display | more...
New Australia was founded in 1893, a would be utopian outpost in the uttermost back swamps of Paraguay. Probably it was doomed from the beginning by the questionable sanity of its leader, William Lane, and it didn’t even last a year before its acrimonious break up. William was a visionary crank who believed himself to be modern Moses, but before that had been one of Australia’s prominent labour activists.

Having lived in and left England, Canada and America in search of places where he thought the working man could get a square deal, Lane lasted for ten years or so in Brisbane, the capital of the state of Queensland in northern Australia, where he made a name for himself as a journalist and author by turning his caustic pen against police brutality, the evils of the British Empire and the ‘yellow peril’.

After the crushing of a major farm workers’ strike Lane gave up on the dream that had brought him to Australia, that of nation where things were different and workers would get a fair deal- a place that could be what he described in his writings as ‘a working man’s paradise’, and began looking around for somewhere to set up his own fief. This, Lane decided, would be a place where he could prove to the world that he was right, and make his dream happen through sheer force of will.

Surprisingly the government of Queensland wasn’t completely hostile to his idea and offered to supply the land for free, but William turned them down. A genuine control freak he may have found the idea of taking his followers somewhere where they would be exposed to the ideas and leadership of people other than himself unacceptable.

Instead he organised for all 250 or so of them to load themselves and their worldly possessions onto a ship and set off for Paraguay, a place which had already accepted a few similar groups of idealists from Germany. Without actually leaving Earth there are few places he could have gone that are more cut off from Australia.

No matter how easy it is to heap scorn on William Lane and everything about him, it is probably worth thinking about how hard it must have been for this poor man who had spent most of his life, and now all of his savings, harping on the value of temperance, brotherhood and the white supremacy, to see the speed with which his disciples quit the program he had created. Even before the ship got to South America they were beginning to split into factions. Things only got worse after disembarking when a lot of them took quickly took to drinking rum and fraternizing with the local Guarani people, both pass-times that Lane had explicitly forbidden.

His hopes and ideals didn’t survive the sea voyage from Sydney. Faced with reality the whole enterprise simply fizzled out.

Lane’s followers scattered after New Australia- some of them stayed in Paraguay and started new communes, others went back to Australia or moved onto to Britain. William himself found passage to New Zealand where he quickly got work as a journalist. Apparently fed up with socialism, he was for the rest of his life a particularly loud mouthed barracker for the ideas of the conservative right.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.