The Othersiders: New Australians in Paraguay (2006)
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.
In 1893, three hundred brave souls set sail from Balmain, Sydney, to establish a utopian socialist paradise in the jungle of Paraguay. The settlement, to be called New Australia, was inspired and led by the charismatic political activist and journalist William Lane.
The Othersiders, a 40-minute work for voices and amplified ensemble, is musical meditation on this audacious experiment. Poems and songs published in the New Australian newsletter are used to capture the spirit surrounding this extraordinary episode in Australian history.
More information below
1. Program note
2. Texts used in The Othersiders
3. Jack Lang's "Australia's Experiment in Communism"
4. Instrumentation and technical specifications
On the morning of July 16, 1893, one of the most curious events in Australian history was about to begin. Three hundred brave souls were preparing to set sail from Sydney to establish a utopian paradise in South America. Led by the journalist and activist William Lane, they were creating a “new” Australia, based on the ideals of equality and mateship—qualities missing, in their opinion, in 1890s Australia. Once in South America and faced with the harsh reality of setting up a community without sufficient financial resources, New Australia soon went into decline—Lane left Paraguay in 1899, and the place was virtually abandoned by 1905.
Although largely forgotten today, the New Australia project generated a lot of excitement in pre-Federation Australia. People on the progressive side of politics were swept up by Lane's ideas and flocked to join the New Australia association. Articles, poems, and songs were written glorifying the New Australia movement, many of them published in the newsletter of the New Australia association. What is striking in the nineteen issues printed between 1892 and 1894 is the energy and idealism that leap from the pages. Yes, the sentiments are naïve at times, but where else can such grandiose dreams be found in Australian history?
The Othersiders is a hommage to all those involved in the project, especially those pioneers who traveled around the world and sacrificed so much for this audacious dream. For this piece, I have chosen poems and songs from the New Australia newsletter that capture the optimistic spirit of the venture. These texts also just happen to be by two of the most famous writers of the time: Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore—who was even to join Lane and his followers in Paraguay in 1896.
The Othersiders is not a traditional music theater piece. It makes no attempt to document the day-to-day events in New Australia’s steady decline, nor does it depict the cast of larger than life characters who wandered onto the New Australian stage. Instead it is an electric song cycle in seven movements. The texts by Lawson and Gilmore are placed into a thoroughly modern context with accompaniment by keyboards/samplers, percussion instruments, and recorded sounds. The piece is scored for three female singers, three samplers/keyboards, three percussionists, and recorded sound.
Formal design of the Othersiders:
I. "New Australia"
Early 1890s, Sydney, Australia: Henry Lawson sits in his study and dreams of a "new" Australia.
March 25, 1891, Barcaldine, Queensland: The shearers' strike is crushed by government troops.
III. "Men of New Australia"
July 16, 1893, Balmain, Sydney: William Lane and the New Australians sail for Paraguay.
IV. "Marching Song"
September 28, 1893, New Australia, Paraguay: The New Australia settlement is established in Paraguay. Trouble starts.
V. "Women of New Australia"
December 1898, Cosme, Paraguay: Mary Gilmore sings a lullaby to her son William, while all around her people are bickering. The New Australia settlement is collapsing.
VI. Vocal Interlude
August 26, 1917, Auckland, New Zealand: William Lane dies at age 55.
VII. "New Australia"
October 23, 1941, Kings Cross, Sydney: Mary Gilmore addresses the Henry Lawson Literary Society on William Lane—50 years after the New Australia association was established.
The Othersiders was commissioned by the Potter Foundation.
POEM: NEW AUSTRALIA (Henry Lawson)
‘Tis the hope for something better than the present or the past;
‘Tis the wish for something better—strong within us till the last.
‘Tis the longing for redemption as our ruined sound descend;
‘Tis the hope of something better that will save us in the end.
POEM: OTHERSIDE (Henry Lawson)
Somewhere in the mystic future, on the road to Paradise,
There’s a very pleasant country that I’ve dreamed, of once, or twice
It has inland towns, and cities by the ocean’s rocky shelves,
But the people of the country differ somewhat from ourselves;
It is many leagues beyond us, and they’ll call it Otherside,
And there is among its people more Humanity than Pride.
