What If: Moslem Australia
Moslem Australia - Part 1:
Australia was not quite so isolated in pre-European times as is often believed. There was a drizzle of trade between the Aborigines on the north coast of Australia and Muslim merchants from the East Indies long before the arrival of the Europeans. What if this contact had grown into a serious cultural interchange? What is Islam and Javanese civilization had spread throughout all of Australia?
Since Islam began to take hold in Sumatra around 1300, let's figure that Australia begins to convert about 1350. This gives the Moslems a 150 year head start in colonizing the place before the Europeans arrive in the Indian Ocean. This is probably enough time for the native population to be decimated by unfamiliar Asian diseases, and then rebound as they develop immunity. They also would acquire enough medieval South Asian technology to become as advanced as any state in Indochina; however, 150 years is probably _not_ enough time for a Moslem Australian to develop it's full potential. The population would be low. Politically, they would be divided in competing sultanates and city-states, and culturally, they would probably be a fusion of Arab, Javanese and Australian Aborigine societies, rather than a unique culture all their own. Their major port might be Darwin. (So as not to be anachronistic, let's call it after a Moslem scholar instead: Ibn-Sina)
It's now 1500 or so, and the Europeans arrive in India. Pretty soon, they're swarming all over the Asian coasts. In real history, Australia was accidentally discovered by the Dutch in 1642, but with Moslem trade routes to Australia already established, the Portuguese would take a look at it almost immediately, say, 1520. They don't see anything worth conquering, so they turn their attentions back to the north, where they've already established themselves in the important ports of India, Malaya, China, Japan etc.
Is their anything that Australia might have that would attract the attention of the Europeans? Gold, maybe, but probably only as a trickle from the interior. It's mostly a desert, so even with agriculture, the Australians wouldn't produce spices. Their population density would be too low to be harvested for slaves, and their states too advanced to be plundered for much else. My guess is that it would pass the era from 1520-1800 much as Morocco did: an inconsequential backwater that no one considered worth taking. It might have occasional pirate wars. European traders would run things in all the big ports, but the sultans would still be in charge.
In real history, 150 years passed between the first European discovery and the colonization. A Moslem Australia might survive unscathed just as long, but when the big European land grabs began in the mid 1800s, Australia would also get taken. It wouldn't be settled by British, however, because there would already be a native agricultural population that had spread all the way around the coasts of the continent by this time. There wouldn't be enough empty land on which to dump the convicts.
Is there still a gold rush in 1851 or had the gold already been discovered and exploited by the natives before then?
If there _is_ a gold rush, then Australia's next phase of history is like Rhodesia: a flood of Europeans and a British protectorate. (British control of the sea and all that.)
If no gold rush, then I'll stick with the Morocco analogy. A last-minute consolation prize to be partitioned among the various imperialist powers. The UK always got the best of these deals, so we'll give them first dibs on New South Wales and Victoria. France gets Queensland, and Germany gets the rest. This happens in 1892.
The new owners and their moving vans arrived to find various levels of native resistance to which they responded with varying levels of oppressive brutality. The German war of conquest killed tens of thousands of natives, while the British killed thousands and the French killed hundreds. Within a couple of decades, however, the Europeans were firmly in place.
Continue to Part 2.
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Last updated November 1999
Copyright © 1999 Matthew White
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