Printer Friendly

The 'workingman's paradise', white supremacy and utopianism: the New Australia movement and working-class racism.

Inspired by William Lane's plan for ameliorating the evils of the industrial class system through the principle of socialist cooperation and 'mateship', 220 people left Australia on 16 July 1893 to seek a rural utopia, an Arcadia, deep within the heart of Paraguay. In founding the New Australia colony, the Australian colonists brought with them many of the idiomatic beliefs of the Australian working class of the 1890s--solidarity understood through the concept of 'mateship', teetotalism, land hunger and the idealisation of the pastoral village life. The New Australia movement, however, was also founded upon dominant racial ideas that found currency within late nineteenth century Australian working-class communities. This article seeks to examine the impact of these racial ideas on the progression of the utopian movement after the colonists arrived in Paraguay. In conceiving the utopian ideal, Lane and his adherents counterposed the demise of a miscegenated industrial civilisation with a racially pure 'white and progressive' socialist utopia. (1)

The dominant New Australia narrative is one surrounding the failing of this experiment in utopian socialism. (2) Almost immediately upon arrival in Paraguay, the party was riven by internal factionalism which within a few months led to several expulsions, the secession of a third of the original colonists and, finally, the removal of Lane as Chairman of the colony. The colony split in two on 1 May 1894. While the story of New Australia often concludes at this point--particularly within largely hostile press accounts--the Paraguayan experiment in utopian socialism did not come to an end. Lane abandoned New Australia along with 63 supporters, who began afresh on a smaller plot of land elsewhere in Paraguay, establishing the colony of Cosme. Yet, even with a smaller and more dedicated group of colonists, the new colony struggled to achieve Lane's utopian ideals and stuttered into collapse a decade after its founding.

In many ways, the events following the 1894 split are more interesting than the story of factionalism within the first settlement. This article seeks to reintegrate these Paraguayan experiences into the New Australia narrative by looking at how notions of racial segregation informed the colonists' interaction with the Paraguayan population both before and after they arrived in Paraguay. The realities that the colonists met with in the foreign environment led many to challenge and ultimately confront their racist beliefs and the racial ideology on which the colony was founded. It is the contention of this article that, alongside the more commonly cited factors relating to Lane's dictatorial leadership style, the tensions surrounding racial ideology on the part of Lane and the colonists contributed to the breakdown of the utopian project. It is not, therefore, the intention of this article to write a definitive history of the movement, but rather to reinsert the conflict over the role of race, as understood by the colonists, into the broader narrative of the utopian experiment.

A significant amount of scholarly research already exists on the racial ideology behind the New Australia movement, as typified within the writings of William Lane. Verity Burgmann's authoritative study examines the primacy of racial theory in the construction of William Lane's idea of socialism. She argues that Lane's emphasis on racial solidarity rather than class solidarity led to his repudiation of class conflict to the point that he 'hoped above all to avoid class struggle'. (3) Andrew Markus contributes further to this discussion by examining the influence of scientific doctrines such as eugenics on Lane's formation of racial ideas. He argues that racial purity, for Lane, was premised as much in morality and physical virtue as it was in the rejection of miscegenation. Yet, inevitably, miscegenation was more of a threat, with Lane expressing the fear that if miscegenation was allowed to occur in Australia, a pure-blooded elite may attempt to enslave the 'piebald' lower classes. (4) For both Markus and Burgmann, Lane's conception of the Teutonic origins of socialism is of fundamental importance to his political perspectives.

While these works are important contributions towards the understanding of working-class racism in pre-Federation Australia, almost as a consequence, they do not follow the New Australia movement after it left the shores of Australia. By contrast, this focus on racism has not been pursued to the same extent by historians of the New Australia and Cosme Colonies and, as such, racial attitudes have only played a minor role in the histories of the movement once in Paraguay. While the two key historians of the New Australians in Paraguay, Gavin Souter and Anne Whitehead, acknowledge the Teutonic racism expounded particularly by William Lane as a backdrop to the New Australia movement, they do not consider this racism to have significantly influenced the course of events in Paraguay. Instead, William Lane's racist attitudes tend to be absorbed into the historical context of the time. (5) As such, an examination of how these ideas were confronted and transformed by the colonists' experiences in Paraguay is missing from their otherwise exhaustive treatment of New Australia.

The historians Williams, Kraus and Knowles have also noted this gap in the New Australia literature, and have sought to address it by suggesting that William Lane and New Australia found affinity with pre-Nazi Aryan supremacist movements. (6) By contrast, this article proposes that we do not need to look beyond New Australia's own contextual origins and internal historical progression to understand the development of the movement's own underlying racial ideas. Lane's self-assuredness in the superiority of his Aryan race was less a project of active racial cleansing and conquest than of 'recreating' the British Empire on what he considered to be the basis of a functional society that would allow for human perfectibility--a racially pure society removed from all of the elements of industrial civilisation which were considered so inimical to healthy social relations.

The scope of the argument considered here is manifold. First I seek to recount what is already known about the racial ideas that New Australians brought with them to Paraguay, particularly as these ideas are understood by historians such as Burgmann and Markus. From this basis, I then turn to look at how these racist ideas were challenged by the colonists' experiences in Paraguay, and how the translation of pure ideology into practice within the confines of the New Australia utopian experiment became a site of conflict and contestation. Ultimately, this conflict over racial ideologies contributed to the breakdown of the utopian experiment, propelling those whose views continued to adhere to rigid racial ideologies to leave, and paving the way for cultural and actual miscegenation to take place between the remaining colonists and the local Paraguayan population.

