February 22nd 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Coronavirus: China must answer hard questions

EDITORIAL Inquiry needed into medically transitioning children

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nationals leave the home paddock unattended

ENVIRONMENTALISM Bushfires are being used as fuel for green polling

GENDER POLITICS Senator Amanda Stoker takes a stand on transgenderism

RURAL AFFAIRS Drought loan scheme deficient in delivery

MANUFACTURING Renewables push puts aluminium smelters at risk

ENERGY Is agricultural biomass viable as an energy producer?

SOCIETY Cold is more lethal than heat worldwide

CLIMATE POLICY Adaptation: A better way to tackle global warming

LITERATURE AND SOCIETY The poetry of Distributism

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY What if the French had settled Australia?

HUMOUR Ern Malley Writers' Festival goes 'bang'

MUSIC Nina Simone: At the raw edge of pain

CINEMA Where wars intersect our lives: A Hidden Life, Midway

BOOK REVIEW Atheism with an Islamic cast gives way to the Catholic Church

BOOK REVIEW The janitor opened a door




CLIMATE POLITICS Business joins Big Brother in climate-change chorus

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What if the French had settled Australia?

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, February 22, 2020

Australia and Canada have many things in common, but perhaps not as many as might have been. If things had been different, France might well have claimed Australia, or part of Australia. For some time, France seemed likely to claim Western Australia, for example.

“Parlie vuw fronsai, Charlie?”

Britain claimed WA when it created a settlement in Albany in 1826, before it established the Swan River Colony in 1829. The colony, under the command of founding governor Captain James Stirling RN, did not prosper for many years.

Pamela Statham-Drew, in her biography, James Stirling (UWA Press, 2005), makes it clear that Admiral Stirling, as he became, was a fortune hunter. West Australian historian Mary Durack, in her family-based history, To Be Heirs Forever (Constable, 1976), records the descent into poverty and degradation of the early settlers. They did not become landed gentry but impoverished farmers.

WA even requested to become a convict state in a desperate attempt to stimulate economic growth. The first convicts arrived in 1850. South Australia never had convicts, alone among the original British colonies. Transportation to WA did not end until 1865, by which time transportation to New South Wales had ceased years before.

The southwest of WA is the most isolated major population centre on Earth. Apart from an approach by the Indian Ocean, any visitor must cross thousands of kilometres of inhospitable desert. It was entirely possible that the state could have hosted a French settlement. Names such as Point Peron, Geographe Bay and Cape Naturaliste bear witness to French interest in WA. Leslie Marchant’s engrossing book, France Australe (Artlook, 1982), outlines in detail French exploration of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The competing interests of Britain and France in the Pacific and Indian Oceans should be seen in the context of a battle for strategic supremacy on a global scale. Indeed, it was this battle for control of trade, naval supplies and strategic waterways that led to the colonisation of Botany Bay by the British in 1788. Alan Frost describes the military, economic and strategic interests that led to the colonisation of Botany Bay in his book, Botany Bay and the First Fleet: The Real Story (Black Inc, 2019).

Had the French gained a foothold, it is likely we would still host a Francophone society. The Seven Years War (1756–1763) was part of a global struggle for ascendency between Britain and France. This struggle for supremacy had been going on, on and off, for around 1,000 years. If you doubt it, reflect on things such as the Norman Conquest and entangling family alliances. In North America, the conflict was known as the French and Indian War.

The first French settler in Canada was Samuel de Champlain, who set up a fur trading post in 1605, in what is today Quebec. Fur trapping was an important industry; the coureur des bois (“runners of the woods”) were French-Canadian fur trappers and traders. They often cooperated with the Indian tribes.

Britain and France both had Indian allies, who were notable for their savagery. The French and Indian War came to a head on the Plains of Abraham, near Quebec City, where the British under General James Wolfe defeated the French under the Marquis de Montcalm. Both commanders perished on the field of battle, but the British had a decisive victory; France was finished as a military power in North America.

Wolfe led 4,000 troops to scale a sheer cliff of 50 metres, taking the French completely by surprise. Wolfe, at the age of 32, accomplished one of the greatest feats of arms in the history of warfare, and died doing so.

France may have been finished as a military power but the French people did not leave. Quebec City is one of the finest medieval cities in existence. French speakers account for 20 per cent of Canada’s population, in excess of 7 million people. Anglophone Canadians account for 56 per cent of the population. Francophone Canadians tend to be concentrated in the Province of Quebec.

Attempts to force more people to use French, for example in Montreal, have been a failure. Montreal was once the commercial capital of Canada, now there are few major corporations left. Quebec is a culture within Canada. Older Francophone Quebecois speak only a little English.

Had history gone a little differently, Australia may have had its own Quebec. We do have a Francophone society, New Caledonia, on our doorstep among our Pacific neighbours. So, having our own native French society is not beyond the bounds of imagination. In the end, it’s a case of “what might have been”.

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