Labour History Review

‘We Dream Our Dream Still’: Ruralism, Empire, and the Debate about New Australia in Britain

Labour History Review (2012), 77, (2), 163–187.


This article reappraises the colony of New Australia established in Paraguay by William Lane in 1893. The end of the nineteenth century was a period of prolific community building by radicals, anarchists, and social reformers. Expressive of the communitarian impulses unleashed by the reform movements of the period, the experiment of New Australia was dedicated to a total transformation of society and nothing less than the reform of human character itself. The colony has tended to be examined in terms of its implications for Australia alone. Despite an awareness of the antecedents of the scheme in a tradition of utopian community-building experiments exported from Britain, the British background to the settlement remains relatively neglected. Rescuing the rural reform agendas contained within the project, and re-examining Lane's own reputation, this article considers his motivations in establishing the colony, and the qualities of patriotism and fervent imperialism that came to dominate his outlook. Moreover, it traces the imperial and transnational roots of New Australia to agendas for the renovation of white settler society, and the furthering of ambitions for a ‘new’ white colonist, attuned to life in the tropics. New Australia held different meanings for a white audience in the settler colonies, and for a domestic audience at ‘home’. The article surveys the reputation of the New Australia colonists in Britain, and the hostile and prurient attention attracted by the settlement. This, then, is an article about transplanted ‘Britishness’, Utopia, and rustic escapism. It concludes with an analysis of the memory of the settlement in post-colonial Australia, and dissects the popular literature that emphasized the negative and immoral aspects of those caught up in its communal endeavours.

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Author details

Taylor, Antony