Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

Australia—The New Nation

"The Law that ye make shall be law,

and I do not press my will,

Because ye are Sons of the Blood,

and call me Mother still."

— Kipling

N OT only did the Canadian-Pacific railway draw together the various provinces in the Dominion of Canada, but it drew the distant island continent of Australia closer to the mother country.

Let us see how Australia had prospered, since the days of her early colonisation, and how gradually she adopted the same form of government as her sister colony Canada.

Eight years had passed away, since Eyre had heroically forced his way across the 1500 miles of waste, stretching across the southern colonies. Australia was suffering from poverty and want of more hardy emigrants, when the gold rush took place to California. Among others, an Australian colonist, Hargreaves, was smitten with the gold-fever, and made his way to America, to be struck with the great similarity of the two countries.

"Slate, quartz, granite," he argued to himself; "if these mean gold country in America, why not in New South Wales?"

Returning home in 1851, he made his way across the Blue Mountains from Sydney to Bathurst, and was rewarded by finding gold in a creek, which he named Ophir, after the famous old diggings of King Solomon. A rush of diggers took place, until the mountain road from Sydney to Bathurst was thronged with men from all parts of Australia. The neighbouring colony of Victoria was in danger of losing all its colonists, as they flocked off in search of gold, when suddenly the news spread of still richer gold-fields within twenty miles of Melbourne. A yet wilder rush took place. Melbourne became a deserted city. Shops were shut, the plough rusted in the furrow, shearing-time came and there were no shearers. The Governor at Melbourne ruled "in pathetic loneliness—a monarch without a realm."

As the news spread, emigrants from England and America flocked into the country. In two years a quarter of a million people arrived in Victoria for this "Working Man's Paradise." The colonies grew apace. Railways sprang into being, telegraph poles stretched from town to town, and the government of the five separate colonies was re-adjusted to suit the new demands.

A new impetus was given to exploration: men realised how little was yet known of the interior of their great continent, and with the increase of population had come the desire for expansion. So the rich little colony of Victoria fitted out an expedition to attempt an overland route from south to north, from sea to sea. This expedition of Burke and Wills across Australia is one of the most famous in the annals of Australian exploration. The men of Melbourne turned out in their thousands to see the little band of men under their chosen leader, Burke, start on their great journey. The whole expedition had been carefully prepared. Camels had been brought from India to make the desert journey easier; a waggon had been constructed which, with its wheels off, would make a punt for crossing rivers. No pains had been spared. The party reached Cooper's Creek, near the boundary of New South Wales and Queensland, in safety on November 11. It was an old and well-known camping-ground in the midst of a flat sandy plain, through which a river wound its way. After a month spent here, Burke divided his party of eight into two, determined to push on for the northern coast.

"Wait here till we come back," he said to the four remaining at Cooper's Creek. "We may be three months; we may be four."

"We will wait," was the firm reply.

So, on December 16, Burke and Wills, King and Gray, with six camels, one horse, and food for three months, started off for the unknown. After two months of toilsome travel, they reached the salt water of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Within fifty miles of the coast they turned back, for provisions were running short and the way was arduous and long. They had been the first men to cross Australia from sea to sea, but the journey back was rich in disaster. Rains had made the ground heavy; the camels, tired with overwork and little food, sank down and died. Food ran so short that the hungry explorers had to kill and eat their poor tired horse, Billy. At last, on the 21st of April, Burke, Wills, and King (for Gray was dead) dragged themselves wearily back to Cooper's Creek. All was silent and deserted; and as the awful truth dawned on them, Burke threw himself on to the ground in despair, while Wills sobbed out: "They are gone."

On a tree was cut the word "Dig." Obeying, they found a bottle, inside which was a paper with these words: "We leave the camp to-day, April 21, 1861. We have left you some food, but take camels and horses."


Death of Burke

That very day, perhaps but a few hours since, the party, after waiting four months and five days, had left for home. The weary explorers were too tired to follow, too sick at heart to think. They ate some oatmeal and sugar, and two days later, struggled on their way once more. At last their food failed. They ate a black seed called nardoo, cooked by the natives, but they grew weaker and weaker. Wills succumbed first. Heroically he insisted that his two friends should push on, as their only chance of safety, while he lay down to die alone. A few days later Burke died too, and King alone lived to stagger back to Melbourne with the news of their success, which was dearly bought.

To-day telegraph posts stretch from sea to sea, and men are developing the inheritance won through so much courage and endurance by their fellow-countrymen.

Still the passing years found the five great colonies and Tasmania distinct and separate, each clinging blindly to its own individual existence. Australia was a continent of quarrelling colonies, with petty jealousies, bitter feelings, and a short-sighted outlook on the vast possibilities of the future. It was not till the end of the nineteenth century, that in the face of a common danger, the desirability of uniting their country took hold of men's minds.

"How could we defend our coasts in the event of an attack?" the colonists asked themselves hopelessly. The idea of federation grew. In 1891 a great convention was held at Sydney to discuss this idea.

"The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all," cried Sir Harry Parkes at a banquet of representatives from the various colonies and New Zealand. The difficulties seemed unsurmountable. Nine long years passed by, and it was not till 1900, that it was finally decided to break down all barriers and to merge the separate life of the five states and Tasmania into one joint dominion under the broad flag of Great Britain.

The news thrilled through every fibre of the world-wide Empire. The queen of the mother country sent out her grandson, now the heir-apparent to the British throne, to open the first Federal Parliament for her sons beyond the sea. It was a memorable day in the history of Australia, when the great white Ophir steamed into Melbourne harbour bearing the British Prince and Princess to distant Australian shores. The opening of Parliament took place on May 9, 1901, amid the greatest enthusiasm, and messages soon flashed to every quarter of the globe with the news, that Australia had entered on a new era of existence.

Australia—the Great South Land of past years—has at last awakened to her great duties and responsibilities. For the first time in history one nation occupies a whole continent; and that island continent, now ranking as one of the world-powers, is putting forth her splendid energies to work out mighty destinies, under the flag of the mother country.

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