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It was peopled first by outcasts, rebels and adventurers, stiffly governed for two generations by British officials, and to this day is largely financed by the British middle class.
For a full century the little communities were outworks of the industrial revolution in Britain.
Three times in the last fifty years, however, Australians of the rank and file have had the chance to verify what "the papers" told them of the changing world. Dalley sent the New South Wales contingent to Suakim, colonials on active service were scarcely taken seriously: John Bull could thrash the dervishes easily enough.
She is already finding lucrative and growing markets for her wheat in Mediterranean, Indian and Asiatic ports. The best of these, however, were liable to sudden devastation by the flood-waters which the Nepean-Hawkesbury system hurled seaward along one narrow valley.
Self-sufficiency in finance would be the reward of self-respect. As their harvests were swept away almost as often as not, the exiles found their main support in the stores and clothing brought from overseas and served out by the naval captains still in command.
With thinned ranks they came back, aware that the danger had been repulsed at heavy cost. In this access of wealth, Australians one and all talked of making their country more self-reliant.
Clever men stampeded the democracy into measures seemingly designed to make our economy a hermit one.
"The world's uncultivated areas are mainly wheat-producing land." Geographically, with her wheat lands near the coast, Australia is better situated to supply an industrialized Asia with foodstuffs than are the inland prairies of America or the steppes of Russia. Thus the harbour formed by their submergence had escaped silt. But the plain behind lacked a fit scene for immediate agriculture, the hard labour to which the convicts brought by the First Fleet had been condemned; and it was walled off from the rest of the Continent by the Blue Mountain cliffs. Australia, Physiographic and Economic.] The only denizens of the virgin land were primitive hunting tribes who, by restriction of their numbers and by elaborate taboos, had adjusted their hunting to the supply of game.
Her industrial resources, well placed on the Eastern coast, would be developed in due course as the internal economies of an exchange kept technically alert by international competition. Till the mountains were crossed it was a port without a hinterland.* The great sandstone gorges thirty miles westward of the harbour beat back inland exploration for a quarter of a century. No competition with other races or cultures had narrowed their fields and enforced pasture or agriculture, the domestication of animals and plants in chosen spots.
The sense of a permanent and secure world was shaken. Keynes, "the most interesting question in the world (of those, at least, to which time will bring us an answer)" was "whether, after a short interval of recovery, material progress would be resumed, or whether, on the other hand, the magnificent episode of the nineteenth century was over." At first it seemed that a prosperity greater than that of pre-war times had come.
During the campaigns of 1915 to 1918, in numbers as great as the Commonwealth could muster and partly equip—numbers whose going heavily checked the work of farms, wharves and mines—Australians helped other Britons and their Allies to meet the armed challenge. Home and external markets moved from strength to strength, with little faltering even in 1920-21 when Britain plunged into the long depression that grips her still.
The coalition of parties in political power during the post-war decade piled tariff upon tariff in favour of local secondary industries, and sponsored crude plans to exploit the Australian market in favour of struggling export industries.
Their talk ran high of making Australia another United States, drawing increased wealth from the interchange of products within the national boundaries.
On her fertile but limited coastal fringes live six or seven million people—about as many as inhabit Thibet.