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  ― i ―

Foreword

There can be little doubt that when my great-grandfather began to write this book, his thoughts were centred on the objective which he describes in his own Preface—the diversion to Australia of some part of the stream of emigration then running from the British Isles to North America. Perhaps, even more urgently, he may have wanted to forestall any British tendency to withdraw from the colony and abandon New South Wales altogether.

But as he wrote, he found that he had to make some explanation for the defects which he saw in the current life of the colony, and naturally he was led into propounding some way in which these defects could be overcome. Contemporary reviewers, then, were not so far wrong when they


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commented that the book looked almost like two books written by separate hands.

The secondary theme became the most important part of the book, because the remedies he then proposed for his country's ills became the guidelines for his own policies when he returned to Australia. Through the influences which he and his friends exerted over the next thirty years, these policies determined much of the course of Australian history in those times. Most of his proposals were eventually accepted, though in some cases much later than he wanted, and in some cases with modifications which he himself made or which were forced on him by the pressure of events.

At the time he wrote this book he was in his middle twenties, having returned to England to complete his education soon after participating in the first crossing of the Blue Mountains. Waterloo had just been won; Europe was settling down and trying to forget Napoleon. The wounds of the American Revolution were closing; British merchants and industrialists were preparing to change the face of the world in accordance with the precepts of Adam Smith.

In his attempt to divert the migration stream he was no enemy of America, (indeed he had


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chosen the name “Vermont” for his own farm on the Nepean) but he was perhaps the first Australian really to support Macquarie's drive for Australian expansion and Australian independence from London administration. He did this at a time when some influential Englishmen were urging the abandonment of the whole Botany Bay venture, which, after thirty years, was still not self-supporting and which seemed doomed to suffer from recurrent crises.

Apparently Macquarie had dreamed of a great transcontinental river, which was to flow 2,000 miles westwards from the Dividing Range, through fertile and well-watered fields, until it reached the sea somewhere on the north-west coast. The Lachlan had been found to peter out into swamps, but Oxley believed that the Macquarie River would have a happier issue, and at the time of the first Edition of this book (1819) that theory was still tenable. It was not long, of course, before these hopes were to perish in the Macquarie Marshes, to be succeeded by prospects of a mythical Inland Sea, though it was decades before the enthusiasts realised that they would have to be satisfied with Lake Eyre.

This first edition accepts as fact the phantom of that transcontinental stream and expatiates on the blessings which it would bring, patterning its


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concept of the Heart of the Australian Continent upon what was known of the Great Plains of America, then just being opened up. Any child with an Atlas in hand can now decry the mistake of having given to this concept more credence than did Oxley or Macquarie: does not hindsight make history so simple?

Abandonment of simple optimism on this physical fact must have been quick and uncomfortable: but abandonment of some other precepts must have been slow and more painful. At the time of this first edition, the influence of the Enlightenment was completing its penetration into politics and economics. Man had only to be given freedom, and he would enter into a political Paradise: the forces of the free market had only to be left untrammelled, and they would create of themselves an economic Eden!

These are the enthusiasms of the first edition, where Bligh represents the forces of repression and darkness, while Macquarie and Macarthur are both to be numbered among the angels. By the time of the third edition (1824, nearly contemporary with the author's return to Australia) the winds of change had blown through the Australian scene. Bigge had presented his Report, which destroyed so much of Macquarie's work, and the Exclusives, in the author's view, were leagued with enemies of Australian identity.

For the next thirty years the politics of New South Wales were vigorous and variegated. Nobody who was at their centre could have maintained all his illusions as to the essential goodness of human nature, if only it could be freed from the unnatural chains with which society had bound it. Nor could anyone who participated in the commercial life of those times, who had lived, for example, through the depression of the forties, have preserved untarnished the precepts of Ricardo—published only a few years before 1819, and accepted as gospel in that first edition.

So some of those 1819 enthusiasms had to be abandoned: but the objectives were not. Most of them were eventually to be translated into action and actuality. It was in their modification, perhaps, that the author was to display most of all his foresight and acumen. From 1848 onwards he recognised the true nature of “the spectre which haunted Europe”—and which still haunts the world. From then onwards he was not to write in the way which he wrote here.

W. C. Wentworth

24th February, 1978

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