Archives de catégorie : ASIE / PACIFIQUE

Old and New Fears of Invasion in the South West Pacific: Australia and Vanuatu

Elizabeth Rechniewski, The University of Sydney

Part 1. Australia ‘steps up’ in the Pacific

From the middle of the nineteenth century on, the issue of control of the islands of the South West Pacific was a constant preoccupation of the Australian political class, and intermittently of the press and public too: the British colonies feared ‘encirclement’ by hostile foreign powers who might use the islands as a staging post for invasion. These security concerns found expression in the ‘Russophobia’ of the mid 1880s which reached a high degree of public hysteria in March 1885 with belief in imminent Russian invasion; in the hostile reactions to American and German annexations in the Pacific in the late 1890s; and increasingly in fears of being ‘swamped by Asian hordes’, focused at first on the Chinese and later on the Japanese. Wild rumours of a ‘Chinese Invasion’ could be found throughout the Australian press in the 1880s and imaginary invasions were serialised in popular fiction. While these concerns extended to the whole arc of islands that spanned the east coast of Australia, I have been particularly interested in tracing policy towards the New Hebrides (after independence Vanuatu): by the late nineteenth century the uncertain status of these islands, divided between French and British control, first through the Joint Naval Commission and then from 1906 as the Anglo-French Condominium, made them, it was argued, more vulnerable to invasion. The issue of control of the New Hebrides, and expulsion from Australia of the Kanaka workers, most of whom came from these islands, was a major motivating factor in the move towards Federation. But although the Constitution apportioned responsibility for Pacific affairs to the new nation, Australia had to be content with lobbying the British government to ‘take back control’ of the jointly administered territory. And this Australia did regularly, but unsuccessfully, until the Second World War saw the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops on the islands.

 

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