Australia is the first nation in modern history to secure full unification without killing anyone; Australia is the first major nation on earth to have achieved independence and sovereignty without killing anyone; Australia is the first nation in modern history to appoint a Jew as commander-in-chief of its armed forces; Australia is the first nation in the English-speaking world to have elected a Labor government led by a Labor prime minister; the first native-born governor-general of Australia was a Jew; and Australia, of course, is the only continent on Earth never to have been shamed by the institution of slavery.
These notable achievements have not received the attention they deserve as principal contributions to the social harmony, the institutional stability and the wellbeing of the Commonwealth. To list their inadvertent or studied exclusion from teaching texts and popular literature would be a thankless task. It suffices to observe that none is even mentioned in a much-publicised national school curriculum that finds little to praise and much to lament in the history of Australia. This is all the more important because the definitive worth of the discipline notwithstanding, the term “history” is afflicted by a semantic ambiguity that both illustrates and disguises the risks that can flow from its perversion. “History” refers simultaneously to everything that ever occurred and also, most tellingly, to what historians do. The immediate consequence of this is that even excluding charlatans who deny the existence of historical facts (Was Nelson killed at Trafalgar? Did Germany win the First World War?), the door remains ajar for the intrusion of all sorts of inane distortions, unnecessary emphasis and banging on tables by crafty manipulators of history at one remove. Such sins of commission certainly corrupt historical scholarship, but not as subtly and insidiously as the less visible mendacity nourished by practised concealment of evidence and other sins of omission. It is a melancholy fact that the perversion of Australian history must be listed among the more outrageous exemplars of sinning by omission because in addition to the inevitable quota of politically coloured falsehoods it suffers grievously from the inspired exclusions listed above.
Much of the history of the nineteenth century is dominated by the violent and sanguinary struggles for unification which various kingdoms, principalities, electorates, imperial provinces and semi-autonomous regions felt was a condition sine qua non of their emergence as fully-fledged nations with privileges, rights and powers recognised and respected by the modern international community. Many Italians, not all, agreed that this was a deserving cause worth dying for and about sixty thousand did, mostly led by Mazzini and Garibaldi, over several decades until the 1870 fall of Rome ensured the Risorgimento of a unified Italian homeland.
Across the mountains, the normally quiet and kindly Swiss felt something similar and had their very own civil war in 1847 when the Catholic cantons of Lucerne, Uri, Valais, Fribourg, Schwyz, Zug and Unterwalden formed themselves into an alliance, the Sonderbund, and decided to secede. The other Swiss disagreed and the country was plunged into a civil war from which it emerged unified at a reasonable cost that did not exceed a thousand dead and wounded. Further north, the unification of Germany under the leadership of Bismarck and his Kaiser proved harder and more costly and at the battle of Sadowa alone over fifty thousand Prussians, Austrians, Bavarians, Hanoverians and other assorted Germans slaughtered each other to ensure the unity that the Iron Chancellor considered to be an essential feature of modern nationhood.
Canada, being less out of this world than people think, twice endured secessionist rumblings that disturbed the surface of the prairie with the Red River Rebellion of 1869 and the Saskatchewan Rebellion of 1885, both led unsuccessfully and at the cost of over five hundred casualties, by Louis Riel, who was duly captured, tried and hanged. Possibly the best-known of all wars of secession is the one that afflicted the United States which before the First World War qualified as the most sanguinary conflict in history. While it took the Vietnam War over seven years of fighting to claim 36,000 American battle casualties, the 1863 battle of Gettysburg reached the same horrifying total in two and a half days and the United States remained united.