Now, a social system never was completed without a flaw,
And among the Othersiders there is love and gold and war.
But if one is fairly beaten he can turn upon the track,
For, in such case there isn’t any shame in going back;
And a broken-hearted mortal never thinks of suicide,
For he finds amongst his brothers more than Humanity than Pride.
Poets sing a simple language that a child might understand,
Yet their songs are sung for ages by the elders of the land,
And the people know that Freedom never shall be wanting guards,
For the foremost in the vanguard waves the banner of the bards.
Oh! The poets march together, and at home in peace abide,
For there is amongst the people more Humanity than Pride.
And when I’m weary, ‘neath a load of “worldly care”,
There are times when I’m longing just to hump my bluey there;
But alone I could not reach it, for the track is barred to one—
I must take the nations with me—all the mankind must go, or none—
And we’d trample one another on the way to Otherside,
For I find among my brothers less Humanity than Pride.
SONG: THE MEN OF THE NEW AUSTRALIA (lyrics by Mary Gilmore)
They are gath’ring in from out of the West,
And in from the Central Plain,
From where the pelican builds her nest
And drought a king doth reign.
Oh, the men of the New Australia
Are ready to cross the sea,
To form a band in a far-off land
And show what me they be;
For the men of New Australia
Have turned from a hopeless strife—
Taken the Right as a guiding light
To lead to a nobler life.
Oh, the men of the New Australia
Have sworn they will live or die,
As men must do when they prove anew
That Truth is not a lie.
And the men who have come together
Are going to live as mates
The world shall see what a man can be
In the New Australia States.
SONG: MARCHING SONG (words by Mary Gilmore)
(verses 1, 2, 7)
Mates, d’you hear glad voices calling,
Calling from a farther land,
Mates, d’you hear strong footsteps falling
Falling on a freeman’s strand,
Falling, calling, calling falling,
In a rhythmic melody,
Calling, falling, falling, calling,
From that land beyond the sea?
Hark! D’you hear sad voices moaning,
In this land we deemed our own,
Can you hear the workers groaning,
‘Neath the weight that bears them down,
Groaning. moaning, moaning, groaning,
By the sheep run of the plough
Groaning. moaning, moaning, groaning,
Earning graves by sweat of brow.
Lo, the land is waiting, yonder,
Where our sheltered homes may rise,
Mates, no longer delve and ponder,
Strike your tents and seek the prize.
Over yonder, over yonder,
Freedom, peace and hope are found,
Pause nor ponder, pause nor ponder
Earth is there the people’s ground
WOMEN OF NEW AUSTRALIA (lyrics by Mary Gilmore)
(verses 3 & 4)
For music of children’s laughter
Rang out through our vessel’s length,
And brought not fear of the “After!”
To lessen and break our strength.
And deep in their heart His blessing
They felt as they said goodbye
To a land where men are cursing
And women and children die.
Extract from I Remember by Jack Lang
Jack Lang, Premier of New South Wales during 1925-1927 and1930-1932, gives a short history of William Lane’s ill-fated experiment for a utopian settlement in Paraguay, South America. The name of this “Working Man’s Paradise” was New Australia.
It is interesting to recall that Australia had an experiment in Communism, twenty four years before the Russians.
The particular brand of Communism, which had its origin in the very fertile brain of an Australian journalist, and led to more than 500 Australians leaving their own country for what was to be a Communist Utopia in South America, had very little in common with Russian Communism.
It was a gentle kind of Communism. It resembled early Christianity much more than the modern brand. It had its origin in the books that were being written on Socialism, telling of the earthly Paradise that could be achieved if all men and women were equal.
We first heard of Lane’s plan for a New Australia in 1892. He had just published a Socialist novel which he called The Working Man’s Paradise and became so wrapped up with the idea that he decided to start one of his own. When it came to swaying people to his ideas, Lane was a regular Savonarola.
After intensive reading, he decided that the only way Utopia could succeed was by setting it up well away from the contamination of the capitalistic world. Australia was not big enough. So his attention turned to South America.
That was how the New Australia Co-operative Settlement Association came to be formed. The basis of it was to be communal ownership, that is pure Communism. The means of production, distribution and exchange were to be owned by the community. All were to be equal. There was to be no capitalism. Lane was going to show the world that Socialism could be achieved before the 19th Century closed.
