How Australia might have been colonised by the Portuguese (and
an update regarding the Turn the Soil
all rights reserved
This story begins with historical fact, which eventually leads
to speculation. At this stage, it is a draft history of a land
that Australia might have become if it had been colonised by the
Portugese. While offering an amusing mental diversion, it also
aims to provide an opening for some of the possibilities of
settlement in the southern continent-possibilities that help put
the English settlement in a broader context.
The following is a story of how Australia might have been
colonised by the Portuguese. The presence of historical fact
amongst this fiction is indicated by thus.
Christovoa da Mendonca journeys south of Timor, hoping to find
the fabled land of India Meridional (southern Indies). Chinese
sailors had reported the existence of an 'Isle of Gold' south of
Java, that stretched as far as Antarctica. In 1522, Mendonca
sights the coastline of what appears to be a large island, but
after several weeks exploration he deduces the existence of a huge
continent. For good luck, he abandons half a dozen degradados
(exiled convicts) on the mainland to fend for themselves. Two die
soon after, three establish a camp, and one wonders off never to
be heard of again. Back in Lisbon, Mendonca's discovery is kept
secret. The fabled wealth of the island must be protected from
PRESTER JOHN, I PRESUME
A second expedition recovers two remaining convicts, who return
with reports of the strange beasts who inhabit the land. Scholars
note a correspondence between their stories and the legend of
Prester John. In the 11th-13th centuries, it was believed that a
descendent of the Magi that adored baby Jesus had established a
stronghold of Christendom in the East. Much early travel,
including Marco Polo's expedition, has been designed to link
forces with this eastern power and thus defeat the infidel.
The most detailed account of Prester John's kingdom comes from
the travel writer Maundeville, who reports on life in the
antipodes. According to Maundeville, the kingdom is bordered by a
'Gravelly Sea', which corresponds to the salt lakes of the
interior. The 'wild men' reported to be in Prester John's vicinity
resemble the strange uncivilised natives the convicts had met.
Revived fervour for a Christian mission in the east joins hunger
for gold to encourage further development of India Meridional. In
1531 a military outpost, Mistorak, is established on the north
coast of the continent.
On his journey to China, Francis Xavier visits this new continent.
In 1545, Xavier proclaims the land 'nullius diocesis'
(without prior religious title) and establishes the first of many
Jesuit missions in Mistorak. Their first attempts to convert the
natives end in dismal failure. There seems little shared
understanding on which Christian faith might take hold.
Eventually, Jesuits coax nominal conversion with the lure of
presents, such as knives and alcohol. Poor diet and homesickness
reduces their number greatly.
LUSITANIA IS BORN
By the early seventeenth century, Portuguese power in the region
is devastated by raiding Dutch fleets. In 1615 the Dutch navy
seize the strategic position of Malacca and the Portuguese escape
to smaller islands in south-east Asia and India Meridional.
Francisco de Veiera from Macassar leads a group of colonists to
the north-east coast. Refugees bring with them spices such as
tamarind pods, which they use to flavour kangaroo dishes.
In 1640 Portugal gains long-awaited independence from Spain.
With evidence of other nations exploring this part of the world,
Portugal overtly declares possession of the continent they call
'Lusitania' (after the Lusitani tribe who resisted Roman forces
in the Iberian Peninsula). This claim is subsequently recognised
by England in its 1661 treaty with Portugal.
By the end of the seventeenth-century, the Portuguese find
gold in Brazil. When surface gold begins to runs out in South
America, prospectors turn to Lusitania, with its legendary wealth.
First attempts are disappointing, but reveal an expanse of
territory that seems to offer boundless possibilities. Bands of
prospectors set out, always with a padre in attendance to round up
lost souls. Strange fancies encourage them further. The lost
convict left by Mendonca acquires mythical status, with reports of
his descendants in Luso-Aboriginal tribes roaming the desert.
THE MIRACLE OF VERA CRUZ
In one incident, a band of prospectors finds themselves lost in
the desert without food or water. As the last man lies dying, an
Aboriginal boy approaches. This boy understands Portuguese and
assists Jorges Vicente to his tribe, where he is nursed back to
health. When he is better, the elders take him aside and show him
a crystal which takes the natural form of a cross. Speaking a
garbled Portuguese, they tell him about the mountain nearby where
it had been found, and how the cross is a sacred symbol of the
'fishermen' (Christians). When taken to the site, Jorges finds
lumps of silver lying on the ground. When Jorges returns with a
contingent of excited fanatics and prospectors, they can find no
sign of the tribe, but they immediately build a makeshift church
in which to house the crystal.
At the beginning of the eighteenth-century, the Portuguese
empire suffers an additional blow with Omani victories in the east
coast of Africa. Additional weight is placed on the inviolable
colony of Lusitania, the one as yet uncontested Portuguese claim
on the Indian Ocean. Settlement in Mistorak flourishes as trepang
and pearls provide a flourishing export commodity. Colonists
develop a taste for turtle and crocodile. There are occasional
incursions by Dutch and Indonesian vessels, but these are
forcefully repelled. In general, a lawlessness prevails and slaves
are imported from India as sexual concubines.