These monumental, memorable and frequently heroic unifying ventures have also been visited by the ambiguities of history, and one suspects that what so clearly inspired a Lincoln or a Garibaldi may or may not be the same species of unity that motivated Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible, Tito, Stalin or Hitler. The leaders of these unifying attempts had in mind, and occasionally in hand, large territories inhabited by human beings that may or may not have been delighted with the prospect of continuing togetherness with their neighbours, and this may explain why the five elders of the national tribe have fared differently. Austria, France and Russia gave the task of unification a distinct imperial flavour and their progress reads like a military history of the modern world. Having for some years savoured extraordinary successes, they were ultimately undone by a failure to keep their vassal states under control and notwithstanding the many millions slaughtered during their unifying enterprises, they have survived into our twenty-first century as respectable nation-states in their own right. Britain and Spain managed a little better and emerged into modernity in fairly convincing control over helpfully clear geographical boundaries albeit reluctantly continuing to deploy heavily armed contingents to deal with Basque, Irish, Catalan, Welsh and Scottish obduracy. Everywhere on earth the path to unity is strewn with corpses—everywhere except in Australia.
Among the intriguing failures of the great nineteenth-century political and social thinkers was their inability even to suspect that nationalism would be the dominant creed of the twentieth and possibly of the twenty-first century. Before the First World War there were not more than two or three dozen independent nations on earth; a hundred years later they number 195 of which the overwhelming majority emerged during the twentieth century. Unity being the reverse face of independence it can only succeed by thwarting desires for self-government that must be secured at the expense of unity. Ergo, the unity of the United States was retained by denying independence to the Confederacy; Soviet unity depended on negating independence to Lithuania, Latvia, Byelorussia, Ukraine and other regional entities in the same manner that the independence of Bosnia and Croatia can only be secured at the expense of the unity of Yugoslavia, or that of the Basques, at the expense of French and Spanish unity.
Before the twentieth century, such problems were invariably resolved by war, the midwife of all nascent nations, until the magnificent exception of the Australian Commonwealth rose over the world’s horizon in 1901 as the first nation in history simultaneously to secure lasting unity and independence without killing anyone. Years of thoughtful discussion marked a progress that starting during the decade of 1850 with the granting of self-government to New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland (Western Australia joined later, in 1889) and moved gradually through a series of judicious decisions until the matter was put to the people and resolved without dispossessing, raping, maiming or killing anyone.
Another important Australian contribution to the higher requirements of civilised modernity is the absence from the continent and the nation of any form of slavery. Bearing this fact very much in mind it is interesting to note that the index of Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore has eleven entries for “slavery” in nineteenth-century Australia variously describing labour down under as being “tainted with slavery”, or considering “convicts essentially as slaves”, or noting that profits were being “consolidated through the use of slave labour”, or describing the assignment system as “a form of slavery”, or asserting that it was “slave labour that created the wealth of Australia”, or complaining that after 1840 the value of convicts as “slave labour was falling”. It is only on page 283, once the topic of Australian slavery has been firmly planted in the reader’s mind, that the concoction is seasoned with a pinch of truthfulness by devoting one brief paragraph to listing the conditions that define the institution of slavery and asserting that “None of these conditions applied to the convicts Britain exiled to Australia.”
Mr Hughes’s recantation notwithstanding, it requires a very special kind of blindness to overlook the abundantly documented fact that Australia is the only country and the only continent on earth never to have been shamed by the institution of slavery. Of course, in common with the rest of human society, during the past two centuries Australia has had its melancholy share of cruel treatment inflicted on fellow human beings, but these instances have been exceptional, invariably unlawful, have never been officially tolerated or in any way condoned either by the colonial or the Commonwealth authorities and cannot possibly be equated either with slavery or serfdom in any form.
Assertions about slavery in Australia are commonly based on an erroneous understanding of the assignment of convicts to work in public or private employment and of the use of indentured labour, especially in Queensland. As for the former, the legal use of punitive forced labour is fundamentally different from slavery in that the “property in the services” given to the colonial governors under the terms of the Transportation Acts differs from the property in the person because the term of servitude is limited by law, its legal disabilities cease with the expiration of the sentence and cannot be transmitted to the offspring of the convict. Forced labour based on assignment disappeared from Australia in the mid-nineteenth century, but in its punitive form it survived in other countries well into the twentieth century and it would probably have astonished, or amused, Presidents Harry Truman or Bill Clinton to learn that some unusual Australian historians were busily equating slavery with the kind of forced labour in use in the United States until its abolition in 1950, only to be resurrected in 1995 and abolished again a year later with the exception of Arizona where male and female chain gangs are still repairing roads and bridges under the supervision of armed guards.
