Notes for Gladstone

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What if Australia were colonised by Russians?

Notes for the ‘Off the Beaten Track’ workshop in Gladstone

The scenario

This brief historical setting is designed to help develop the story of an Australian Russia. Think of it as a scaffolding that can be taken away when the job is completed. Quote from various sources are appended as food for thought.

Once upon a time…

Until a certain point in time, religious dissidents from Russia had sought refuge across the Pacific in Alaska, Manitoba and California. Around 1800, problems arose in the American colonies and the Old Believers were forced to look further ashore for alternative exile.

At this point in time, the English had begun the colony of New South Wales, largely thanks to a captive and cheap labour force. Unfortunately, the land did not seem to reward their labour and the English government began to weary of the enterprise. Looking for a foothold in the Pacific to strengthen its claim on Sakhalin and Hawaii, the Russian government decided to aid these Old Believers in their claim to the new land.

The results were quite surprising. The Old Believers provided a religious model for the convicts who chose to remain in Australia when the English overlords had departed. The Russian priests found the dry expanse of Australia’s interior to be a perfect setting for their monasteries. The quiet life of the desert provided them with just the right circumstances for study and contemplation.

This southern land exercised a great power on the imaginations of Russians back home. Many saw it is an opportunity for Russian culture to transcend the fatalism that had beset it since the Mongol invasion. Some saw it as the mythological submerged land of gl.

In the proceeding course of modern Russian history, this southern land provided a counterbalance to the motherland. During regimes of Tsar Alexander, it provided a place from which revolutionaries might gather their resources. When they arrived to participate in the October revolution, it provided a convenient refuge from White Russians fleeing communism. Tsar Alexander was able to escape, along with Russian intelligentsia.

More recently, with the fall of communism and the return of Tsar Nicholas to the former USSR, the southern land has become the only refuge for communist idealism.



[Morris, retelling Kropotkin fable]

there was a little colony of Russians in the Far West of America right among the Redskins: one day the Redskins fell on them and burnt their fields and lifted their cattle. Now if they had been Yankees they would have shouldered their rifles and gone after the Indians and shot as many of them as they could, and so have established a regular deadly feud between them. But the Russians bided their time and watching an opportunity, got hold of all the women of the tribe and brought them home to their own block houses where they kept them fast but treated them well… [gave back in return for tilling the land]

Fiona MacCarthy William Morris 1994, p. 545

White sail

A lonely sail is gleaming white,

in bluish fog of sea-sky blend...

What seeks he in the distant site?

What left behind in motherland?


The waves are playing, wind is whistling;

the mast is creaking in its sway...

It is not happiness he's seeking,

and not from happiness he runs away.


He is on stream, in peaceful wander,

sun's golden rays above are born...

But he rebels and asks for thunder,

as though peace is in the storm

Mikhail Lermontov (1814 - 1841) `White Sail'

Russian soul

Far below me, behind a veil of thick darkness, the sea kept up a low angry growl.. And it seemed to me that the whole world consisted only of the thoughts straying through my head… and of an unseen power murmuring monotonously somewhere below… I abandoned myself to the sensation I was so fond of: the sensation of fearful isolation, when you feel that in the whole universe, dark and formless, you alone exist. It is a proud, demonic sensation, only possible to Russians, whose thoughts and sensations are as large, boundless, and gloomy as their plains, their forests and their snow.

[From Chekhov story 'Lights']

James H. Billington The Icon and the Axe 1970, p. 367


[About Chekhov's story 'Light']

Perhaps also somewhere at the bottom of a lake lay a purer existence than existed on land - perhaps the 'shining city of gl' which was said to have descended uncorrupted to the bottom of a trans-Volga lake at the time of the first Mongol invasion.

James H. Billington The Icon and the Axe 1970, p. 368

Diary entry

Went for a walk and became intensely aware of the life of calves, sheep, moles, trees - each one doing its own job - an acorn turns into a tree, a small oak, and grows and will live to be a hundred - and life renews itself. And this process has gone on for countless eons of time and will go on and in the future, endlessly - and it takes place in Africa, India and Australia, and on every bit of the earthly planet. And there are countless millions of such planets. This is where you see clearly the absurdity of talking about the greatness of anything human or of man himself.

