One of the things that happens when an area goes through Overshoot is that populations will sometimes respond by picking everything up and move somewhere else (other options include dwindling, internal war or other forms of collapse). While it’s certain that this will occur somewhere during our current process of Overshoot (which is more or less global in scope), I’ll look at the specific potential of an Indonesian mass migration to Australia. In this post, I’ll look at the similarities and differences to this possibility of three past mass migrations and in one case a theoretical one. This is a broad analysis as opposed to a detailed one.
The broad characteristics of this migration would be:
- North-South Migration
- staging point of the North Coast (for further expansion)
- Multiple hops as opposed to one via long distance Sea travel
- Established population on the other end
- Fuelled by overpopulation
- in a decline phase
- The North Coast is a very inhospitable place for agriculture, by Indonesians and Australians
- Potential military invasion and a large (in the millions) population movement
1) The Austronesian Expansion
The colonisation of Islands as far east as Easter Island and Madagascar, is the main migration (non-western) in the Asia-Pacific’s history via Sea.
· Fuelled by population growth
· Long distances travelled by Sea
· Done by the ancestors of Indonesia’s current population
· Variety of environments and land types encountered
So, as can be seen the Austronesian expansion shares some important traits, not least of which is the shared people as well as a potentially similar technology (once motors pass away).
· West-East migration rather the North-South
· Mostly to uninhabited islands
· The majority of Islands were fertile or had good access to food
· Generally, only small amounts of people were moving at any one time; say by the hundreds or thousands in any one year as opposed to tens of thousands.
However, these differences are quite big and the difference of scale for how many people involved completely changes the logistics and organisations involved, the size of ships needed as well as the lack of previous settlements.
Verdict: While it does share the large distances involved, this migration was more the colonisation of virgin land or in some cases a slow process of interbreeding with the locals rather than the displacement of another population. Also, the northern coast of Australia was continually visited but never settled by the Austronesians. This marks the Austronesian expansion as an unsuitable model of a potential Indonesian mass migration.
2) Why it’s called Anglo-Saxon
Overly simplified summary: The decline of the Roman empire left Roman Britain weakened and under constant Pictish assault, as well as a large famine and plagues. So they hired Saxon mercenaries to defend themselves, purportedly to bury the dead as well. Said mercenaries liked the place, so after two invasions (the guy who Arthur is based of stopped the first one) they took over and then interbred with the locals while dramatically changing the culture (e.g. back to paganism instead of staying Christian). More a cultural change than an ethnic change, but we can treat it as ethnic to explore possibilities.
- Happened during an Overshoot period of history
- Happened to a peripheral part of an imperial system as that system declined
- Happened to a settled area
The overall context from the human element is effectively the same, no small thing. It can clearly be seen why a comparison is so readily drawn between this example and our vision of the future.
- East-West migration rather than a North-South
- Britain is really small compared to Australia, e.g. the Woomera test range (in South Australia) is as big as England and used to be twice as big
- The north coast is relatively infertile (as in barely farmable) compared to England and natural land routes out of it to the rest of Australia are through deserts and/or mountains
- No equivalent to the Picts, however famine and plague is possible.
- Completely different motivators, as far as I’m aware the Saxons weren’t overpopulated and were just opportunists
While it clearly shares the human context, as seen above an equally (if not more) important element is completely different, the environment and natural world in which this process took place is very different to Australia’s.
Verdict: Shares the context of our situation and while there are only three similarities, they are important similarities. However the differences are equally massive and affect both sides e.g. their aren’t going to be many locals who are going to support the invasion compared to the Saxon invasion, who were supported by several cities who rebelled and aligned with the Saxons. There also lacks the positive feedback loop in the initial stage to reinforce their migration by bringing more easily farmable land under control with each step. While useful, large differences exist and need to be kept in mind because they are potential game-changers.
3) Failed Greenland Norse colonisation of Vinland (America) and a successful alternative history version, similar to Britains colonisation of America and Australia.