The other well-known excuse for charging Australia with the practice of slavery is based on the myth of Kanaka “blackbirding” expeditions to South Pacific islands where it was alleged that thousands of Melanesians were captured and forced into exploitative indentured agreements to work in the Queensland sugar industry. With respect to this episode it is important to recall that during the country’s formative decades, Australian officialdom, including governors, civil servants and military personnel, was significantly influenced by the crusade to abolish slavery led by William Wilberforce with the telling political support of the younger Pitt and the towering moral imperative supplied by Quakers, non-conformists and the Evangelical revival of the Church of England which coalesced in 1787 to found the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
The prevailing foundation sentiments of this society were accurately reflected in the oft-quoted memorandum penned in 1786 by Captain Arthur Phillip, the Governor-designate of New South Wales who, well aware of the intended use of the antipodean settlement, correctly felt the need to address the crucial difference between slaves and the convicts under his care. Phillip noted that the laws of Britain would of course be introduced in New South Wales, but felt it necessary to add,
There is one that I would wish to take place from the moment His Majesty’s forces take possession of the country: that there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves. 
Although Phillip’s religious sentiments were more pragmatic than spiritual or moralistic, his 1786 memorandum was consistent entirely with the contemporary emergence of an abolitionist Evangelicalism whose missionary efforts would eventually spread internationally, helping to bring about irreversible victories that changed forever the character of modern society. In 1772, when judging the case of a runaway slave, the Chief Justice Lord Mansfield declared that slavery was incompatible with English law and that on setting foot on English soil a slave would be free. This left the slave trade on British ships unaffected and it took some years of agitation by the abolitionists to secure parliamentary support, in 1807, to prohibit the slave trade and finally to complete the process with the 1833 total abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. International public opinion was duly impressed: France abolished slavery in 1848, Russia put an end to serfdom in 1861 and two years later Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the same year that slavery was abolished throughout the Dutch colonies.
Obviously there was no need for Australia to abolish something that did not exist, but the international progress of the Evangelical abolitionist movement tended strongly to reinforce the attitude originally expressed by Captain Phillip and from which there were no indications of dissent from those in positions of public responsibility in the five Australian colonies that attained self-government in the decade of 1850. This disposition was additionally reinforced by the disinclination among the labour movement generally to accept without protest the importation, legal or otherwise, of what they regarded as cheap labour, a position that soon was to emerge as a principal component of the White Australia policy. Even taken on their own these two factors would have explained why Australia was most unlikely to accept any policy or official decision that could possibly facilitate the introduction of forced labour or disguised slavery, but precisely in 1862 a third factor was added that pushed to centre stage those feelings latent in Australian society that had first found expression in Captain Phillip’s justly famous memorandum.
Beginning in 1862, at the other side of the Pacific, the consuls of the King of Hawaii and the governments of Britain, Chile and France joined forces in a campaign to put an end to the excesses perpetrated on Pacific islanders who had been either kidnapped or entrapped into signing fraudulent contracts to mine guano in the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru. Details of this campaign did not emerge until much later and it is sobering to note that practically everything that has been said of recent by publicity-hungry politicians and academic scribblers of the “black armband” persuasion about the capture, transport and abusive working conditions of Pacific islanders in Queensland is almost word for word a repetition of what transpired during the international protests that brought about the swift end of the demeaning Chincha trade and eased the way for the Peruvian government to purchase the shady service contracts and order the repatriation of the Polynesians to their places of origin.
