any other. So much had been achieved in the previous one that it seemed sensible to expect that henceforth the world's triumphs would far outweigh the disasters.
    • A Short History of the Twentieth Century (2005)
  • The present viewpoint is that Stalin proved to be the most resolute leader, that the Soviet Union exerted undue influence in reshaping the map of postwar Europe, and that a war purportedly begun to defend the independence of small European nations ended up by sacrificing them. The question — did Stalin outwit and outjostle Roosevelt and Churchill — will remain one of the enigmas of the 20th century.
    • A Short History of the Twentieth Century (2005)
  • The rush of events in the Soviet Union, Germany, eastern Europe and China in the late 1980s and the very early 1990s had no parallel in modern history. During the last thousand years no other formidable empire in a time of comparative peace had been dissolved so quickly, so unexpectedly, as the Soviet Union.
    • A Short History of the Twentieth Century (2005)
  • Science and technology have a simple and persuasive message: the world's problems are soluble by ingenuity and material innovations; the world's riddles, such as the origins of the universe, can be unravelled by the scientific mind. But while science's achievements have been remarkable, they have not been revolutionary in probing human nature. In some ways the measurable problems analysed by science and technology are more easily dissected than human problems. The moon is more easily explored than the typical mind and heart.
  • Christianity has both spurred and retarded the sciences and social sciences. Indeed, most of the modern debates of profound significance were originally dialogues with or within Christianity.
  • Christianity probably has been the most important institution in the world in the last 2000 years. It has achieved more for western civilisation than has any other factor; it has helped far more people than it has harmed.
  • Could the Aboriginal and the British cultures have been reconciled when they first met? The prevailing view is that they could have signed a treaty and found a way of ­living together in relative ­harmony. I am not persuaded. The two confronting cultures, whether first living side by side at Sydney in 1788 or at Perth in 1829, had little in common except that they were the product of human beings. Their languages and religions differed. Their attitude to marriage, family, property and individual wealth, their economic and political systems, their way of fighting, and their thoughts about life and death, were far apart. In the world today no two cultures are so far apart as those that lived side by side in many Australian regions after 1788. Mecca and Washington today have far more in common than did the paternal ­Governor Phillip and the Aborigines whom he met in Sydney in 1788.
  • Some talk of the “history wars” raging in Australia. The word “war” is mistaken. Controversy, not war, will continue for a long time to come. It is in the nature of history and of most intellectual activities, and the more so in a nation where the main strands of history – ­Aboriginal and European – are utterly different.
  • Australia became a full-blooded democracy in the late 1850s, achieving it with lightning speed. Only 30 years previously it had consisted of two convict colonies, ruled by governors whose personal power was magnified because most of their subjects were prisoners or ex-prisoners. Moreover, the governors were so remote geographically that Britain’s control of them and their decisions was loose. One year might elapse between the governor writing an urgent dispatch to London, and the arrival of an official reply. And yet, from this prison-like regime, democracy speedily emerged. This was an exceptional outcome.
  • Sections of the media, universities and schools exaggerate the bad news [about Australia's past]. This is a powerful ingredient in the present criticism of Australia Day. These critics, putting on their black armbands, now imagine that before 1788 the Aborigines lived in a kind of paradise, from which later they were brutally and deliberately expelled. Aboriginal life did have many virtues, and from the 1950s Australian archeologists, anthropologists, prehistorians and others rediscovered them. The nation owes them a debt. But the extreme concept of a paradise, wholesome and more spiritual than Australia today, has also won converts. They depict Aborigines as living in peace and harmony with one another and with nature. But the evidence, globally, is that these traditional societies suffered through warfare and that little children and women were often the victims. Massacres of Aborigines by Aborigines, however, are unlikely to find their way into the main textbooks. Their extinction of native fauna will rarely interrupt a school lesson.
  • I continued to admire him as a distinguished exponent of the craft of history writing. By the mid-1980s, I guess our views on certain current-day topics were moving far apart; while we rode comfortably in the same train we got off at different stations.
  • Calwell impressed me partly because of his deep affection for his country and his willingness to see the good in other countries, especially the United States, from which his grandfather had emigrated to the Victorian goldfields. The Aboriginal peoples, as Australians, also came within his affection, and he as much as any public figure of that time tried to help them. Forty years on I came to think just as highly of B.A. Santamaria, the leading Catholic intellectual, as I did of Arthur Calwell, though they were bitter enemies. When you admire people you sometimes do so for the person they are, more than the viewpoint they represent.
    • Before I Forget (2019)
