The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Judith M. Brown; Wm. Roger Louis et al. | Go to book overview

29

Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands

W. DAVID MCINTYRE

In the Pacific lay the most distant and dispersed parts of the Empire. The Line Islands, Pitcairn, and Antarctica marked the farthest Imperial peripheries. The distance between the Cocos Islands and Pitcairn is further than between London and Singapore. In political status the Pacific Empire ran the full spectrum: a large federal Dominion and a small unitary one, each with colonial dependencies; two British Crown Colonies, a Protectorate, a Protected State, a Condominium, and a High Commission regime; two Dominion Mandate territories and a tripartite Mandate; three Antarctic claimant-dependencies, and several isolated islands. In contrast to the geographical span, the total population made up only 1.5 per cent of all the Empire in 1914. In the face of such diversity, four themes invite discussion: the question of co-ordination; the survival of indigenous cultures; economic, political, and strategic roles within the Empire; and the rise of American and Japanese influences. These will be traced through three periods: Imperial overreach, 1914 to the 1930s; war and recovery, the 1940s and 1950s, and decolonization, the 1960s to 1980s. This periodization is unique because Empire lingered longest at its most extended reaches.

Imperial overreach was evident in the Pacific from the turn of the century. Britain sought military help in the South African War and the Boxer uprising. The Anglo‐ Japanese Alliance permitted the withdrawal of battleships from the Far East. The Admiralty conceded the principle of separate Dominion navies. The Cook Islands and Niue were handed over to New Zealand in 1901 and Papua transferred to Australia in 1906. The Anglo-French Condominium in the New Hebrides symbolized unwillingness to forestall French expansion and prompted the Australian Premier Alfred Deakin's suggestion in 1907 that the Pacific Empire should be run from Sydney and that the United States should co-operate in a new Monroe Doctrine for the Pacific.

It was natural that the Commonwealth of Australia should aspire to lead. With a land-mass almost as big as that of the United States, its population by 1914 reached just under 5 million. Seventy-five per cent were native-born—overwhelmingly of

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