More immediately important from an Australian vantage point was that an unintended consequence of these timely and welcome decisions was that when chased away by British, Chilean and French warships, the vessels that under various flags of convenience had plied the trade in the Eastern Pacific turned their attention to the opposite shore. At first, before the authorities could deploy officers in numbers sufficient to enforce the laws and regulations and prevent abuses, the trans-Pacific piratical crews managed to capture a few hapless Melanesians and transport them to Queensland. The abundantly documented evidence about this episode shows conclusively that, well attuned to the public mood, the response of the government of Queensland was very distant from tolerating any form of slavery, serfdom or forced labour even when official intervention was hindered by the relative inexperience of a fledgling bureaucracy operating over a huge and inaccessible region. It is a matter of fact, as Clive Moore has noted, that between 1863 and 1904,
some 50,000 Kanakas signed a total of 62,000 indentured labour contracts to work in Queensland. The great majority … were Melanesians from the New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and New Guinea. At first their agreements were made under the auspices of the Master and Servants Act that applied to all contract workers. After 1868, a series of regulations and legislation were introduced by both the Queensland and British parliaments to oversee the process. From then until 1906, the Kanakas were governed by thirteen specific Acts of Parliament, fifty regulations and forty instructions. After 1871, all the recruiting voyages to Queensland and the return journeys that took the labourers home had government agents on board to ensure all relevant laws and regulations were observed and all health and medical standards were enforced. The hundreds of government agents who filled these positions had the power to halt recruiting, to refuse recruits or to turn the vessel home if they decided. They had to keep a daily official log of each voyage. The ships were also inspected regularly by captains of Royal Navy Australia Station vessels. Once in Queensland, magistrates, government agents, immigration officials and Inspectors of Pacific Islanders supervised their contracts, payments and conditions of employment. They were responsible for overseeing the arrival of recruits, ensuring they had entered contracts voluntarily, were of legal age, and were healthy enough to work for the term of their contract. 
Far from becoming a disguised form of slavery, the regular importation of Pacific Islanders to work in Queensland soon “became the most government-regulated employment project in Australian history”. Once completing their three-year term of indenture, the Melanesians were free to remain in Australia and work in other activities. “Some formed trade unions and bargained collectively for wages. Others eventually became landowners and sugar farmers themselves and employers of their own countrymen.”
It is now clear that the mendacious and degrading charges of disguised slave labour and cruel treatment of kidnapped islanders corresponds not to the importation of Melanesians to work in Queensland, but to that of the Polynesians captured in the Eastern Pacific and transported to work in the Chincha Islands. Whether the journalists and politicians who have so unfairly defamed their own nation are knowingly peddling lies is something best filed under petty crime and forgotten. Considerably more important is that their distortions and untruths overshadow the strong and well-supported rejection of slavery and forced labour that rightly deserves a place of honour in the nation’s history.
Writing in the 1980s, Manning Clark thought it appropriate to enlighten his readers about social attitudes prevailing in Australia one hundred years earlier by quoting and paraphrasing from articles in the Bulletin of which he evidently approved affirming that
Under the existing social order … men who belonged to the first families in New South Wales got so beastly drunk in fashionable clubs that they whooped and encouraged riots and uproar until they fell unconscious into a street gutter where they lay in their own vomit. Such men had the effrontery to encourage Australians to continue a servile imitation of English conventions and behaviour in public life and to indulge in a “toadying” worship of those very Englishmen whose presence in the colony in the leading positions in church and state cut off most “local possibilities of advancement”. Englishmen were the colonial governors, the bishops, judges, bankers, directors, professors and head-masters … At the same time the poor all over the world were becoming a little poorer and a little hungrier and more desperate than before … Already fitful battles between Capital and Labour foreshadowed a showdown between the two … 
Confirming Clark’s stupefying inability to understand the past even when confronted with a sufficiency of unassailable evidence, these quotations highlight the magnificence of the rebuttal delivered by a society that he thought moribund and about to be overwhelmed by a violent popular uprising but that turned out to be healthy, remarkably stable and more than prepared to open up its commanding heights to talented newcomers without the doubtful assistance of multicultural proclamations or affirmative-action directives. Within a few years Australia responded not only by choosing native Australians as school headmasters, bank managers and hospital matrons, but with three appointments at the highest level of public responsibility within the Commonwealth aptly symbolising the vitality and aplomb of the fledgling nation.