  • Cook was a giant of the sea. To deprive him, his scientists and his crew of high praise would be mean-spirited and would mock history. He was almost certainly the first European to sail along and report on nearly all the eastern coast of Australia. He indirectly made possible present-day Australia which, despite its many failures, is surely one of the success stories of the world. On the other hand, Aboriginal peoples will rightly insist that they, or people close to them in kinship, were the first discoverers of Australia. Their ancestors, one after the other, had sailed and walked along the Indonesian archipelago, a chain of stepping stones that were easily used when the world’s sea levels were lower.
  • The essence of studying history is that, as best we can, we try to wear the shoes and put on the spectacles worn by people of the past. We try to see the obstacles and dilemmas they struggled against or evaded. We also hope that the future will try to understand why we made blunders, and learn from failures and achievements of our era.
  • The Latin language is no longer read widely, and so we have lost sight of the old distinction between the real Terra Australis or Australia on the one hand, and the unknown continent called Terra Australis Incognita on the other. That distinction, however, was real to scientists and geographers living in the eighteenth century. They knew of one southern continent, now known as Australia, but then called New Holland by the Dutch and even by the English. But somewhere, out in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, lay another and richer continent, which, they believed, was waiting to be found.
    • Captain Cook's Epic Voyage (2020)
  • One of the most remarkable voyagers in the long history of the seas, he [James Cook] deserves far more praise than blame. Contrary to the common belief, he admired the Aborigines and facets of their traditional way of life. Above all he grasped this continent and began unknowingly the work of knitting it again to the outside world. On the whole the outside world has gained because of his epic voyage. The settlers who arrived after him eventually made this land so productive that it is capable, almost annually, of feeding tens of millions of people in foreign lands as well as all those in Australia. Here flourishes a democratic society which offers freedom in a world where freedom is not — and never was — the right of most people.
    • Captain Cook's Epic Voyage (2020)
  • ... jostling and jockeying [between England and France] was a vital background to the decision of the English government to send a fleet to occupy Botany Bay. In some ways the decision was made for the far future. For the short term it was simply vital that France should not be allowed to occupy such a strategic site.
  • Ironically Britain claimed the whole continent simply in order to claim a few isolated harbours astride trade routes. It was like a speculator who, buying a huge wasteland flanking a highway because it had a few fine sites for road cafes and filling stations, found later that much of the land was fertile and productive.
  • Australia's distance from Europe was probably only tolerable because it had strategic commodities which England, threatened by changing European alliances, might some day be unable to produce in the northern hemisphere. Flax was the first conqueror - a hollow conqueror - of the distance which so often shaped Australia's destiny.
  • A sure supply of flax, wrote Lord Sydney, 'would be of great consequence to us as a naval power'. At the same time the tall trees which grew to the water's edge in New Zealand and in islands near Australia would yield masts of unparalleled size and quality for the British fleets in India. Australia would thus be 'reciprocally beneficial' both to English gaols and to English seapower. Thus Lord Sydney affirmed the traditional principle that England expected more gains than the simple pleasure of ridding her soil of criminals. Australia then was not designed simply as a remote gaol, cut off from the world's commerce. It was to supply strategic materials.
  • Australia's place on new trade routes was decisive in its early history. It aided the convict settlement. It prompted the rise of a new free group of Australian traders who did not depend heavily on the favours of governors, who were alert for new ways of making money, and who were eventually to hasten Australia's transition from a gaol to a series of free colonies.
  • The convict system in essence was a form of compulsory, assisted migration. It eased the problems created by Australia's distance from Britain. Without it relatively few people from the British Isles would have made the costly journey across the world in Australia's first half century.
  • The value of subsidised migration was not simply in the working men it brought to Australia. Its value was also in the women it enticed to a man's land. One of Australia's sharpest social problems, and one of the problems which Edward Gibbon Wakefield lamented, was the scarcity of women of marriageable or elopable age. So long as Australia primarily served as a gaol for the British Isles, far more men than women came to the land.
  • Australia and New Zealand depended so much on Britain, were in most senses imitations of Britain, that their geographical position near the end of Asia's tail and near the islands of Oceania seemed irrelevant.
  • In December 1941, when Australians began to sense that they were plunged into a new environment, the spectacles they had carried out from Britain were obsolete. They needed spectacles that would correct short-sightedness. They had to see the environment they were in as clearly as the environment they had left across the world.
  • Much of Australia's history had been shaped by the contradiction that it depended intimately and comprehensively on a country which was further away that almost any other in the world. Now the dependence had slackened, the distance had diminished. The Antipodes were drifting, though where they were drifting no one knew.

