Timeline: India-Australia Interface

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Timeline: India-Australia Interface



Until quite recently,” write Thorn and Raymond “the true dimension of these [of Homo sapiens – the modern man of Asia] achievements were barely appreciated.  The domination of Western culture and technology in human affairs over the past 500 years had one insidious side effect – it lulled the Western mind into an indifference to the Eastern Hemisphere, and to the civilisation of half the world’s people.  Even the rise of anthropology and archaeology, which began in Europe, tended to maintain a Eurocentric view of the world, based on the theories of human development that were defined there more than a century ago.  As to East’s own awareness, that has been stifled by centuries of Western influence – cultural, political, and economic.  Only now, as that huge reservoir of Human energy and ideas begins to bubble again, is the evidence emerging of a truly remarkable cavalcade of human evolution.”[1]  




India-Australia inter-relation is very ancient beginning with the formation of this earth.  It began six hundred million years ago with formation of the ancient Gondwana Land.  Australia is supposed to be one of the oldest land-mass, and so should India be, as part of the Gondwana Land.  Gondwana Land, the land of Gonds, itself is named after Gondwana region where Indian Gond tribe lives (Adibashis or Aborigines).  After the break-up of Gondwana, India moved and collided with Asia forming the high Hindukush-Himalayan Chain, carrying along the materials from Australian region.  Fossil of marine life found in Australian waters have been found in Himalayas and Tibet.



Second contact point is the tribes moving out of Africa (100,000 years ago), passing through India (80, 000 years ago) before arriving in Australia (60,000 years ago).  But according to the recent ‘gene research’, that was announced on 16th January 2013, on the national T.V. that evidence of Indian gene amongst Australians establishes another Indian contact which happened about 4,000 years ago.  This would have been before the arrival of Aryans in India.  European contact with Australia is only 400 years old.



India was supplier of essentials items to Egypt in 2500 BC.  [Over 4000 years ago?]  Indian trade with Middle East and Rome is also very old following the Monsoon Route. India’s cultural influence spreads right up to the edge of Australia. In 100 AD Kaundanya introduced Indian culture in Cambodia.  Sri Vijaya Empire of South East Asia, Djambi, Majapihit and Balinese kingdoms in Indonesia, all had basic Indian culture of the time.  


Most people in Australia communicate in Indo-European.  When Europeans fist arrived here there were 300 languages, but now there are only 150 [Andrew Dalby 1998].  Austro-languages which can be traced around South East Asia and Eastern India is well recorded.  In India alone there would be over three millions who speak the language.  This has also filtered into in the past like the names of the vegetables that are indigenous to India [K. T. Achaya] 



Europe depended on India for most of its necessities like spices, oils, textiles, silk, sugar, tea, gem stones, jewelry, perfumes, etc.  Since Greek and Roman Times it was a free trade through the land and sea.  In 7th Century Islam appeared and Islamic Kingdoms soon encircled  Europe.  Only way out for them was to find alternative routes avoiding the Islamic Empire.  They started looking for new sea-routes. 


With advancing land claims, the Pope divided the world in 1530 between Portugal and Spain under the Treaty of Tordesillas; and Asia fell within Portuguese realm.  Pope had given half the world to Spain and the other half to Portugal.  Soon the competition began for the land grab.  Looking for a direct route to India, Columbus discovered America [1492-93],  Diaz reached Cape of Good Hope [1487], Cobral found Brazil after being blown off course on his way to India [1500], Vasco da Gama reached India [1497] and Henry Hudson lost his life finding the North West Passage to India [1611] as did Captain Cook after his failed attempt to find North-East Passage [1778].  After da Gama reached East African coast the Arabs refused to pilot his ship to India because Arabian Sea was their domain.  It was an Indian pilot who finally brought him to Calicut.



This is another term that is only considered in Eurocentric term.  ‘Patal’ is an Indian term from mythology but the West uses it to relate to the port of Pattala in Sindh (present Pakistan) from where Alexander sailed for the Middle East at the end of his campaign.. 


According to Vishnu Puran, Bhagwat Puran and others, there are three worlds; Swarga (heaven) above, Marta (Earth) in the middle and Patal bellow.  Narada, one of the mythical sages of India, mentions that Patal is more beautiful then heaven.    


In the western text it first appears in Pliny the elder’s notes (23-79 AD) when he mentions the Island of Patala.  Strabo (64 BC-24 AD) also mentions of Patalene.  But he goes even further saying that India extends to Patala, south of Equator where the sun’s shadows fall southwards. 


Amongst the early Christians it was believed that the Equator was the ring of fire and the Christians were forbidden to cross that.  When Ptolemy (100 AD) produced world’s first map, it was possibly based on what he learned from the travellers.  South of Equator in his map is misleading.  Indian Ocean is shown as an inland ocean and Africa and the East join as a land mass.   