In 1904 John Christian Watson, a Chilean-born and New Zealand-educated politician, became the first Labor Prime Minister of Australia and the first labour prime minister in the world; in 1918 Sir John Monash became the first Jew to command the armed forces of any major Western nation; in 1931, Sir Isaac Isaacs, also a Jew, became the first Australian-born governor-general of the Commonwealth. These were not the random result of a scattering of titles and sinecures by the party godfathers, but advancement fairly earned by disciplined talent and hard work. Watson was chosen by his peers, he was their leader and not an exhausted bureaucrat in search of a diplomatic posting. Sir John Monash was a successful civil engineer who “took up soldiering as a peacetime hobby. In August 1918, in command of some 200,000 soldiers, including Americans, he was foremost in the advance that broke through the German lines and helped force Germany to the point of surrender.”  Sir Isaac Isaacs, who perhaps unexpectedly was strongly opposed to Zionism, was elected to both the Victorian and federal parliaments before being appointed Attorney-General, a position he left when promoted to the High Court where he served for twenty-four years before becoming the first native-born governor-general of the Commonwealth.
The ease should cause alarm with which intellectually unscrupulous journalists, politicians and academic mediocrities distort and inflate the assignment system or the meticulously regulated importation of Melanesian workers to transform them into back-door conspiracies to bring slavery into Australia. Even more disquieting is to discover that the appointments of John Christian Watson, Sir John Monash or Sir Isaac Isaacs seldom merit more than a perfunctory note in most of the books on Australian history published in the last few decades, with only a couple mentioning the fact that Watson was the world’s first labour prime minister. 
No doubt Australian society has been greatly enriched by the gradual incorporation of immigrants originating from practically every nation, culture and society on earth, but it is difficult to find any with antecedents functionally related to the decisions behind the three appointments and the other achievements listed above. Risking invidiousness, it is fair to think that before the Second World War it would be as unrealistic, for example, to expect to find a Jewish prime minister or president of Italy, Poland, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Denmark or Portugal as it would be to have a Jew in command of the armed forces of Dreyfusard France. Only one nation has the credentials and the antecedents convincingly to claim responsibility for such an exceptional legacy, and this is the England that was able twice to elect to the highest office in the land an individual who could not possible even begin to aspire to anything comparable anywhere else on earth. The office was that of prime minister and the man was Benjamin Disraeli.
It would be difficult to find someone less likely than young Benjamin Disraeli ever to command sufficient electoral support to take him to the House of Commons, and even harder to imagine his colleagues in Westminster choosing him as their leader and prime minister. At the time of his venture into politics, Disraeli was going through a particularly notorious Byronic stage; his colourful dandyism designed to shock as much as his finances, for he was heavily in debt, he had acquired a largely false reputation as a frivolous albeit charming and loquacious womaniser and, worse of all, he wrote novels. All this, if Manning Clark’s inane rants are to be taken seriously, within a social ambit so impermeable, so prejudiced, so stratified and so vigorous that it could even project its nefarious influence to Australia and keep those born in the antipodes in their allotted subordinate places. If all this were true, Disraeli’s fate would have been exclusion multiplied, from recognition, advancement or elevation to the Commons.
What Clark and his disciples failed to observe is that Burke’s English society believed that careers should be open to talent and had no hesitation in overriding personal dislike and prejudice and offer an aristocratic embrace to worthy newcomers. The rest is not only history, but emphatically, biography, because Disraeli’s life offers the clearest possible indication of the social latitude, political wisdom and overwhelming pragmatism of the English moment in the aftermath of 1688 and the Industrial Revolution. What Palmerston memorably said of the foreign policy of England—“England has neither friends nor enemies; she has interests”—is also applicable to Disraeli’s political trajectory and social ascent. More, it can also be correctly understood as symbolising a cultural disposition able to place in the hands of a Jewish engineer the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Australia at the time engaged as vanguard troops in the greatest war in human history. The earthy political pragmatism inherited from the cultural mainstream of the English-speaking peoples can also be recruited in the quest to understand the how and the why those in power did not think it necessary to kill their opponents in order to secure the unification and independence of the Australian self-governing colonies.
The omission of these eminently positive and significant episodes not only perverts the course of Australian history, but exacerbates the danger of severing the Commonwealth from the distinguished cultural tradition outlined by Edmund Burke when he observed:
from Magna Charta [sic] to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity; as an estate especially belonging to the people of this kingdom without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means our constitution preserves an unity in so great a diversity of its parts.