The Causes of War (1973)

  • No wars are unintended or 'accidental'. What is often unintended is the length and bloodiness of the war.
  • War and peace are not separate compartments. Peace depends on threats and force; often peace is the crystallisation of past force.
  • It is the problem of accurately measuring the relative power of nations which goes far to explain why wars occur. War is a dispute about the measurement of power. War marks the choice of a new set of weights and measures.
  • Wars end when nations agree that war is an unsatisfactory instrument for solving their dispute; wars begin when nations agree that peaceful diplomacy is an unsatisfactory instrument for solving their dispute. Agreement is the essence of the transition from peace to war and from war to peace, for those are merely alternating phases of a relationship between nations.
  • Since every nation tends to believe that each of its past wars was fought in self-defence, a drawn war is more likely to be remembered as a victory.
  • Why did nations turn so often to war in the belief that it was a sharp and quick instrument for shaping international affairs when again and again the instrument had proved to be blunt or unpredictable? This recurring optimism is a vital prelude to war. Anything which increases the optimism is a cause of war. Anything which dampens that optimism is a cause of peace.
  • One may suggest that nations, in assessing their relative strength, were influenced by seven main factors: military strength and the ability to apply that strength efficiently in the chosen zone of war; predictions on how outside nations would behave in the event of war; perceptions of internal unity and the unity or discord of the enemy; memory or forgetfulness of the realities and sufferings of war; perceptions of prosperity and of ability to sustain, economically, the kind of war envisaged; nationalism and ideology: and the personality and mental qualities of the leaders who weighted the evidence and decided for peace or war.

All for Australia (1984)