Teutonic Socialism: The Founding Ideals of the New Australia Movement

Lane's 'doctrine of absolute mateship' (7) was developed from a critique of Australian society as it was experienced by the working class during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Particularly among British travellers, Australia in the second-half of the nineteenth century had often been seen as a 'workingman's paradise', because of high standards of working and living conditions compared to Europe. (8) Yet, these perceptions of Australia's exemption from the cruelties of industrial capitalism were challenged by the severe economic depression and unemployment of the 1890s, coupled with the emergence of heightened class struggle. One British commentator was led to marvel that 'the land of promise to which the exhausted Briton has turned his weary eyes' had fallen victim to the 'suffering of the Old World... repeated in these new and promising conditions'. (9)

These same themes were drawn upon by Lane in his explications of the motivations behind the New Australia movement. In essence, the movement was a condemnation of the corrupting effects of capitalist 'civilisation' which had brought with it land monopolisation and competition between workers over work and wages. In 1890, as editor of the Queensland Worker, Lane had proclaimed 'Socialism in Our Time'. (10) Two years later, in the wake of two crushing strike defeats, such optimism for a triumphant workers' movement in Australia had dissolved. 'There is no man, having any conception of life worth the name', wrote Lane, 'who does not feel starved and entombed in this gaudy sepulchre we call civilisation'. (11) For Lane, capitalist civilisation brought with it alarming disparities in wealth, wage-slavery and forced unemployment, prostitution, the corruption of children, criminality and plutocracy. (12) The result was the increased exploitation and commodification of labour:
   [Y]our life-blood must be sold as so much wood or wool... [and] as
   long as the profit-taker gathers to himself the best part of the
   fruit of our laboring as his share for permitting us to work, just
   so long will social wrong continue. (13)

Society was corroded by these elements, which led men to the sins of drinking and gambling and produced within society 'a misery that is heart-rending to witness and degrading to endure'. (14)

Bound up with this critique of civilisation was a well-developed theory of Teutonic racial superiority. The Australian working class of the late nineteenth century forged itself not only in the practical school of the picket-line, but also in the cross-class movement against non-white immigration. To some sections of the Australian labour movement, the race war was of far greater significance than the class war. (15) Lane developed his social attitudes from inside these struggles, which culminated in the ban on Chinese immigration in all colonies by 1888. (16) It is no small matter that his paper, the Queensland Worker, was reputedly one of the most racist of all working-class newspapers. (17) For Lane, the degradation of white civilisation was intrinsically linked to the dilution of racial purity. Writing of the Chinese, Lane argued that they were 'representative of a rival civilisation, the standard bearer of an arch-antagonistic race' which clashed with the white civilisation in an almighty race struggle. (18) 'The Chinaman has got to go', he wrote, 'if there is virtue in our vigorous Australian blood... We don't fear the result of such a civil war'. (19) In Lane's mind, the importance of this race war eclipsed class distinctions; the Chinese scourge was seen as impinging on all classes alike and the real struggle necessitated racial solidarity across class lines: 'We stand together, we whites, shopkeepers and merchants, artisans, labourers and farmers; if one falls the other follows.' (20)

This idea of racial solidarity formed the basis of Lane's vision of an Australian utopia premised on white purity and cross-class cooperation in the form of arbitration. Importantly, Lane did not propose the abolition of class distinctions, but merely their amelioration through a form of impartial intervention by a governing force. The utopian dream he envisaged was a white Australia, free from the weaknesses of outside races. 'We will not have a piebald people here in Australia', he wrote when addressing the issue of Kanaka labour, 'we are white and progressive and we will stay white and progressive'. (21)

The defeat of the 1891 shearers' strike shattered Lane's vision for a utopian white Australia, leading him to believe that there was a need not only to salvage white Australians from the racial threat of non-white immigration, but also from themselves. Thus, the New Australia project was founded on a critique of English colonisation. Despite the spread of the English race across 'three great continents', this expansion was always premised on 'the social sin that brings in its train poverty, misery and crime'. (22) The 'social sin' was selfishness, and it led to the eventual degradation and decline of the race. (23)

By contrast, Lane's utopia embraced a rural lifestyle, in which every man and woman had a home and a family, where marriage was for life and children understood the importance of familial ties. Under this regime, the world would continue to develop under the influence of the axe and hammer, yet free of the degradation to which capitalist civilisation forced the white man to surrender. The impulse to 'go mates'--to seek an Arcadian lifestyle in Paraguay--was thus fuelled by the belief that a return to a simple life would reap happiness rather than misery, and would present itself as a shining beacon of hope to the white workers of the world. (24) In order for this utopia to work, however, the right men had to be selected to constitute the vanguard and set the example for others to follow. Thus, it was reported that 'the colonists [of New Australia] will be selected not... from the human rubbish heaps of disease-infested and overcrowded cities, but from the ranks of Australian health and activity'. (25) Since Lane's socialism was premised on the superiority of the Teutonic race, the Queensland bushmen, considered its pure specimens, became the prime recruits for the New Australia colony. John Kellett writes that Lane saw the Bush Meetings during the shearers' strike of 1891 as 'the gatherings of a Teutonic parliament in the far-off days of old'. (26)

The basis of the socialist settlement of New Australia was to be common ownership of all land and capital, and the equal sharing of the work required in running the colony, according to every person's ability. Any surplus would be divided equally among all adult members, regardless of gender, age, or status. The colony would be democratically run, with an elected director and managerial board, and referendums to be held over important decisions including issues relating to expulsion. Disputes were to be settled by arbitration. Freedom of speech, religion, thought and leisure were held as inviolable, as was the equality between the sexes. (27) Abstinence from alcohol was seen as necessary for upholding the moral virtue of the colony's members, to keep every man and woman straight and honest, and to ensure that they lived in 'truth... not merely sharing material possessions one with the other, but while each one strives to conquer his own weaknesses, helping each other one to do the same'. (28)