And so it is, and so it does. Which more than justifies the question posed by Professor Kenneth Minogue, the distinguished thinker whose life and work bridged the Burkean world, who noting that millions are now voting with their feet and emigrating in a Western cultural direction, asks,
Why is it that they want to come and live among us and, in a sense, live as we do? This is an important question, not only for them, but also for us. Is it democracy? Is it liberty? Is it merely our affluence? Is it perhaps the individualism that might release them from the bondage of custom? Is it perhaps even Christianity, which has so totally shaped the culture of Western life, and which has now in its broad ecumenical tolerances almost begun to merge with Western life? The West is all these things and a great deal more. Modernity is, at the very least, a historical moment exhibiting a pattern of life that very few people in the world do not wish to join and emulate. 
Both this world and this modernity bear the imprimatur of an English Burkean bequest that few nations have honoured and put to work better than Australia. The positive achievements listed here are not accidental, but consistent with the generous sentiments in Captain Phillip’s memorandum and especially with Burke’s concept of an inheritance of freedom that reiterates forcefully the continuity of a tradition of values and dispositions ultimately responsible for the thoughtful moderate reforms, social harmony, economic efficiency and overwhelming common decency and respect for the law characteristic of the modern Commonwealth of Australia.
Claudio Véliz has contributed to Quadrant for more than thirty years. After holding professorships at a number of universities in several countries, including Australia, he now lives in retirement along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.
 The genesis and consequences of Capt. Philip’s memorandum are meticulously covered and documented in Keith Windschuttle’s important essay on “Abolition of the Slave Trade. The Australian Connection”, Quadrant, April 2007.
The opening salvos in this campaign were fired by the representatives of the King of Hawaii and the Emperor of France in letters dated 9 October and 13 December 1962, addressed to Juan Antonio Ribeyro, the Peruvian Minister for Foreign Affairs. These protests were supported by Manuel Antonio Tocornal, the Chilean Minister for Foreign Affairs, who sent an official circular note alerting all Chilean ports and consular officers to the possibility that vessels flying the Chilean flag could be engaged in this illegal trade. See C. Veliz, Historia de la marina mercante de Chile, Universidad de Chile, 1961, pp. 147-153.
 This apparently fair result only added a tragic dimension in that having pocketed the money, the masters sailed a few hundred miles into the Pacific and threw the unfortunate Polynesians overboard. When rumours about this abomination reached the mainland, the Peruvian government arranged for a naval officer to sail with each vessel to ensure that the Polynesians were not murdered, but repatriation to each of the islands was an expensive and time-consuming task and many masters opted simply to dump their human cargo at the nearest island, which largely explains why Easter Island, for example, which had been almost completely depopulated by the original “blackbirding” incursions, was re-populated with hundreds of Polynesians from other, more distant, islands. See. Véliz, Historia, also, Cónsules de Chile en el Extranjero, 1863, fol.619, Callao, 5 December 1863, Archivo Nacional de Chile.
 Clive Moore, Working the Government: Australia’s South Sea Islanders snd the Government 1863-1908, Research Paper for State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Project, Australian National University, March 19999, cited in Keith Windschuttle, The White Australia Policy, Sydney, 2004, pp.240-241,n.
 Windschuttle, Policy, p.7.
Bulletin, 4,18 February, 28 July 1888, cited in, C.M.H. Clarke, A History of Australia. Vol.V, The People Make Laws, 1888-1915, Melbourne, 1981, pp.4-5.
 Geoffrey Blainey, A Shorter History of Australia, Melbourne, P.158. After the war Monash organised the successful repatriation of the Australian troops serving overseas, he then directed the State Electricity Commission and subsequently became Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. He was also President of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand.
 A book by Ross McMullin appeared on the occasion of the centenary of the first labour government, So Monstruous a Travesty: Chris Watson and the World’s First National Labour Government, Melbourne, 2004; otherwise a detailed account of the predominantly racist ideas of that government, especially in the case of Watson, can be found in Windschuttle, Policy, pp.309-311.
 Ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien, Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event, London, 19690, p.119.
 Kenneth Minogue, The Servile Mind. How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life, New York, 2010, pp.116-117.