  • Every nation has the right to control its own immigration. To shape sensibly an immigration policy is to influence nearly every facet of life, now and for generations to come.
  • A policy on immigration helps to determine the unity as well as the size of the population. Should Australia so select its immigrants that the society is relatively unified? Or should it select immigrants who promote diversity? Should Australia continue to be dominated by Anglo-Celtic peoples and the English language and institutions? Or should it become the new Eurasia? In choosing immigrants and the pace at which they arrive, how far should we risk social and racial tensions?
  • Democracy is not like a long-term loan of property to be entrusted by the people to the government and its small group of advisors. And yet in recent years a small group of people has successfully snatched immigration policy from the public arena, and has even placed a taboo on the discussion of vital aspects of immigration.
  • Our immigration policy is increasingly based on an appeal to international precepts that our neighbours sensibly refuse to practise. We are surrendering much of our own independence to a phantom opinion that floats vaguely in the air and rarely exists on this earth. We should think very carefully about the perils of converting Australia into a giant multicultural laboratory for the assumed benefit of the peoples of the world.
  • An immigration policy in any country is based more or less on discrimination. A minister of immigration is a minister of discrimination. If he isn't, he is not carrying out his responsibilities.
  • On the immigration issue the suspicions towards democracy and the distrust towards free speech have come largely from the Left. The distrust of free speech has been especially noticeable amongst a small scatter of academics, members of a profession that by its very nature depends on freedom of inquiry and speech.
  • The majority of Australians are now paying the price of a policy that is eager to please each ethnic minority at the expense of the great majority. If the people of each minority should have the right to establish here a way of life familiar to them, is it not equally right - or more so, in democracy - for the majority of Australians to retain the way of life familiar to them?
  • Whereas the old White Australia Policy, in its extreme form, kept out all Asians, the new policy could be moving towards the opposite extreme. In calling for a strong, long-term flow of Third World migrants, it foreshadows the sacrificing of vital Australian interests on behalf of vague international creeds. It is also forsaking out historical experience for the sake of a nimble dream.
  • Again and again Australia is depicted as a bonanza - ready made - that was snatched from the Aboriginals. But the Australia of the Aboriginals, distinctive as were its achievements, was not a bonanza. Generations of Australians since 1788 have developed this land and its resources, applying sweat and grit and ingenuity. Asian immigrants had the opportunity to come, several hundred years ago, but they had no incentive to come. Australia then was not worth colonizing.
  • Immigration is everyone's business: it is one of the most important national issues. The idea that it is too dangerous to be debated is a mockery of democracy. It is too important not to debate.
  • The ethnic composition of the population - and the particular mixture of nationalities, languages and cultures - is a matter of importance to all nations. The selection of immigrants should not be seen primarily as a test of which nationalities are best. It is more important to select immigrants with an eye to the collective effect on the nation. An immigration policy is not a symbol, a banner, of a nation's attitude to other peoples or races; and to reject potential immigrants is in no way to doubt the worthiness of their nationality or culture.
  • The multicultural policy has, at times, tended to emphasize the rights of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority of Australians, thus unnecessarily encouraging divisions and weakening social cohesion. It has tended to be anti-British, and yet the people from the United Kingdom and Ireland form the dominant class of pre-war immigrants and the largest single group of post-war immigrants.
  • Recent governments emphasize the merits of a multicultural society and ignore the dangers. And yet the evidence is clear that many multicultural societies have failed and that the human cost of the failure has been high.
  • There are dangers in the increasing belief that toleration can simply be imposed on people by a variety of new laws and by a bureaucracy specializing in ethnic affairs, cultural relations and human rights. Unfortunately, the laws and regulatory bodies, introduced in the hope of promoting toleration, can be invoked to attack freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and those principles on which minority rights must, in the last resort, depend. A sensible humane immigration policy is more likely than most of these new agencies and laws - present or proposed - to maintain and foster racial toleration.
  • People need to feel they belong to their country. Their need for community is most pronounced in a time of adversity. The people who are hit hardest by a depression, who feel that their children will suffer, look for loyalty from the rest of the community and the government. The present immigration programme, in its indifference to the feelings of the old Australians, erodes those loyalties. The multicultural policy, and its emphasis on what is different and on the rights of the new minority rather than the old majority, gnaws at that sense of solidarity that many people crave for.
  • A nation is drawn together by loyalties and obligations, and in a depression or war those bonds are vital. Sir Henry Parkes, a father of the Commonwealth of Australia, said in 1890: 'The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all.' That crimson thread is vital for any nation, but in the last six years there has been a growing concern at the way in which Australian governments, perhaps with lofty aims, have cut the crimson threads. The cult of the immigrant, the emphasis on separateness for ethnic groups, the wooing of Asia and the shunning of Britain are part of this thread-cutting.
  • Australia will have to find ways of impressing on Asia and the rest of the world that much of its territory is arid. To sell Australia successfully is not only to sell its products and its tourism, but also sell to other nations the fact that much of its territory is desert and can support few people.

The Great Seesaw: A New View of the Western World, 1750-2000 (1988)

  • The First World War shook the scaffolding of progress because it was deadly and unexpectedly long: it showed that technology could be two-faced. The war delivered one other insidious attack on the idea of progress by raising a moral question which the believers in progress had taken for granted: had the morality of Europeans improved during the long era of 'progress'?
  • One lesson of history is that every gain has its potential loss. The highest human achievements carry the danger of pride, and pride can lead blindly to disaster, just as failure can fortify the determination and so lead slowly towards triumph.
  • The slow decline of Christianity prepared the way for new Utopias and doomsdays. Indeed some of the new views of the future contained many of the characteristics of a religion.
  • If we disown history we are at its mercy. To have a reasonable knowledge of the past is to possess an anchor which is likely to prevent us from being swept towards false ideas about the present and future.
  • Democracy is a freak condition in the world's history: civil liberties are not common liberties even today, and most people in the world have never possessed them.