Those joining up were required to pay a deposit of at least £10, and another £50 before they sailed. More wealthy converts put in bigger sums. There were varying accounts that Lane put in £100, and up to £1000. Lane elected himself Chairman.
Many young people were attracted to the band of Utopians. Mary Gilmore, the poetess, was an ardent follower.
When they had collected sufficient money, Lane sent three experienced bushmen across to South America to negotiate for a grant of land. He insisted that it must be well away from any settlement. The Argentine Government refused to have anything to do with the idea. It had enough problems of its own without encouraging any new-fangled Socialist ideas. If it wanted revolutions, it could manufacture its own without any aid from across the world. So the delegation next turned its attention to Paraguay, which was more broadminded. They were offered 500,000 acres of fertile country free of cost and without taxes. But it was a thousand miles up the River La Plate.
Lane next purchased a barque of some 600 tons, which had been built at Nambucca and singularly enough it was christened the Royal Tar, a rather strange title for the first ship of the Communist Navy.
Early in 1893, the New Australians were all assembled in a camp at Balmain waiting embarkation on the Royal Tar. There were poets, dreamers, a few neurotics, some hefty men from outback, and all in all a strange cross-section of humanity.
Lane was a Quaker by conviction. He was not only against all violence, but also against strong drink as well. Some of his followers were Bohemians. But Lane had no time for any Free Love ideas. He even objected to the men and women mixing on deck after lights out had been sounded. There were disputes before the Royal Tar sailed. There were many after it was on its way. When some of the Communists spent their money in port and became drunk, Lane was most irate and showed it. He insisted that they must bow to his discipline.
His plan was that the New Australians should build their own homes, the communal settlement houses, and grow their own food, make their own clothing and furniture. The women were to be emancipated and given equality with the men in all things. Property was to be shared equally and there were to be no private possessions. That was the theory.
When they left Australia, there had been a Depression. There were to be no Depressions in this New Australia under the Southern Cross. They landed in their New Australia in October, 1893.
Within a few weeks, trouble had started.
On Christmas Day a number of the men went into a native village, drank too much liquor and started to fight on their return to the settlement. Lane called in the Paraguayan police and expelled some of the settlers for drunkenness because they had signed a teetotal pledge before sailing. There was trouble indeed in the Working Man’s Paradise.
Instead of Utopia, New Australia was turning out to be worse than the old Australia.
Some of the original settlers returned to Sydney on the Royal Tar, minus their savings. Still a second contingent was raised. But faction fighting had started in earnest. Those who objected to Lane’s wowser ideas, and despotic ways were in the majority. So he was deposed from the leadership.
Lane then decided to leave New Australia, and start a Second Earthly Paradise a few miles away. He had 46 disciples still following him, and about a dozen children. They called the new settlement Cosme, and it was supposed to regain all the ideals that had been lost in the first venture. But the society that hated capitalism found that it didn’t have sufficient capital. At one stage they were literally starving. But they were the true idealists and Lane had undisputed sway over the new settlement.
Lane stuck it out until 1899 when he resigned his leadership. The settlement struggled along for a few more years. Gradually the settlers either straggled back to their homes in Australia, or married into South American families. Some of their descendants are still there. But they are no longer Communists. On his return to Australia, Lane became editor of the Sydney Worker, but soon drifted off again to New Zealand where he became a leader writer for an anti-Labor paper and an ardent conscriptionist.
Many of his disciples later played prominent parts in Australian politics and literature.
As an experiment in Communism, New Australia was a great disillusionment. They searched for the equality of mankind and could not find it. The theories did not work out in practice. Even Lane found himself drifting into dictatorship. The weak went to the wall while the strong survived. Human nature could not be changed even under conditions that should have been ideal. Still Australia had given the world its first working experiment in Communism.
3 female voices (amplified)
3 keyboards (piano sound)
I. snare, 3 metal bars, crotales, tuned drums, cymbals
II. guiro, 3 metal bars, 2 drums, crotales, tuned drums, cymbals, vibraphone
III. snare, 3 metal bars, crotales, tuned drums, cymbals
Duration: approx. 40 minutes