Pulse and pause: Researching the economic future of northern and remote Australia

Pulse and pause: Researching the economic future of northern and remote Australia Book Section

Leading from the North: Rethinking Northern Australia Development

  • Author(s): Gerritsen, Rolf
  • Secondary Author(s): Wallace, Ruth, Harwood, Sharon, Gerritsen, Rolf, Prideaux, Bruce, Brewer, Tom, Rosenman, Linda, Dale, Alan
  • Published: 2021
  • Publisher: ANU Press
  • ISBN: (print): 9781760464424 (online): 9781760464431

Abstract: With the current federal government interest in northern development (Australian Government, 2014), the opportunity supposedly exists both to position remote and Northern Australia for a prosperous and sustainable future and to make it a full participant in future Australian economic development. That outcome requires understanding of past developments to inform future assumptions and what they portend for Northern Australia. The nature of the past development of Northern Australia does not instil confidence that something will change that well-established pattern.In the past, sudden rushes of optimism and investment were followed by decades of disappointment. Pearling rose and fell. Pastoralism rose and fell before establishing some equilibrium. Mining was characterised by brief ‘booms’—mostly during the two World Wars—followed by slow ‘busts’, a pattern that recurred across remote Australia.The future portends the likely erratic economic development of the region and the separate but continuing marginalisation and impoverishment of its Aboriginal population—features that provide particular challenges that set Northern Australia apart from the rest of the country. In Darwin in 1900, the South Australian public servants that administered its northern territory wore clothes imported from Singapore. They ate some Asian food and Darwin had far more Chinese residents than European/Australian ones. Live cattle were exported to Asia from northern ports, particularly from the Kimberleys. The combination of the post-Federation policy of White Australia and governmental neglect (the north Queensland coastal area aside) reduced that Asian connection. In Darwin in 2000, or for that matter in Townsville or Broome, residents still wore clothes imported from Asia but they were wholesaled via Melbourne. After a post–World War I hiatus, live cattle exports to Asia resumed in the 1980s. In the period between, abattoirs across Northern Australia produced meat primarily for the domestic market. Asians were now in a minority of migrants (from overseas and from interstate Australia). But Asia was still the main market for most of Northern Australia’s exports. But Asian imports bypassed the north, heading instead to the metropolitan ports of Southern and Eastern Australia. The economics of large-scale, long-range sea transport sidelined Northern Australia except for outward-bound cargoes of minerals.Northern Australia has been enmeshed in a relationship with Asia almost since it was ‘settled’ and its resident Aborigines conquered. But the nature of that relationship has changed in ways that reflect the broader changes that have occurred in Australia over the last century. The economic relationship—agriculture, particularly sugar, the live cattle trade and some tourism aside—is now mediated through metropoles. As seen in the example of Northern Australians wearing clothes made in Asia but ‘imported’ via Melbourne. This chapter begins an ongoing analysis of the economic development of Northern Australia that I will expand on in the future.

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Suggested Citation
Gerritsen, Rolf, 2021, Pulse and pause: Researching the economic future of northern and remote Australia, Book Section, viewed 30 November 2021, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=26819.

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