Australia is unusual among former British colonies because it never developed an anti-imperialist sentiment. Australia did not follow the lead of most other former colonies by demanding independence and breaking away from Britain—it remained a colony that just happened to be on another continent instead of another island.
Australian loyalty to the Empire was such that many Australians volunteered to fight for Britain in the First World War and Second World War, fighting not just for their liberty but also for the freedom of people living on islands halfway around the world (the response from some New Zealanders was a little different). In this article, we’ll look at how things might have been different if Australia had become an empire instead of a colony.
An Australian Empire
Australia’s mining industry would dramatically increase with the expansion of the British Empire. The Australian economy would become almost completely dependent on exporting resources to Britain and the rest of the Empire. Australia’s lack of a native money system would also have to be resolved, with a new currency and banking system being created.
Australia would also have to play a significant role in the military. With no threats from within the Empire, they could use the military to expand the British Empire’s territory and bring other nations under British rule. It would involve Australia having a larger share of the financial burden for the military and sending Australian troops to fight wars in other parts of the world.
New Zealand and Australian Imperial Forces
New Zealand would be another one of the dominions in this Australian Empire. New Zealand’s location would likely put it in a similar role to Canada, with a strong focus on shipbuilding and trade due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. New Zealand would be much less involved in the military than Australia due to its smaller population and lack of industrial capability.
New Zealand is in a prime position as a trade hub for the Pacific and could become one of the most economically important dominions. New Zealand’s location in the South Pacific puts it in a unique position as a gateway to the rest of the world. If New Zealand used its location wisely, it could become a prosperous dominion, even more, prosperous than Canada.
Asia and Oceania
Australia’s role in Asia would be much different than it is today. Australia is already a significant trading partner with many Asian countries today, but it would be much more than that in an Australian Empire. Australia could become a major military power in Asia, with a significant portion of the military being based in the dominions.
The dominions would likely become the main military strength of Britain in Asia, as there would be very little reason for Britain to maintain a large military presence in Asia.
India and the Mideast
India would likely be a much larger part of the British Empire if Australia were an Empire. Australia would likely be responsible for the Western portion of the country, with India being controlled by Britain. Australia might be more aggressive in subduing the Indian population, but British rule would be far harsher in India.
British rule in the Middle East would be much more active as well. Australia would likely be in charge of the northern portion of the region, leading to much more conflict with the Turks and other Middle Eastern powers.
Australia Becomes an Independent Empire
If Australia had become an independent Empire, it might have taken a path similar to the British or Spanish Empires. The ANZAC Empire would likely have expanded into the Pacific and Southeast Asia, with colonies established in New Zealand, Polynesia, and Australia.
Australia might have also expanded into Asia, though it’s likely that Britain would have been more aggressive in that region. The British Empire had an incredibly diverse population, and the ethnicities of the British dominions greatly influenced their role in the Empire.
The Boer War and Australia’s Responsibilities
The ANZAC Empire would likely have been involved in the Boer War since Britain wanted the Empire to be responsible for its defense. If Australia had become an independent Empire, it would have had a much larger financial obligation to Britain, and there would have been more pressure for Australia to be involved in the Boer War.
Australian leaders might have also decided to get involved in the war to gain more independence from Britain and prove to the British that they could manage their affairs.
Australia might have also decided to pursue a more aggressive policy in the Pacific and Asia to secure its Dominion and expand its power. In the Spanish Empire, colonies in the Americas were a major source of revenue for Spain, and the British Empire gained wealth from its colonies in India. Australia would likely want to follow these examples and expand its Empire into Southeast Asia and the Pacific to secure a source of income.
The Pacific Dominions and the Responsibilities That Come with Being an Empire
The Pacific dominions would likely become very dependent on Australia. The inhabitants of the dominions would have a stronger relationship with Australia than with Britain. However, they would lack the same level of sovereignty as they would have if they were independent nations. The citizens of the Pacific dominions would be more like subjects of Australia than they would be citizens.
Australia would be responsible for protecting its dominions against external threats, like an invasion. However, the dominions would also be protected from internal threats, like rising social and political movements. If a social movement were becoming violent in one of the dominions, Australia would likely step in and end it. In contrast, Britain would allow the Dominion to handle it independently.
The ANZAC Empire
The ANZAC Empire would likely be a rising power in the world. It would be a new Empire that had not yet reached its full potential and a rising power, like Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The ANZAC Empire would have a rising economy, and it would be a rising military power as well. The ANZAC Empire would be ethnically diverse, but the two dominant groups would be Australians and New Zealanders.