Existence of Australia as a land mass to balance the mass on the north of Equator was an old theory.  In the maps of 16th Century, Terra Australis Incognito is often shown along with Regio Patalis and Java le Grande.  If the Indian explanation of Patalis is explored it could be assume that the Indians had some vague knowledge of the land of the south of equator, even if as a myth.  The seven layers of Patal can also be different climatic zones of the southern hemisphere.



Indians were the master of the ocean and they were great ship builders.  In Victoria and Albert Museum there is an illustration of Indian ships of 500 BC.  On Purva Samudra (Eastern Sea – perhaps Bay of Bangal) they had complete control and their ships with outriggers reached up to China.  Boats of indigenous Nicobaris and Andamanis also use outrigger arms on their boats.  India had the best timber (teak) and cocoanut fiber for stitching the planks in those days.  Parsi ship builders were well known for their craft.  In 18th century Indian ship building was the largest in the world.  400 ships were built for Royal navy alone from Bombay Dockyards.  HMS Cutter Mermaid was built at Calcutta (Kolkata) and bought for £ 2,000 by governor Macquarie to survey the Australian coast, to fill the gaps left by Cook, Bass and Flinders.  HNS Minden was built in Bombay (Mumbai) that fought in the Battle of Chesapek Bay and Francis Scott Key was on board this ship when he wrote his immortal poem that became the National Anthem of USA.  Other ships that are worth mentioning –


1795 HMS Hindustan


1798 HMS Dromodory; Brought Governor Macquarie to Australia in 1809


1805 HMS Ceylon


1813 HMS Cornwallis; Treaty of Nanjing signed on board in 1842


1824 HMS Asia; fought in the battle of Novarina 1827



All colonial powers of 17th century were keen to ‘own’ India because it not only had the raw materials but had the technical knowledge to use them for manufacturing items of export to the rest of the world [Unlike Australia in this century].  Within the conflict of European nations it was England that won India and the Dutch retained Indonesia.  The result was that English ‘copied and destroyed’ the Indian industry and transferred the technology to their home base, giving it a different identity.   They destroyed the shipping industry, textile industry, wool industry and others by creating their centres in Manchester, Yorkshire and Paisley (Scotland)


While EIC had one-way trade, that is, only taking from India, VOC had two way trade – they produced textile in India for Indonesia and brought spices to India.  As already mentioned It was India who managed for Britain the affairs in far East and Pacific regions.  Maori Wars of New Zealand were financed from India, like many others.


It was from Simla, in the summer-time, that the British supervised the eastern half of the Empire.  Upon the power and wealth of India dependent the security of the eastern trade, of Australia and New Zealand, of the great commercial enterprise of the Far East . . .and the preoccupation of the generals in Simla was important to the whole world.[2]



East India Company (E I C) was founded in 1600 for exploitation of trade with India and the Far East when Queen Elizabeth I granted a fifteen years Charter with a monopoly of trade.  Later King James renewed the charter on permanent basis; and King William gave the right of sovereignty. 


1579 saw the emergence of another small but ambitious nation in Europe – the founding of the Dutch Union of Utrecht, the land of expert sailors and ship builders.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was formed in 1602.  They soon established themselves in Indonesia and later moved to India.  Pelsaert established his Indigo factory at Agra.


King Henry the Navigator of Portugal, promoted new discoveries and Vasco de Gama found the sea route to India.   With the help of an Indian pilot from the kingdom of Milindi (in East Africa) he finally reached Calicut in 16?.


Goa became a centre for training of seafarers under Portuguese. Magellan had his training there whose ship was the first to circumnavigate the world, as did the early Dutch who laid the foundation of VOC.   



The first Fleet from England arrived in 1788.  In 1606 Duyfken, a Dutch ship under Janszoon, was the first European to land on Australian soil.  First English ship to land on Australian soil was Roebuck in 1699.  Captain Cook on his Endeavour arrived only in 1770 and chartered the East Coast of Australia and claimed it for England, calling it the Terra Nullius.  



As already mentioned, British interest in East of the Suez was controlled from India.  It was the retiring British army officers and public servants who contributed towards early gentlemen-settlers in Australia and New Zealand.  In New Zealand some of the most important location in big cities have Indian connection – Kashmir Hills in Christchurch, Khyber Pass in Auckland and Khandala in Wellington, where every street is named after Indian cities.  Similar thing also happened in Australia where cities like Lucknow and Delli appeared.  They even brought their own servants and furniture from India [Richard Clough].  It is also said that the Tasmanian heun pine furniture were also fabricated in India in early years.