By the second half of the eighteenth-century, however, Lusitania
undergoes a radical change. Its impetus occurs in 1759, when
Jesuits are expelled from Portugal and Brazil. There is
sufficient distance from Lisbon for Lusitania to provide sanctuary
for exiled Jesuits, who re-establish their missions with much
greater determination. They immediately enforce a strict moral
code in Mistorak. Aboriginal tribes welcome relief from the
belligerent style of settlement and provide a new generation of
converts to Jesus. Jesuit missions are established throughout the
continent. In the north, the Jesuits run lucrative cattle stations
using Aboriginal labour. In 1782, the first Aboriginal priest is
Meanwhile, prospectors have finally hit upon the rich
goldfields of the south. Though Jesuits follow new centres of
activity, the delirium of gold fever proves difficult to contain.
During this period, the English Prime Minister Pitt decides to
sent convicts to West Africa and Brazil becomes a kingdom in its
own right. The Jesuit office of Father General is granted
executive powers in control of Lusitania, which is now proclaimed
a divine kingdom as prophesied under Prester John. A religious
inspired navy attacks Muslim ports in East Indies, attempting to
win over the Chinese diaspora in revolt against their hosts. This
only inspires Islamic fundamentalism in the area, and a Jihad is
proclaimed on Lusitania. Supported by Lusitania, the Fretilin
resistance to Arabic culture continues throughout the modern era.
LEAGUE OF ROSES
The Portuguese empire now is scattered across the globe. In 1886,
'Rose-coloured empire' is recognised by France and Germany. A
'League of Roses' is established with its headquarters in Lisbon.
This commonwealth embraces Brazil, Lusitania, middle Africa,
Colombo, East Timor and Macau. The motto is 'The sun rises in the
East'. Endemic conflicts between the 'League of Roses' and their
Islamic neighbours distract from competition from the other
colonial powers. The English convict settlement in West Africa
founders on a disastrous drought, though it manages to hold onto
its colonies in North America.
The advent of revolutionary movements in Western Europe puts
the mother country at odds with its more conservative offspring.
The 'League of Roses' disintegrates on the eve of the First World
War. During the 1930s, the Jesuit rulers of Lusitania become
indistinguishable from military leaders. Medals from battles on
the Banda Sea adorn their black cassocks. Jesuits are drawn into
the Second World War when the Japanese navy attacks Macau. Though
often outmanoeuvred by an agile Japanese navy, the Lusitanians win
many battles by brute force. The Japanese eventually invade the
mainland, but their vehicles run out of petrol deep in the
interior and are brutally cut down by Jesuit cowboys.
COMING OF THE ESPINHO (THORN)
The Theo-Military dictatorship falters during the student riots of
1969. Among the students is a Jesuit novitiate who claims to be
descendent of the lost convict abandoned by Mendonca. This Father
Ricardo accuses the Jesuit establishment of self-interest. With
great conviction, he promotes an international platform for the
defence against imperialists around the world. The incumbent
Father General is assassinated and guerilla supporters of Ricardo
storm the main offices to instate their leader.
Once in power, Father Ricardo establishes a 'Crown of Thorns'
composed mainly of isolated small nations. Eventually even
Portugal joins and is accorded ceremonial status. As well as
nations previously gathered as 'League of Roses', the 'Espinho'
(Thorn) adds Greenland, Guinea, Taiwan, Okinawa, Hokkaido, Albania
and Ireland. During the growth of the Indonesian empire, Espinho
provides diplomatic muscle to protect rights of Catholics and
Buddhists in south-east Asia.
Finally, in 2001, the aging Cardinal Ricardo is elected as the
first Aboriginal Pope, heralding a renewal of the Roman Catholic
church in its mission to defend the poor and helpless.
However, during the height of its religious patriotism, the
Lusitanian economy collapses and is forced to beg assistance from
How Australia might have been colonised by the Portuguese
was constructed with the assistance of a workshop held at Broken
Hill, NSW. Special thanks to Campbell Macknight and James Bradley.
For more details, see the "Turn the Soil" web site:
Responses to the story
are most welcome and will be incorporated into the final version.
Turn the Soil has been touring Australia since April 1997.
It has graced not only metropolitan, but also regional venues. One
of the most touching testimonies to the exhibition has been the
response in country towns like Gladstone, Queensland.
We forget that, even in the bush, Pauline Hanson's One Nation
Party is still a minority view. Visitors to an exhibition about
the role chance played in the English settlement of Australia
seemed keen to embrace an event that celebrated the experience of
Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds. The mayor of
Gladstone opened the show by speculating on what the town would be
like if it were Greek, and octopus hung out to dry on balconies.
The opportunities to involve a community in these sub-plots are
painfully few. The 1970s icon of ethnicity, Al Grasby, opened the
show in Canberra admitting that this exhibition was his only
opportunity to mark the 25th anniversary of Multiculturalism.
In Sydney, Turn the Soil opened on August 1, 1998 with a
view (just) of the Opera House, that mark of Scandinavian design
that has been stamped on Australian iconography. The city itself
is probably too big to invite the participation of smaller groups,
as is possible in regional galleries. To that end, the online
history of How Australia might have been
colonised by the Portuguese is available for all to
Broken Hill and what the Portuguese might have made of
Australia was the last alternative history constructed as part of
the Turn the Soil tour of Australia. Kevin Murray and the
team gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Campbell Macknight
and James Bradley in the construction of this story. Further
responses are welcome and material related to this scenario is
Kevin Murray is a
freelance writer, curator and narrative psychologist.