Territorial separation movements in colonial Australasia

Dr André Brett

The borders of Australia and New Zealand were not inevitable. Britain’s colonies in the region were not set out on arbitrary whims, nor were they mere accidents. They were the result of complex historic processes, and vigorous campaigns promoted new colonies passionately. Australasia could have ended up with twice as many freestanding colonies; it could have had fewer. New Zealand might have grown up to become two separate countries.

Three separation movements obtained their goal, creating Queensland, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), and Victoria. Many others tried to imitate them, and in the process defined regions and their political identities. From the Riverina to North Queensland, Otago to Kalgoorlie, West Victoria to Auckland, separation movements flourished during the colonial period.

This project emerged from Dr Brett’s doctoral research on New Zealand’s provincial governments—his 2016 book Acknowledge No Frontier (available from Otago University Press) discusses the effects of separation movements on New Zealand’s provincial political institutions. He performed a pilot study on separation movements throughout colonial Australasia as a Gilbert Postdoctoral Career Development Fellow at the University of Melbourne, 2015–16.

Dr Brett is now returning to this research to study the phenomenon from the emergence of the first separation movement in Van Diemen’s Land in the early 1820s through to the federation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. He has received an Australian Academy of the Humanities 2020 Travelling Fellowship to visit New Zealand once borders re-open and consult the letters of leading separatists held at archives in Dunedin and Wellington.

More details on this project are here.