The Paraguayan Context: New World Arcadia

Notions of racial purity and the degrading impact that industrial civilisation could have on the Teutonic race were not merely significant for the way in which they contributed to the exodus of the New Australia pioneers from Australia. These ideas also significantly informed the New Australians interaction with Paraguay and its inhabitants prior to their arrival in South America. The key propaganda pieces designed to market Paraguay to potential colonists constructed a powerful image of the Paraguayan population as inherently inferior to the idealised Teutonic Australian Bushmen. (29) This same discourse was subsequently utilised to rationalise the dual policies of cultural isolation and the exploitation of native labour which became tenets of the New Australia and Cosme Colonies.

Paraguay was not at first the obvious choice for the New Australian settlement. As early as May 1891, prospectors were appointed by the New Australian Settlement Association to look at land on offer in Argentina. When a cable finally arrived in January 1893 announcing the selection of a plot of land, its location within Paraguay may have even come as a surprise to many of the New Australia leaders. (30) Paraguay was attractive to the settlers for economic reasons, however, and in this regard the Paraguayan government played a large role in determining the final settlement site of the New Australia movement. The War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70)--fought between Paraguay and the alliance of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay--devastated Paraguay and precipitated a change in government that led to a wave of laissez-faire economic reforms premised on extensive privatisation. By accelerating the sale of many of Paraguay's assets to primarily Argentinean-owned companies, a space was created for the entrance of foreign-owned capital into the country. During the 1870s-90s, the Paraguayan government actively sought foreign investment--or 'colonisation'--through the sale of large amounts of public land for very low prices. (31) By March 1893, word reached Australia that the prospectors had secured a promise of 450,000 acres from the Paraguayan government, and thus New Australia went from dream to reality. (32)

In selling Paraguay as an ideal settlement site, the New Australia journal engaged in a propagandists exercise, utilising romanticised imagery in the construction of utopia, intended to convince prospective colonists not only of the suitability of the location but also of the soundness of the project. 'The Paraguayan landscape has qualities of colour and silhouette that one can never forget', read one article, 'and there is a fascination in the aspect of the country that makes travellers who have once seen it rave about it for the rest of their lives'. (33) This idealised landscape was fertile and abundant and offered plenty of potential to prospective colonists with the right amount of 'grit'. (34) The political situation within the country was also favourable for foreign settlement--the political system was democratic and said to uphold universal suffrage and religious liberty. According to the prospectors in Paraguay, revolutions were apparently unheard of. (35) Yet, despite this, Paraguayan industry was 'as primitive as China', the country was financially broke and produced few exports. (36) The real question on the mind of some colonists was--'If Paraguay were a desirable place of abode, would John Bull have overlooked it?' (37)

New Australia's answer to this question was, in fact, that 'John Bull did not overlook it, his trouble is that he can't get the natives to work'. (38) Partially the underdevelopment of the country had to be attributed to the effects of the devastating War of the Triple Alliance, which had decimated the male population to the point that women outnumbered men seven to one. 'Since these wars', the prospectors wrote, 'the women have done nearly all the work, and everything is done by the most primitive method, just as it was done hundreds of years ago in other countries'. (39) Behind such statements was the belief that the Paraguayan native was intrinsically lazy, 'unambitious', and 'satisfied to live, and no more'. (40) Capitalist investment in the country had thus been stalled by the laziness and unreliability of the local population when enlisted into the workforce.

The natural inferiority of the Paraguayan native was evidenced in his refusal to work, his aloof air and blatant disrespect towards foreign capitalists, and his rejection of 'Americanism, progress and doing things quickly'. (41) The New Australia monthly reported that 'a caustic observer has said that the Paraguayan peasant lives on mate and the smell of a greased rag. The greased rag is an exaggeration'. This same article went on to suggest, 'that the war almost of extermination... was a blessing for the country and for humanity, inasmuch as it destroyed thousands of useless creatures, and left the ground clear for new energy'. (42) It undoubtedly never occurred to any of the commentators that the attitudes of the local population towards foreign investors may have been premised on a rejection of capitalist social relations. Instead, we are left with the distinct impression that the Australians felt themselves superior to the Paraguayan natives primarily because their own British work ethic allowed them to submit to the exploitations of industrial capitalism.

Thus, the New Australians arrived in Paraguay confident of the racial inferiority of the local population. Yet, upon arrival in the colony many of the New Australians found their racial ideas about the Paraguayans challenged by their own experiences. As will be seen, the ideological construction of the inferior Paraguayan thus impacted on the success of the colony when ideology was contested by experienced reality.

'Shoulder to Shoulder Mates': New Australians and Racial Segregation

The first batch of the New Australian colonists reached South America on 11 September 1893, and anchored in Montevideo for several days. In a brilliant display of their own self-assuredness, they regaled an audience of 'astonished Monte Videons' with 'quite a creditable rendition of "Shoulder to Shoulder Mates", the official marching song [of New Australia]' before continuing up river to Asuncion, Paraguay. Upon arrival, they were 'inundated with presents from the natives of cigars and oranges'. (43)

In these first heady days, while everything still seemed new and exciting, the colonists appear to have been enamoured with the sights and sounds around them, and the Paraguayan people in particular. Gone were the descriptions of lazy and indolent natives; instead the Paraguayans were discovered to be 'generous and hospitable; in fact, would share their last crumb with one'. (44) Harry Taylor wrote home that 'The Paraguayans have received us as though we had been blood-brothers of theirs: have welcomed us as the possible restorers of the fallen fortunes of their country'. (45) He goes on to express a fervent desire to uphold Paraguayan law and to protect the Paraguayan nation from the threat of outside invasion.