It would be a significant ally in the Pacific and a rising force in world affairs. The ANZAC Empire would also have a significant amount of imperialistic tendencies and look to expand into Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
A Different World War II Outcome
If Australia had remained an imperial power, there are several ways that World War II could have played out differently. For example, if Australia had remained an imperial power, it would have been more willing to get involved in the war and would have been able to contribute more. Australia would have been able to contribute more ships and airplanes, as well as a larger army than it was able to provide as a colony.
The ANZAC Empire might have been able to push Japan back in the Pacific, which could have changed the course of the war in Asia. If Australia had remained an imperial power, it might have also been more willing to take a more aggressive stance toward Germany. If the ANZAC Empire had become more involved in the war, it could have led to a more rapid end to the war, which could have saved millions of lives.
The Royal Navy: Voyagers and Naval
Although they would have served as dominions, the Royal Navy of Australia and New Zealand would have been treated differently from other dominions, such as Canada. It is because the Navys of Australia and New Zealand would have been given greater autonomy and allowed to operate at a distance from Great Britain.
This autonomy would have meant that the Navys of Australia and New Zealand would have more control over their affairs than other dominions. The Navy of Australia and New Zealand would have been self-financing and responsible for securing most of their funds. The Navy of Australia and New Zealand would have also been free to decide where they would deploy and when.
The Royal Air Force: Flying Aces and Wingmen
Australia would have been part of the Royal Air Force’s Coastal Area and the Coastal Command, which would have been responsible for defending the British Isles’ coastline. The Coastal Command would have been divided into four operational areas, each under the command of a vice-marshal. The Aussie Wingmen would have been based at Coastal Command HQ in London and reported directly to the vice-marshal responsible for the Western Area.
Australia: The Dominion of the Southern Hemisphere
The dominions of Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa would have been closely allied and referred to as the “Southern Hemisphere Powers.” The Aussie Dominion would have been more isolationist than other dominions but more closely aligned with France and their Southeast Asian colonies.
It would have been a calculated decision based on geography and resources. Australia would have focused on protecting what was known as “The Gap” between themselves and Southeast Asia. The Southern Hemisphere Powers would have been staunchly anti-imperialist and would have condemned the actions of the Northern Hemisphere Powers.
New Zealand: The Dominion of the Pacific
The Dominion of New Zealand would have been a close ally of Australia and heavily involved in anti-imperialist movements. New Zealand would have been the only Dominion to support the “Argentinian Independence Movement,” which would have been aimed at breaking away from the British Empire.
The Dominion of New Zealand would have been a strong proponent of the New Zealand Vacation Act (The Act), which would have been aimed at giving dominions more time off. New Zealand would have seen the Act as a great way of boosting tourism and would have been keen to share their culture and scenic landscape with Australians.
The Second Domino — Singapore, and Malaya
The Empire of Australia would have controlled the Malay States — a collection of British territories that included Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak, and Brunei. The Malay States Administrative Council members would have been chiefly British and tasked with advising and assisting the Sultan of the Malay States.
The Sultan of the Malay States would have been a British monarch, chosen from among the Malay States Administrative Council members. The Sultan of the Malay States would have been largely ceremonial and had little or no political power.
The Aussie Dominions
The dominions of Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa would have been loyal allies to Britain and been referred to as “The Aussie Dominions.” The Aussie Dominions would have been suspicious of the United States due to their isolationist policies and wary of a potential invasion of Australia. They would have staunchly opposed Canada’s “Sudden Expansionists” and their attempts to expand the Empire.
The Aussie Colonies
The colonies of Australia would have been mostly British but would have included a large number of Irish, Scottish and Welsh settlers. Each colony would have been led by a “Colonial Minister” and would have been responsible for governing their territories. The Aussie Colonies would have been the closest they had ever been to independence and would likely have pushed for even greater autonomy in the 1920s.
The End of the Empire
The Australian Empire would have ended when the dominions, colonies, and overseas territories petitioned to join the newly formed Union of Nations. The Union of Nations would have been an international organization to promote peace, neutrality, and trade.
The dominions, colonies, and overseas territories would have been invited to become part of the Union of Nations on the condition that they adopt their constitution and end Imperial rule.
Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa would have been among the first dominions to accept the invitation and would have joined the Union.
If Australia had remained an imperial power, it might have been able to get involved in the war earlier. If Germany had been pushed back in the Pacific and Asia, it’s possible that they would have been forced to surrender earlier or that the Soviet Union would have been able to get involved earlier. Australia could have gained more power and territory if it had remained an imperial power and been more aggressive in Asia and the Pacific.
Australia might have had a more diverse population if it had remained an imperial power. Australia would have encouraged migration from other dominions, like Canada, to expand its population. The ANZAC Empire might have become a greater global power, and the ANZAC Empire might have turned into a modern British Empire.