Playing gods with insufficient means
Australia was discovered 150 years too early to be colonized to its full potential, Ross opines.
As often in this book, Ross conceives of Australia as a kind of time machine. While its city life points towards Western civilization’s future, its indigenous population, flora, and fauna make it a “living fossil” that presents us with a peephole into the “stone age” [p. 227]. But rather than this latter instance of allochronism (see Space is not the issue!)—the placement of the ethnographic object in a past time—, the chapter mostly indulges in a different kind of temporal thought experiment: what could be done with Australia if it had been discovered 150 years later? (Ross seems to take James Cook’s 1770 discovery as the starting point, meaning 1920 as the alternative moment of discovery.)
The settlers who came to Australia, Ross argues, had to “play god” [p. 228], but did this with their limited means and scientific knowledge, and not too well. They succeeded in feeding 6 million people on a continent that could hold and feed ten times as much, he maintains. If the continent would have been discovered more recently, new insights into how to shape climate and soil could have made it the solution to “Occidental mankind’s lack of space” [p. 230]. Tellingly, another prerequisite for that outcome is that it had not been occupied by one colonial power, but open to “American capital as well as German and Italian industriousness” [p. 230]. Ross is staking a claim for German settlers in Australia, if only within a speculation of his own making. This highlights the “virtualization of the political” to which German geopolitics contributed with its map exercises after Germany’s defeat in World War I.1
Engaging with the present almost becomes something of an afterthought in this context. Having witnessed the landslide victory of the Australian Labour Party in October 1929, Ross argues that comprehensive social security policies are the biggest hindrance at the present moment to large-scale improvements of Australia’s agrarian productivity.
Colin Ross. Die Vollendung des “unvollendeten Kontinents”. In: Der unvollendete Kontinent. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1930, pp. 227–31.
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30
1 See: Andy Hahnemann. Energetische Weltbilder. In: Texturen des Globalen. Geopolitik und populäre Literatur in der Zwischenkriegszeit 1918-1939. 297–301. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter; 2010; 297–301.