Many colonists seem to have been startled that their own experiences were actively challenging entrenched social and racial stereotypes. One colonist wrote that, far from being 'a savage or only half-civilized', the Paraguayan was kind and polite and could 'give our own race points and a beating' in this respect. (46) As such, a fundamental shift in outlook appears to have occurred for a number of the colonists, and for the first time Lane's strict enforcement of racial segregation by means of social isolation began to seem unrealistic.

Such a view can be seen within the events surrounding the expulsions and secessions that pre-empted the split between New Australia and Cosme. Surprisingly, however, issues of race engendered by these events have been largely overlooked by historians such as Whitehead and Souter, who tended to focus on the tyrannical leadership style of William Lane to explain the factionalism within the movement. (47) Their analysis certainly finds currency within the perspective of Lane's opponents, who argued that 'Lane assumed a real dictatorship. Whereas he had in Australia preached the gospel of "mateship", in practice, he adopted a policy directly opposite to it'. (48) I aim here, however, to reintegrate the role that a conflict over ideas of racial segregation played in contributing to the factionalism within New Australia.

The primary rule which was consistently broken by the colonists was that of teetotalism. The first alleged instance of this occurred when the ship arrived in Montevideo. Several members were said to have gone ashore--against the orders of Lane--in order to carouse with the locals and consume copious amounts of alcohol. This flagrant breaking of the laws was only exacerbated after the colony was fully established, and eventually led to the expulsion of three colonists ostensibly for their perpetual consumption of alcohol. Other accusations were levied at these colonists, however; namely, that the three men had been involved in smuggling tools and other property out of the colony to trade with the local population. On top of that, the men were said to have actively pursued bringing native women into the camp. In reporting back to the journal in Australia, Alf Walker claimed that the last straw came when the three accused men attended a feast day in a native village, once again breaking the teetotal rule, and 'one man openly announced his intention of bringing a native woman into the colony to live with him'. (49) All of these allegations were vehemently denied by at least one of the accused, Thomas Westwood, who publicly denounced Walker for suggesting he was unchaste with the native women. (50)

Whether the accusations were true or not, the event reveals the existence of tensions among the colonists about the way the colony should interrelate with the indigenous population of Paraguay. Such an impression is confirmed by the appearance of an article some months later written by one of the members who seceded from the colony directly after these expulsions. This article clearly demonstrates the author's in-depth knowledge of local customs such as the mate ritual and other traditions of welcoming guests into a Paraguayan home. The author also describes having attended a public ball along with a number of other New Australia members which was held in a nearby village as part of the celebrations on the anniversary of the 'Inauguration of the Republic'. The Australians stayed until late in the evening, mixing with the Paraguayans. 'There was no rowdyism and no drunkenness', the author declares, 'although had we accepted all the cana [rum] that was offered there certainly would have been'. In the opinion of this disaffected New Australian, the local population of Paraguay was 'a merry, laughing, happy crowd... always on the look out for a deal, bartering among themselves, as I could not help thinking, just for fun'. (51)

It seems significant that someone with such a positive and extensive experience of the local population could find no room for themselves in New Australia under Lane's regime. The first secession in December 1893, in which 81 colonists left the colony and returned to Australia, (52) did not resolve this conflict over the level of interaction with the local population. Mary Gilmore argued that those who remained continued to advocate opening up colony membership to the Paraguayans. Such a flagrant rejection of this and many other of Lane's principles prompted a second secession in May 1894, in which Lane and a group of loyal followers left the colony to establish Cosme. (53)

Following the departures, the reduced New Australia colony continued under a series of democratically elected committees until its eventual dissolution into single plots of land in 1897. (54) Re-founded as 'Nueva Australia', a distinct community survives to the present day. (55) While in 1894 one of its members is quoted as speaking of having 'splendid' if somewhat distant relations with the native Paraguayans, (56) by 1897 the New Australia colonists were already speaking Spanish, adopting local customs and taking Paraguayan wives. (57) With obvious derision, Gilmore wrote in (1902) that the New Australians were assimilating themselves with the local population --attending each others dances and weddings, getting drunk together and growing sugar cane to produce rum to share. 'So far, though there are half-caste children, there have been no marriages with the Paraguayans', she wrote. (58) The memories of one colony child similarly attests this impression, as he recalls his sister talking to him in Guarani and himself playing with native children. (59)

'Blown-glass principles': Cosme Colony and the Question of Race

The split within New Australia was a harsh blow to William Lane and his close followers. The plan for establishing a socialist utopia had faltered almost as soon as it had started. Grasping for answers as to why this happened, the 'grit'--or ideological resolve--of the New Australian colonists was inevitably called into question. The solution that Lane found was to remove himself and a small group of his devoted supporters to a new site and begin afresh. This time the colony would be established on clearly defined and absolute principles. Stated in the handbook 'General Information about Cosme Co-operative Colony, Paraguay', these principles were: 'Communal owning of wealth, co-operative organisation of labor, communal sharing of earnings, government on democratic basis, and the upholding of home-living, life marriage, teetotalism and the color line'. (60) While none of these values differed essentially from the founding principles of New Australia, their institution at Cosme was far more rigid. (61)