Nina Christesen `Leo Tolstoy and the Australian Connection' 1985, p. 11

Letter to Australia

[In response to a letter send on 80th birthday]

To the Federation of Single Tax Leagues of Australia

Dear Friends

Yours address has deeply touched me.

The injustice and evil of property in land has long ago been recognised. More than a hundred years ago, the great French thinker Jean Jacques Rousseau had written: '…Beware, you will perish if you forget that the land cannot belong to anyone and its fruits belong to all.'

Nina Christesen `Leo Tolstoy and the Australian Connection' 1985, p. 11


When inveighing against the system of judicial procedures in Europe, Tolstoy asks, `Why do we have to send our so-called criminals from one place on this earth to another - from France to New Caledonia, from Russia to Siberia, from England to Australia?'

Nina Christesen `Leo Tolstoy and the Australian Connection' 1985, p.

`Pity we didn't get here first', he said.

`We the Russians?'

`Not only Russians,' he shook his head, `Slavs, Hungarians, Germans even. Any people who could cope with the wide horizons. Too much of this country went to islanders. They never understood it. They're afraid of space.

`We', he added, `could have been proud of it. Loved it for what it was. I don't think we'd have sold it off so easily.'

Bruce Chatwin Songlines 1987, p. 142

Policeman to Arkady in pub

`I was born in Australia.'

`That doesn't make you Australian,' he taunted, `My people have lived in Australia for five generations. So where was your father born?'

Arkady paused and, with quiet dignity, answered, `My father was born in Russia.'

`Hey!' the policeman tightened his forelip and turned to the big man. `What did I tell you, Bert? A Pom and a Com!'

Bruce Chatwin Songlines 1987, p. 137

country of lost children

`Australia', Arkady said slowly, `is the country of lost children.'

Bruce Chatwin Songlines 1987, p. 129

Aboriginals tread lightly


The aboriginals, he went on, were a people who trod lightly over the earth; and the less they took from the earth, the less they had to give in return. They had never understood why the missionaries forbade their innocent sacrifices. They slaughtered no victims, animal or human. Instead, when they wished to thank the earth for its gifts, they would simply slit a vein in their forearms and let their own blood spatter the ground.

Bruce Chatwin Songlines 1987, p. 14


He liked the Aboriginals. He liked their grit and tenacity, and their artful ways of dealing with the white man. He had learnt, or half-learnt, a couple of their languages and had come away astonished by the intellectual vigour, their feats of memory and their capacity and will to survive.

[Son of Ivan Volchok, Cossack]

Bruce Chatwin Songlines 1987, p. 2

City out of air

[Legend of birth of St Petersburg, put by Odoevsky into the mouth of the old Finn:]

They began to build the city, but whenever they laid a stone the marsh sucked it in; they piled stone on stone, rock on rock, timber on timber, but the marsh swallowed it all and on the surface there was only mud. Meanwhile the tsar was building a ship and looked around; he saw that there was still no city. `You don't know how to do anything' he said to his people and thereupon began to lift rock after rock and to shape them in the air. In this way he built the whole city and let it down on to the ground.

Yuri Lotman Universe of the Mind 1990, p. 196

Fashionable ideas

The Rousseauist model was interpreted as follows: French culture, and especially its shadow the French upbringing of the Russian nobility, had led the nobility to forget their own native language, their Orthodox faith, national dress and Russian culture; this French culture was that very civilization which Rousseau objected to. Against it could be contrasted the natural life of the Russian peasantry, their healthy morals and natural kindness. .. What was natural came to be identified with what is national... France came to be regarded as the source of all superstitions, the kingdom of fashion and `fashionable ideas'. Russian society, effete and infested with Gallomania, was a society of `degenerate Slavs'.

Yuri Lotman Universe of the Mind 1990, p. 149

Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov


Inspiration to Soloviev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy

Conquest of nature is an act of altruism: we must conquer nature in order to resurrect our ancestors, the ultimate act of altruism.

The long-range goal of human cooperation must be to discover the laws of nature to such a depth that we can eventually reconstitute the bodies of past human beings from their remaining physical particles still floating about in the universe.

> early Russian rocket pioneers, such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935)

[contrast the Enterprise of Star Trek]

Michael Heim The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality 1993, p. 120



Last edited 12 Oct 1998
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