Prayers of a Prime Minister

By Alan Currie

P6

In 1849 the year Alfred Deakin’s parents arrived in Australia from England, 250,000 people arrived in the new world of Australia. From Deakin’s birth in 1856 to 1890 the population grew from 850,000 to 3.15 million, a growth of 68,000 people annually for 36 years.  Early photos and sketchers of South Melbourne, south of Yarra River along St Kilda Rd reveals tents for as far as the eye could see, full of new arrivals many preparing for the trip to the gold fields of Ballarat and beyond.

The discovery of gold caused a massive boom in Melbourne that impacted not only immigration but every aspect of society in the young colony. The amount of gold found in Victoria between 1851 to 1896 a period of 45 years was a staggering 61 million ounces and in today’s prices would be worth more than $100 billion dollars. The city was transformed overnight from a small backwater town to a thriving metropolis with some of the finest buildings even rivalling New York and London.

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‘Canvas Town, between Princes Bridge and South Melbourne in the 1850s’. Reproduced courtesy State Library Victoria 

But gold also brought an inflation rate 25% causing prices and wages to skyrocket.

Chinese immigration began to concern the British and the native Australian born population eventually causing the first anti-Chinese legislation in 1855. This becomes the early beginnings of the white Australia protectionist agenda that Deakin would champion in his political career.

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Holtermann Nugget - NSW 1872. 3000 ounces worth $7.5 million in 2022.

A strange omission in Deakin’s writings and law making was the Aboriginal Indigenous people of Australia. He recognized that the Chinese were industrious and numerous race who, if left un checked would overwhelm the British inhabitance of Australia. He was a sensitive and considerate man who defended the rights of defenseless animals, why did he not understand what was happening to the Australian Indigenous inhabitance.  This article might shed light on this question. "Alfred Deakin's Attitudes to Aboriginal Affairs"

Two years before Deakin’s birth, the diggers of Ballarat protested against what they argued was an un fair tax and what is now known as the Eureka Stockade became a defining moment in Australian history. (However, not all historians would agree it was a defining moment). The workers rebelled against the ruling authorities and stockaded themselves to defended their rights and liberties by proudly flying the southern cross flag. We now see the southern cross and the union jack incorporated into the modern Australian flag. Two years after the Eureka Stockade in 1856 (the year Deakin was born) Australian colonies of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania were given the right to self-government and a “Legislative Assembly” was establish.

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Eureka Stockade Ballarat - Dec 3 1854

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But the right to vote was only available to wealthy landowners and people of means. This explains to some extent why the Eureka protestors were disgruntled about paying for a miner’s license (i.e. a tax with no political representation) which later was changed to a miner right to vote for the lower house of Legislative Assembly in 1867. (It is interesting to note that voting rights for non-land holders in the Victorian upper house “Legislative Council” didn't occur until the 1950’s.)

 

Deakin was to grow up in turbulent times, a new nation was forming with competing cultures, many were escaping from hard economic times in their own countries and they hoped Australia would provide a prosperous new life. The old squatter families of the early century had significant influence and land ownership, but they were in conflict with the pastoralists, the urban capitalists and the new immigrate workers.

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The Drover Pastoralist
The Worker and Urban Industralists
The Squatter

Like America, Australia offered many opportunities for an industrious hard-working individuals. But the old ways of exploitation, wealthy landowners and family privilege was still influencing the new world.

 

Deakin was not a man who came from family privilege or who craved title and position, but due to his unique talents and character was elevated to international recognition.

Check back soon for more chapters of Prayers of a Prime Minister.