Despite this, there was a distinct change in the tone of many of Cosme's writings from the earlier propaganda pieces of New Australia. The experiences at New Australia had shaken the colonists' belief in human perfectibility; human fallibility had crept into the utopian dream, bringing with it the realisation that the construction of utopia was itself a struggle. (62) Thus, we read in Cosme Monthly that 'Cosme men and women are not by any means the heroes and saints that some outside seem to think they are; and nobody should join expecting to come to a Valhalla or New Jerusalem'. (63) This self-perception only intensified after William Lane abandoned the project in 1899, and as the years swept past and Cosme remained small, isolated and under-developed. 'Yet have we discovered no royal road to brotherhood', wrote William Lane's brother, John Lane, who took charge of the colony after his departure, 'and though somewhat rough at the outset, yet does it lead to where a man may feel in all its fullness and strength the joy of living'. (64) This road was always long and bumpy for Cosme, yet the longevity of the colony is testament to the genuine attempt made by its members to achieve what they considered utopia.

When Lane's party established Cosme, there was no guarantee of material rewards, only 'a certain deep-seated feeling that the giving up of all for the Truth's sake would surely be rewarded in the long run'. (65) The truth to which Taylor and other Cosmans adhered was bound up with the project to strengthen the race 'under conditions which will let every honest man and woman live the life they ought to live'. (66) These conditions were a solid familial home based around the principles of life-marriage, teetotalism and racial purity. This last was expressed within Cosme's propaganda as essential to the success of the project: 'We want our children to be as white as we are [so that they are] capable of upholding our principles and understanding our ideals.' (67) Thus Cosme was premised on social isolation from the Paraguayan population by principle. Taylor wrote of this isolation as fortifying 'that pride of race which persists among our people long after love of "fatherland" has disappeared'. (68) This view was reaffirmed by a new member to the colony in December 1901, who wrote:
   [S]urrounded by a native population, with whom we have nothing in
   common, makes this want of English speaking people keenly felt, and
   gives one a greater respect and fonder feeling for one's own race,
   however much we were privileged to abuse them in their own land.

Thus, linking the success of the colony to racial segregation became an almost self-fulfilling prophecy in that it entrenched racial prejudices and meant that the inevitable breakdown in isolation was all the more shattering to the ideals of the colony.

Among Cosme colonists the belief in the Teutonic foundations of socialism thrived, proving that these ideas did not start and end with William Lane. 'We Germanic peoples come into history as Communists', Cosme Monthly declared. (70) The mission of Cosme was always represented as rebuilding 'the village commune which bred the freedom-loving hardihood of our Saxon forefathers'. (71) This was seen as the birthright of the English race and the basis for Cosman communism. (72) Harry Taylor wrote that while the 'Brotherhood of Humanity' was a noble thought, communism had to be based on racial solidarity, for only 'a genuine pride of race' could 'render impossible such ignoble proposals as the displacement of labourers of our own blood and speech and color by an alien people'. (73)

Having said this, the Cosme colonists do not appear to have treated the Paraguayans unkindly. In fact, when writing about the threats to colonists in Paraguay, the Cosmans seemed more concerned about the existence of 'a floating population of a mixed foreign element... [which] mix freely with the lower class natives and by their overbearing manner, and devotion to wine and women, lay themselves open to death by violence'. (74) At worst, the Paraguayan was represented as dishonest and untrustworthy in matters of trade and other business--however, even this was tempered by the acknowledgment of their obliging kindness and hospitality. (75)

The isolation of the Cosme colony inevitably meant that the colonists were obliged to come into contact with the local population. Mostly this was limited to trade, however on occasion the colonists were forced to cooperate with the local population on public projects such as the building of a bridge between Cosme and an adjoining property inhabited by Paraguayans. (76) For some colonists, such as Mary Gilmore, the experience of contact with Paraguayans verged on horrific. Gilmore writes of travelling, when she was nine-months pregnant, 'in a filthy third class carriage full of natives... all smoking, men and women alike, with baskets of meat here and there on the floor' and marvelling that she escaped without 'fatal harm'. (77)

For others, however, the opportunity for cultural observation was educational. Thus, one article in Cosme Monthly describes the experience of witnessing a Paraguayan market-day, watching 'a multitude of white-gowned sellers, mantilla wrapped' sitting in front of their wares. These sellers--mostly women--would have walked up to 30 miles bare-foot to gather in the marketplace to exchange gossip in what was described as 'a regular woman's club'. Inevitably such observations are conducive of more astute reflections by the observer. In this article, the author writes with some annoyance about the fixing of prices and the dogged way in which the Guarani stuck to their own kind and to their own customs. Such customs in trade were obviously frustrating to the New Australians who wished to participate in marketplace exchange; however, in a rare moment of insight, the author acknowledges the justness of the Guaranis' ways, considering that 'European settlement cannot but be fatal to the Guarani, however profitable it may be to landowning and mercantile classes'. (78)

Despite the chronic shortage of women in the colony, there is little evidence suggesting that there was a problem with preventing sexual interaction between Cosme colonists and the local population. The lack of women plagued many of the single men, however, particularly in a colony that upheld the sanctity of marriage. One colonist tells of having a roommate who complained that he 'might as well be living in a nunnery'. (79) The same man was discovered to have smuggled a Paraguayan girl into his room, and later left the colony to marry a local girl in one of the nearby villages. The fear of miscegenation was ever-present among the purists within the colony, and eventually led to their departure and the dwindling away of the Cosme colony altogether. Such was the case with Mary Gilmore, who left in May 1900 overwhelmed by a feeling of general suffering within the environment of the colony Her main reason for leaving the colony was the corrupting potential of the natives influencing the development of her young son. Yet, she maintained a faith in the socialistic principles of the community, writing to her husband of a daydream to establish a communal home somewhere else, away from the threat of inferior races. (80)