A Shorter History of Australia (1994)

  • The eclipse of the Aborigines was tragic. Could it have been averted? It could have been prevented for a time if no British settlers had landed, but eventually people of other European or Asian nations would have come and occupied much of the land.
  • The shrinking world was becoming too small to permit a whole people to be set aside in a vast protected anthropological museum where they would try to perpetuate the merits and defects of a way of life that had vanished elsewhere, a way of life that - so long as it continued - would deprive millions of foreign people of the food and fibres that could have been grown on the land.
  • Even in the 1860s and 1870s most Australians did not feel fully at home in their land. So many of them were new migrants, mostly from the British cities, and so they found rural Australia strange and even hostile at first. Above all, in the long European see-saw of ideas and taste, the wilderness and untamed nature were falling somewhat from favour; to be revived late in the century. Attitudes to Australian landscape reflected this see-saw.
  • There is a delicate balance between shielding people and encouraging them, and the USA perhaps went too far in one direction and Australia in the other. The Soviet Union, born in 1917 and influenced a little by the exciting Australian and New Zealand experiments, would eventually show how the umbrella, if too big and cumbersome, exposed people far more than it protected them.
  • The history of Australia, black or white, is not only the struggle between peoples but the struggle between nature and people. Nature tamed many of the settlers, sometimes defeating them, but people held many victories, sometimes at high cost.
  • The decline of the churches was a sweeping social revolution, because they had done more than any other institution, public or private, to civilise Australians.
  • It is remarkable that India became a democracy in modern times, because the long-lasting Hindu civilisation at first sight was innately hostile to the ideas that all adults should have an equal vote, irrespective of their caste, and that all adults should be able to share in the social mobility which was part of the democratic spirit. But to graft exotic new trees onto old, when there seemed little hope of success, and to watch them grow vigorously, is not a rare experience in human institutions.
  • Looking back on Rome's success, it is all too easy to conclude that its victories were preordained. It is almost as if Rome arose with consummate certainty from the seven hills, gaining such a height that seemingly it could not be challenged. But in almost every phase of Rome's history there were crises.
  • Unpredictable events, or the coincidence of vital events happening side by side, play their part in history. In the emerging of the United States of America, the South American nations, South Africa, Canada and Australia the unforeseen mixture of events was especially powerful in the final decades of the 18th century. Many of those events pirouetted around the fortunes of France, whose influence was as decisive when it was losing as when it was winning wars.
  • The power of the United States depended heavily on its pale empire of ideas, attitudes and innovations. Its ideas alighted effortlessly on foreign ground, irrespective of who owned the ground. Much of its influence came from such innovations as the telephone, electricity, aircraft and the cheap car, nuclear weapons and spacecraft, computers and the Internet. Its influence came through jazz, cartoons, Hollywood, television and popular culture. Its influence came from an excitement about technology and economic change, and a belief in incentives and individual enterprise. It was also the most ardent missionary for the creed of democracy. While military and economic might was vital to the success of the United States, the power of its pale empire of ideas was probably even more pervasive.
  • The global role of the United States is perhaps the ultimate chapter in that long period of European expansion which had begun in western Europe, and especially on the Atlantic seaboard, during the 15th century. Europe slowly had outgrown its homeland. Its cultural empire eventually formed a long band traversing most of the Northern Hemisphere and dipping far into the Southern. The modern hub of the peoples and ideas of European origin is now New York as much as Paris, or Los Angeles as much as London. In the history of the European peoples the city of Washington is perhaps what Constantinople - the infant city of Emperor Constantine - was to the last phase of the Roman Empire; for it is unlikely that Europeans, a century hence, will continue to stamp the world so decisively with their ideas and inventions.
  • Within the next two centuries, as the world shrinks and its distances are diminished, an attempt could well be made, by consent or by force, to set up a world government. Whether it will last for long is an open question. In human history, almost nothing is preordained.