Mac Arthur started his wool industry with Bengal sheep but they were no good in Australian climate.  He finally managed merino sheep from South Africa.  But he and his gardener successfully experimented and introduced Indian plants in Australia [Richard Clough].  Akbar, the Great Mughal, introduced ‘chaltah’ (Dillenia Speciosa) fruit tree from Bengal as a garden plant because of its magnificent flower [Sylvia Crowe].   East India Company used this in their Company Gardens (Company Bagh).  One can find them in Darwin, along with avenues of ‘Amla’ (Phyllanthus Emlica) trees, Fish Tail Palms, Bhindi Tree (Thespesia Populnea), even a Champa (in Sydney), etc.  If one searches carefully in the Northern Terrirory one can find Aparajita (Clitoria Ternates) which could be a native along with the plant that produces seeds (ratti) which is used by gold smiths in India for weighing gold.  In Canberra perhaps most looked after tree is the Deodar Cedar (dev-daru – the tree of Gods) in the Yarralumla Government house.   

In recent time thousands of Neem trees (margosa) have been planted in Northern Territory to improve the soil and counteract the termites.   Finally, the importance of sugar cane plantations are well appreciated in Australia.



In early 1900 the divided colonies of Australia joined together to form the federation.  Thus appeared the necessity for a new federal capital.  It was early in 1906 that Australia promoted the idea for the new capital at Canberra at London Planning Congress., and in the same year, later, England announced the setting up of the new Capital of India at New Delhi.  While the capital of New Delhi was the show of Imperial power, capital at Canberra continued with contradiction and conflicts.  It is the future that will show whether the highly dramatic New Delhi with its urban approach finally succeeds or the open-planed heroic composition of Canberra in its landscaped setting.  New Delhi finished in 1931 while the Parliament House at Canberra finished in 1988 in what is left is still claimed as the Bush Capital.   


During the opening of the Provisional Parliament House in Canberra, in 1927, four poplar trees were planted which are still there.  They had the plaques with names of the delegates of the representatives of England, Canada, South Africa and India.  The trees are still there but the commemorative plaques have been removed.  At New Delhi four columns were erected, in pink sandstone representing UK, Canada, South Africa and Australia and they still proudly stand for everyone to see.



Walter Burley Griffin, who designed Canberra, was disappointed by his treatment by Australia and finally left for India in 1936.  From there he wrote to his wife in Australia that “As to my next incarnation, I cannot think of anything better in this poor old world than the job I am now on, though I fear the fixed star of my entelechy did not indicate that.  My physical appearance does not suggest much of the Indian, but I have a hunch that my architectural prediction must have come from Indian experience.[3]   


When Griffin went to Lucknow he found functional applied decoration and ornamentation, in vogue there, most suitable to his architectural expression.  He even wrote to Marion – “Without being very ‘ideal’, it has charm everywhere, something totally lacking in Australia and in America, except where nature is free from man.  In the buildings of all sorts, I recognize most of the ‘motifs’ I have ever used or ever thought of in my life time of practice of architecture.” [4]


It is a sad end to the most magnificent city created on Australian soil.  In July 1975 NCDC organized a two stage design competition for the memorial to Walter Burley Griffin.  Major requirement of the competition was – “It should not dominate or cause major interference with the skyline through its form, colour, material or texture and should cause least possible disturbance to the natural land form.[5] 


After leaving Australia, he was always critical of the western approach to contemporary architecture, where nature played the second fiddle to humans’ all powerful world.  In the Pioneer Newspaper of 9 January 1937[6], for which Griffin designed the press building at Lucknow, he wrote , as quoted by Paul Sprague – “The western world, having concentrated on making nature the servant of man, is tending in ‘modernistic’ architecture towards constituting. . . frank utilitarianism [as] the sole test of beauty.  For a civilization that has allowed totally un-architectural offices, factories, warehouses, docks and railways to loom most large and dwarf other edifices, this ideal is perhaps praiseworthy reaction [against]…[the] absence of all principles save size and ostentation.  But for . . .[India] where religion is not forgotten and where also industrialism has not yet grown large and engrossed other interests, materialistic modernism would be unnatural and occasional intrusion of it even into the architecture of the industrial centres here are hardly happy.[7]


One comment of Griffin in relation to Canberra, which he claimed to have said visiting Akbars ‘new’ capital of Fatehpur-Sikri is – “How altogether pusillanimous, puny was the effort of the civilization of Australia towards a Continental Capital compared with this perfectly conceived and as perfectly completed monumentally, and then replaced with another in a fraction of the time consumed by merely talking about Canberra.”[8] 



[1] Alan Thorne & Robert Raymond; Man on the Rim, Angus & Robertson Publishers, London, 1989; p 11

[2]  Nan Morris; Pax Britannica; p 263

[3] Paul Kruty & Paul Sprague; Two American Architects in India, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, 1997; p 9

[4] Ibid, 1997; p  84

[5] Walter Burley Griffin Memorial competition documents, National Capital Development Commission, article 12,  p 28.

[6] Pioneer was an independent news paper for which Churchill was once the reporter.  It is now a part of a bigger consortium of publication.

[7]Paul Kruty and Paul Sprague; Two American Architects in India, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, p 83

[8] Ibid, p