The threat of racial integration within the colony persisted within the colony after Gilmore's departure. A particularly interesting debate over the racial basis of Cosme's socialism was incited by the use of hired native labour in September 1900 for the felling of two acres of firewood. An anonymous 'letter of friendly criticism' sent to the colony accused the Cosmans of reintroducing the evil system of 'wage-slavery, sweating, exploitation of human labor by capitalists'. Although the local labourers were paid 'as good or better return' for their work than they would have received outside the colony, they had not been paid the true value of their labour. 'Even in far-off Cosme', this critic noted, 'away from the complications of civilisation the problem seems unsolvable'. The Cosme reply to this critique was simple: the principles of communism were only relevant to colony members. 'We have never made any pretence of being guided in our business relations with outside non-co-operators by any other than business principles', they wrote, stating the absolute necessity of utilising hired labour for the economic survival of the colony. Furthermore, 'we have no desire to pose as immaculate people, or to be credited with a set of blown-glass principles which would shatter at the first touch of real life'. (81)

The creeping acknowledgement of human fallibility was more and more evident as the founding principles of Cosman socialism were called into question by real life. For Gilmore, writing from afar, the use of Paraguayan labour was simultaneously necessary for economic survival and productive of the seeds that would sew Cosme's own destruction. 'The merging with the Paraguayan is the thing to be dreaded', she wrote. 'The universal rule is that a man who marries a native becomes a native, living the easy-going animal existence that has no complexities and no ideals--a human vegetable by sheer inertia of the brain.' (82) This merging was beginning to seem more and more likely, particularly with the influx of a series of British recruits who failed to grasp the rigidity of the Cosman principles and were said to be 'charmed with the newness of everything native, the absolute femininity of the women, the charm of the girls, the ungrudging hospitality and simplicity of all alike'. (83)

These experiences contributed to the eventual demise of Cosme utopianism. At the beginning of 1904, Cosme Monthly ceased publication--probably as an indication that active recruitment in Australia and Britain had all but ceased some time beforehand--ending with the words: 'When we have no vitality left to vanquish difficulties, and no heart to brace up under disappointments, then indeed may failure be very truly written of us'. (84) The vitality had indeed drained away from utopia; disappointment had vanquished idealism. The founding idealist of New Australia, William Lane, had left several years earlier, retiring to New Zealand a crushed and defeated man. (85) His brother, John, had managed to keep the colony afloat for a further eight years through his recruiting missions to Britain. Eventually he too left in 1904, having experienced a faltering of faith in the possibility of the regeneration of the British race. (86) In 1906, Allan McLeod, one of a handful of remaining colonists wrote:
   We, and Paraguay keep on contributing (gradually) to history in our
   own unique methods... With us things are in a state of drift
   (mainly) from a social point of view, and the colossal question of
   material interest now absorbing the attention of many of our
   members is what may be termed the 'land steal'. (87)

Thus, Cosme, too, went the way of New Australia--descending eventually into petty squabbling over individual plots of land. Correspondence from prospective members regarding admissions to the colony lay unread and discarded, McLeod wrote, 'as a token of Cosme decadence and bungledom'. (88) In an ironic twist of fate, the colony spent its last days as an official bastion of Teutonic socialist utopia besieged by a spate of thefts by local Paraguayans. (89)

Conclusion: Social Reality and the Shattering of Ideals

Tensions over racial segregation permeated the experience of New Australia, and ultimately contributed to the final failing of the utopian dream. The founding principles of the movement comprised an overly exacting and exclusivist ideology which came to resemble John Lane's image of 'blown-glass principles which would shatter at the first touch of real life'. (90) These principles were too stringent to be adhered to by anyone other than the 'immaculate people' of which John Lane spoke, and raised more problems than they resolved. This was inevitably so, when utopia was established in a foreign environment that only exacerbated the fears of racial degeneration that initially prompted many of the New Australian pioneers to escape the British empire.

The experiences of the New Australian and Cosme colonists reveal how utopian ideals collided with reality. They show that racist utopianism cannot simply be analysed in its abstracted form, but must be judged by its methods of implementation. Once expanded on to a transnational stage, the ideals born out of a particularly Australian context faltered through the weight of radically different experiences of cultural interaction. The racial ideology of the colonists thus suffered a decisive change in characteristics. For this reason, the white supremacy on which New Australia and Cosme were founded should not be over-exaggerated into a fully fledged semi-fascist movement for racial domination, as has been suggested by other historians of the movement. (91) The evidence simply does not exist. The story is instead one of culturally and historically specific prejudices constantly besieged and challenged by social reality. In the end, the attempt to construct a racially pure Utopia suffered the fatal blow in this clash between idealism and reality, fought in the forests of Paraguay.

Stephanie Mawson *


* This article has been peer reviewed for Labour History by two external referees.

(1.) 'Bystander's notebook', Boomerang, 7 January 1888, p. 3.

(2.) Gavin Souter, A Peculiar People: The Australians in Paraguay, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1968; Anne Whitehead, Paradise Mislaid: In Search of the Australian Tribe of Paraguay, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1997; Lloyd Ross, William Lane and the Australian Labor Movement, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1980; Harold V. Livermore, 'New Australia', The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 30, no. 3, August 1950, pp. 290-313; John Kellett, 'William Lane and "New Australia": A reassessments, Labour History, no. 72, 1997, pp. 1-18; G. Hannan, 'William Lane: Mateship and utopia', in D.J. Murphy, R.B. Joyce and Colin A. Hughes (eds), Prelude to Power: The Rise of the Labour Party in Queensland, 1885-1915, Jacaranda Press, Milton, 1970, pp. 181-86.