The Norse Greenland colony shows the importances of having a well-resourced and equipped staging point if the journey can’t be done in one go. British outposts along the way for supplies and way stations helped the white settlement of Australia. The Vikings abandoned their settlement in Vinland due to a variety of factors, lack of equipment, support, numbers, hostile natives and problems back in Greenland which prevented adequate support. Britains colonisation was under entirely different circumstances and didn’t suffer most of these problems, such as over 90% of the natives being killed by disease and therefore not putting up major resistance. The successful alternative has a concerted attempt by the Norse (non-Greenland included) to colonise Vinland, using Greenland and Iceland as way stations.
- Has the jumping points, similar to the role the North coast would play
- Greenland’s habitability is the closest to the North Coasts compared to all the other alternatives. Note that the climate cycle (on the 100-year ranges) favoured the Norse in Greenland.
- Distances are in the same realm rather than being different by magnitudes.
- Is to a settled area
- A concerted effort is a possibility
The closest of the scenarios surveyed so far, superficially this looks like an appropriate model.
· Neither population is in a similar position as their counterparts, e.g the Norse weren’t overpopulated and the Native Americans weren’t in decline
· East-West migration instead of a North-South
· Wasn’t a period of great change, among which the dominant transport option is in decline.
The Vikings could rely on most of their boats and the underlying tech, the modern world doesn’t have this luxury and since boats are a relatively complex technology (compared to feet and carts) which require appropriate infrastructure to build, run and maintain, not traits that facilitate mass usage during catabolic collapse. With fuel supplies declining, it will be increasingly harder for standard maritime operations, let alone the successful settlement of the North coast, which would require supply runs and boats taken from other operations, since new ones can’t be built quickly and sail based ships will still be redeveloping. In their own way, these differences are important.
Verdict: While this scenario is the closest, there are still large gaps and to succeed the alternative history required the Norse to unite behind this single goal and bend their power towards it, which requires a strong stable government. In current terms it would mean that the Indonesians would have to reallocate significant resources during catabolic collapse (unlike feet, fleets have to be built) which isn’t a trivial task. Also, while Greenland was in its habitable phase of its many cycles, the northern coast doesn’t have a habitable phase as its problems are to do with the soil and wildlife rather than climate.
- All of these past migrations were East-West or West-East rather than North-South, this is a massive difference. Climate and biome types (e.g. desert, tundra, taiga, grassland, forest etc) changes slowly or not at all when travelling East-West (assuming altitude stays the same) but changes rapidly when moving North-South. for a full discussion on how this affects technology and population movement I recommend Guns, Germs and Steel (by Jared Diamond). This means that an Indonesian migration would have to either skip areas (like Europeans skipped to South Africa) or spend a long time adapting, which would require a good transport and communications network to use all of their options, since no one place will have them all
- The Austronesians annually travelled to Northern Australia but never settled there for two reasons. First, the Northern coast isn’t a good farming area, its barely marginal and its telling that 50 years of Industrial agriculture has failed to succeed, and if any farming system can ignore the negative local conditions it’s the Industrial system (since that’s a large part of its design). Second, due to the effect mention in the paragraph above, the Austronesians who travelled to Australia lacked the appropriate skills, crops and animals that were only available further north. Since this is mostly solved the Indonesians (and hey, potentially the New Guineans as well) will certainly settle the Northern Coast (well, bits of it, since large sections are uninhabitable except for hunter-gatherers). I’d guess at a population of around 10-50 thousand with the lower range more likely.
Summary: None of the historical examples are fully adequate to examine a potential Indonesian mass migration because all have major differences, and since all these factors affect each other, the similarities aren’t actually as good indicators as a glance would show. This doesn’t mean they’re useless examples, but is has to be recognised that as Australia is also a continent, the differences it causes among human patterns are just as great as those between Europe, Africa or Asia. The human patterns, structures and processes of Europe (or any other continent) are an imperfect model for human patterns, structures and processes in Australia. As Overshoot progresses we will see these differences manifest as the fossil fuels that have been used to ignore environmental conditions go away in the wind.