The Story of Australia's People: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia (2015)

  • We have long believed that during the time of the Aborigines' domination their landscape did not change. At times it changed dramatically. The basalt plains of that part of Victoria, which was later named Australia Felix, were violently affected by volcanoes. For most of the people living close to the ocean - and for some who had never seen it - a more shattering change was the rising of the sea and the drowning of their hunting grounds. Nothing in the short history of British Australia can match those physical changes.
  • Nothing in the traditional life of Aborigines was more impressive than their practical knowledge. They were masters of their environment even though they could do little to change it.
  • For ages the Aborigines had relied heavily on isolation. It was their asset and their liability, and gave them long-term control of the continent. But if their isolation were to end, as it ultimately had to end with a shrinking world, their whole way of life could be fractured. Even the arrival of a few thousand permanent settlers, whether from Europe or Asia, would be like the first tremors of an earthquake.
  • Whereas for thousands of years there was some prospect that the economic and social life of the Aborigines would be reshaped by the entry of immigrants from the Indonesian archipelago or New Guinea, the real reshaping was to be drastic. Whereas gardening could be grafted onto a semi-nomadic life, the economic activities and energies of England of 1800 would shatter the social and economic customs of the Aborigines.
  • Many convicts were bewildered by the first days of the voyage to Australia. Most had never seen the open sea until they boarded the convict ship, and few had travelled in a ship. And now, by sentence of the courts, they were about to begin one of the longest voyages any traveller could make.
  • When in Hobart in May 1853 the ship St Vincent sent ashore the last consignment of convicts, Tasmania had received almost as many convicts as New South Wales during the long history of transportation. Western Australia now remained the only penal colony and it received its last convict ship on 9 January 1868. For eighty years convicts had been shipped to Australia, and a total of 163000 had set out on that voyage from which few returned. In the modern history of Europe there was rarely a planned deportation on a more ambitious scale until the era of Stalin and Hitler.

The Story of Australia's People: The Rise and Rise of a New Australia (2016)

  • France's decision to ignore Australia was understandable. Even colonial Australians took little interest in most parts of their own land, and hardly a soul in Melbourne or Sydney thought kindly of the idea of setting up any kind of business... on the shores of the Indian Ocean or Arafura Sea. The effects of this decision, or default, were far-reaching. The huge continent became the sole possession of Britain. Few decisions have had more influence on Australia's modern history.
  • Most Australians did not love a sunburnt country. Farmers preferred a reliable rainfall; bank managers and city merchants preferred to deal with customers living in towns where the economy did not suffer from drought. The governors, who came from the British Isles, still retreated in summer to the cool hill towns - to Sutton Forest and Mount Macedon and the Mount Lofty Ranges and other colonial Simlas.
  • The birth of a nation called for many fathers, none of whom could be pre-eminent, and when Parkes died the federation was only a balloon floating beckoningly in the air.
  • If, on the eve of the war, a fortune teller had pointed to all the Australian men between the ages of 20 and 30, and had predicted that a number equal to 60 per cent of that age group would be killed or permanently disabled in the coming war, she would have been ridiculed but she would have been correct.
  • The idea is still widespread that Australians were among the world's most persistent racists until the White Australia policy was abolished. But in 1900, and long after, almost every part of the Western world was wary of large-scale immigration from poorer, low-wage countries whose reigning culture was different. Asians at times were wary of outsiders. Between 1860 and 1914 it was safer to be a Chinese gold-digger living in Australia than to be an Australian, especially a female missionary, living in China.
  • Perhaps no Australian politician, to this day, has made such a mark for so long on the global stage as Hughes achieved in the first half of 1919.
  • Innovation is usually not a gigantic step but a series of small jumps involving various enterprising people whose names are soon forgotten.
  • Menzies was the first - and maybe the only - national leader of whom it could be safely said that he was capable of rising to the top of almost any ladder he dared to climb.
  • One Australian tradition is to cut down the elite and the successful. It had its roots in the era of convicts who naturally opposed those in authority. This levelling or egalitarian tradition continued to flourish on the goldfields in the 1850s when the unusual mining laws gave everyone an opportunity to find gold, and the tradition was accentuated around 1900 by the rising trade unions. The attitude was one of the spurs to Australian democracy.
  • A few important Muslim leaders regretted that Australian society, as they experienced it, defied their beliefs and preachings. In their eyes it was decadent and irreligious. And yet one century earlier, a host of Australian churchgoers would have agreed with the mainstream Muslim suspicion of alcohol, drugs, pornography, party-going, scantily clad women, blasphemous language, suicide, homosexuality and the Sabbath. It was the Christians who, in the following four generations, relaxed their views on these social questions. They became more tolerant at a time when sections of Islam were becoming less tolerant.
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