(3.) Verity Burgmann, In Our Time: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885-1905, George Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1985, p. 20; Verity Burgmann, Revolutionaries and Racists: Australian Socialism and the Problem of Racism, 1887-1917, PhD Thesis, Australian National University, 1980.

(4.) Andrew Markus, 'White Australia? Socialists and anarchists', Arena, nos. 32-33, 1973, pp. 80-89; Andrew Markus, Fear and Hatred: Purifying Australia and California, 1850-1901, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1979.

(5.) Souter, A Peculiar People, p. 19; Whitehead, Paradise Mislaid, p. 43.

(6.) John F. Williams, Daniela Kraus and Harry Knowles, 'Flights from modernity: German and Australian utopian colonies in Paraguay, 1886-1896', Australian Cultural History, vol. 20, 2001, pp. 49-62.

(7.) 'Introduction', New Australia: The Journal of the New Australia Co-opperative Settlement Association, vol. 1, no. 1, 19 November 1892, p. 1.

(8.) David W. Lovell and Janice Flaherty, Marxism and Australian Socialism: Before the Bolshevik Revolution, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 1997, p. 77; Ken Buckley and Ted Wheelwright, No Paradise for Workers: Capitalism and the Common People in Australia 1788-1914, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1988, p. 129.

(9.) A.J. Rose-Soley, 'New Australia: Communistic work at the antipodes', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 15, 27 February 1894, p. 2.

(10.) Livermore, 'New Australia', p. 291.

(11.) William Lane, 'What New Australia is', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 6, 8 April 1893, p. 4.

(12.) Peter Mac, 'New Australia and Civilization', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 3, 28 January 1892, p. 1.

(13.) William Lane, 'Gathering ourselves to live in the right way', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 1, 19 November 1892, p. 2.

(14.) Lane, 'Gathering ourselves', p. 2.

(15.) Burgmann, Revolutionaries and Racists; Markus, Fear and Hatred.

(16.) Burgmann, Revolutionaries and Racists, p. 57.

(17.) Markus, Fear and Hatred, pp. 204-205.

(18.) 'Bystander's notebook', Boomerang, 16 June 1888, p. 3.

(19.) 'Bystander's notebook', Boomerang, 14 February 1888, p. 3.

(20.) 'The Chinese question', Boomerang, 26 May 1888, p. 4.

(21.) 'Bystander's notebook', Boomerang, 7 January 1888, p. 3.

(22.) William Lane, 'Getting ready to do', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 5, 25 March 1893, p. 4.

(23.) Lane, 'What New Australia is', p. 4.

(24.) Lane, 'Getting ready to do', p. 4.

(25.) This is a quote from the Launceston Examiner, reprinted in 'The Press and the movements, New Australia, vol. 1, no. 2, 17 December 1892, p. 3.

(26.) Kellett, 'William Lane', pp. 11, 16; Burgmann, In Our Time, p. 25.

(27.) Lane, 'Gathering ourselves', p. 2.

(28.) 'Temperance', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 13a, 18 December 1893, p. 4.

(29.) Theodore Child, 'The Republic of Paraguay [part 2]', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 6, 8 April 1893, p. 3; William Saunders, 'Nearly half-a-million acres', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 5, 25 March 1893, p. 2; William Saunders, 'Prospectors reporf, New Australia, vol. 1, no. 6, 8 April 1893, p. 1.

(30.) 'The prospectors say "Paraguay"', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 3, 28 January 1892, p. 2.

(31.) Diego Abente, 'Foreign capital, economic elites and the state in Paraguay during the Liberal Republic (1870-1936)', Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 21, no. 1, February 1989, pp. 61-88.

(32.) Saunders, 'Nearly half-a-million acres', p. 2.

(33.) Child, 'The Republic of Paraguay [part 2]', p. 3.

(34.) Saunders, 'Nearly half-a-million acres', p. 2.

(35.) Saunders, 'Prospectors report', p. 1.

(36.) Saunders, 'Nearly half-a-million acres', p. 2.

(37.) 'Notes and comments', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 7, 29 April 1893, p. 1.

(38.) Ibid.

(39.) Saunders, 'Prospectors report', p. 1.

(40.) Ibid., p. 1.

(41.) This article was republished in New Australia Monthly from a Harpper's Magazine article of 1891. It was as such not written for the New Australia movement, but it formed the centre piece of information about Paraguay in informing the views of the Australian colonists prior to their departure from Australia. Theodore Child, 'The Republic of Paraguay [part 3]', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 7, 29 April 1893, p. 4.

(42.) Ibid., p. 4.

(43.) 'First batcher', New Australia: Reminiscences of a Pioneer: The Vanishing Tongues [1918], Cosme Colony Collection, box 4, item 60, Fisher Library Rare Books Collection, Sydney (hereafter FLRBC), pp. 3-4.

(44.) Letter from Chas Manning cited in 'Settlement notes', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 14, 27 January 1894, p. 1.

(45.) Harry S. Taylor, 'A message from over the sea', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 13a, 18 December 1893, p. 2.

(46.) 'Settlement notes', p. 1.

(47.) Souter, A Peculiar People, p. 87; Whitehead, Paradise Mislaid, pp. 199-200.

(48.) 'First batcher', p. 8.

(49.) Alf Walker, 'Letter to W.W. Head, December 15, 1893', reprinted in The Sydney Daily Telegraph, 30 March 1894, p. 6; See also Mary Gilmore, 'Letter to Julian Ashton, Kings Cross, June 1939', in W.H. Wilde and T. Inglis Moore (eds), Letters of Mary Gilmore, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1980, p. 162.

(50.) T.A. Westwood, 'Letter to the Editor', South Australian Register, 4 September 1894, p. 4.

(51.) 'The Paraguayans', New Australia, vol. 1, no. 17, 21 April 1894, p. 4.

(52.) Souter, A Peculiar People, pp. 91-92.

(53.) Gilmore, 'Letter to Julian Ashton', p. 162.

(54.) Souter, A Peculiar People, pp. 144-45.

(55.) For details of the New Australia descendents in the twentieth century, see Whitehead, Paradise Mislaid.

(56.) 'The New Australia settlement: Arrival of Mr. Gilbert Casey', Sydney Daily Telegraph, 24 September 1894, p. 5.

(57.) Souter, A Peculiar People, pp. 144-45.

(58.) Mary Gilmore, 'Colonia Cosme', in Charles Higham and Michael Wilding (eds), Australians Abroad: An Anthology, F.W. Cheshire Publishing, Melbourne, 1967, p. 64.

(59.) Eric N. Birks, 'As a boy in Paraguay', The Australian Quarterly, no. 26, June 1935, pp. 60-61, 68. See also the case of Margaret Riley, whose parents took her home to Australia when she was 14, partially due to the unwanted attentions bestowed upon her by the local men. Whitehead, Paradise Mislaid, pp. 238-43.

(60.) Cosme Co-operative Colony (Paraguay), 'General information about Cosme Co-operative Colony, Paraguay', March 1900, Cosme Colony Collection, box 4, item 51, FLRBC, Sydney.

(61.) Ibid., p. 3.

(62.) 'A word with idealists', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, February 1896, p. 4.

(63.) 'Impressions of life in Cosme', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, October 1896, p. 4.

(64.) John Lane, 'Letter to the Editor of the Queensland Worker, January 19, 1900', Cosme Colony Collection, box 4, item 57, FLRBC, Sydney.

(65.) Harry S. Taylor, 'With Lane in Paraguay: The Story of Cosme Commune', in Don Gobbett and Malcolm Saunders (eds), With Lane in Paraguay? Harry Taylor of 'The Murray Pioneer', 1873-1932, Central Queensland University Press in association with 'The Murray Pioneer', Rockhampton, 1995, p. 64.

(66.) 'What Cosme is after', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, January 1897, p. 7.

(67.) Ibid., p. 7.

(68.) Taylor, 'With Lane in Paraguay', pp. 98-99.

(69.) 'A new member's opinion of Cosme', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, December 1901, p. 4.

(70.) 'Society or civilisation', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, March 1897, p. 7.

(71.) John Lane, 'Letter to the Editor of the Daily Chronicle (London), January 25, 1900', Cosme Colony Collection, box 4, item 57, FLRBC, Sydney.

(72.) 'Foundation Day notes', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, May 1896, p. 3.

(73.) Taylor, 'With Lane in Paraguay', p. 106.

(74.) 'Security for life and property', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, March 1902, p. 2.

(75.) 'Dealing with natives', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, August 1895, p. 1.

(76.) 'Another bridge built', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, July 1897, p. 1.

(77.) Mary Gilmore, 'Letter to W.A. Woods, Victoria, Australia, 11 June 1903', in Letters of Mary Gilmore, p. 18.

(78.) 'A Paraguayan market', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, November 1898, p. 3.

(79.) Jack Taylor, 'Letter to Hilda Lane, 9th March, 1955', Cosme Colony Collection, box 4, item 56, FLRBC, Sydney.

(80.) Mary Gilmore, 'Letter to William Gilmore, Cosme Colony, 20 October 1899', in Letters of Mary Gilmore, pp. 4-5.

(81.) 'Wages and ethics', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, February 1901, p. 4.

(82.) Gilmore, 'Colonia Cosme', p. 73.

(83.) Ibid., p. 73.

(84.) 'Ourselves', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, November-January 1903-1904, p. 5.

(85.) E.H. Lane, Dawn to Dusk: Reminiscences of a Rebel, William Brooks & Co., Brisbane, 1939, p. 71.

(86.) John Lane, 'Letter to the Editor of the Daily Chronicle (London), January 25, 1900', Cosme Colony Collection, box 4, item 57, FLRBC, Sydney.

(87.) Allen McLeod, 'Letter to Harold Wallis', Colonia Cosme, 17 January 1906, Cosme Colony Collection, box 4, item 56, FLRBC, Sydney.

(88.) Ibid.

(89.) Ibid.

(90.) 'Wages and ethics', Cosme Monthly, Paraguay, February 1901, p. 4.

(91.) Williams, Kraus and Knowles, 'Flights from modernity', pp. 49-62.

Stephanie Mawson is a postgraduate student of history at the University of Sydney. She is interested in studying the lives of working people in different contexts and exploring how marginalised and subaltern groups have contributed to struggles for social change. Her current research focuses on disobedience amongst free and unfree Spanish soldiers and sailors in the Philippines archipelago during the 17th century. Professionally, Stephanie has also worked as a researcher within the trade union movement. <>
COPYRIGHT 2011 Australian Society for the Study of Labour History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Mawson, Stephanie
Publication:Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Previous Article:'You really only made it because you needed the money': Aboriginal women and shellwork production, 1870s to 1970s.
Next Article:'Silent forms of coercion': welfare capitalism, state labour regulation and collective action at the Yarraville sugar refinery, 1890-1925.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |