William Lane (September 6, 1861 - August 26, 1917) was a pioneer of the Australian labor movement and leader of New Australia, an intentional community founded by Australian working class people in Paraguay.
He was born in Bristol, England, and died in Auckland, New Zealand. As a youth he migrated to Canada, then to the USA, where he worked first as a printer, then as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press (1881), there meeting his future wife Ann MacGuire. In 1885 they migrated to Brisbane, Australia, where Lane immediately got work as a feature writer for the weekly Queensland Figaro, then as a columnist for the Brisbane Courier and Evening Telegraph, writing under a number of pseudonyms ("Lucinda Sharpe", who some consider to be the work of Annie Lane, and "Sketcher").
A life-long teetotaller, in 1886 he created an Australia-wide sensation by spending a night in the Brisbane lock-up disguised as a drunk, and subsequently reporting the conditions of the cells as "Henry Harris".
With the growth of the Australian labor movement, Sketcher's columns, especially his "Labour Notes" in the Evening Telegraph, became increasingly an outlet for the Trades Hall, and Lane himself was to be seen at meetings supporting all manner of popular causes, speaking out with his "American twang" against repressive laws and practices, on the one hand, and the Chinese on the other.
After becoming the de facto editor of the Courier, Lane departed in November 1887 to found the weekly The Boomerang, "a live newspaper, racy, of the soil", in which pro-worker themes and lurid racism were brought to a fever-pitch by both "Sketcher" and "Lucinda Sharpe". He became a powerful supporter of Emma Miller and the women's suffrage movement. A strong proponent of Henry George's Single Tax Movement, Lane became increasingly committed to a radically alternative society, and dropped the Boomerang for its private ownership issues. At about this time Australian writer Henry Lawson was an employed journalist on Boomerang.
In May 1890 he began the community-funded Brisbane weekly The Worker, in which the tone became increasingly threatening towards the employers, the government, and the British Empire itself. The defeat of the 1891 Australian shearers' strike convinced Lane that there would be no real social change without a completely new society, and The Worker increasingly became the organ of his New Australia utopian idea.
Working Man's Paradise, an allogorical novel by William Lane written in support of the shearers involved in the 1891 Shearer's Strike, was published early in 1892. In the novel Lane articulated the belief that anarchism is the noblest social philosophy of all. Through the novel's philosopher and main protagonist he relates his belief that society may have to go through a period of State socialism to achieve the higher ideal of Communist anarchism. Mary Gilmore, a New Australia colonist and later a celebrated Australian writer, said in one of her letters "the whole book is true and of historical value as Lane transcribed our conversations as well as those of others".
New Australia ColonyEdit
Contriving a split in the Australian labour movement between those who went on to form the Australian Labor Party and the permanently disaffected, Lane refused the Queensland Government's offer of a grant of land on which to create a utopian settlement, and began an Australia-wide movement for the creation of a new society elsewhere on the globe, peopled by rugged and sobre Australian bushmen and their proud wives.
Eventually Paraguay was decided upon, and Lane and his family and several hundred acolytes from New South Wales,Queensland and South Australia departed Mort Bay in Sydney in the "Royal Tar" on the 1st of July 1893.
New Australia soon had its crisis, brought on by the issues of inter-racial relationships (Lane singled out the Guarani as racially taboo) and alcohol. Lane's dictatorial manner soon offsided many in the community, and by the time the second boat-load of utopians arrived from Adelaide a year later, Lane had left with a core of faithful to form a new colony nearby called Cosme.
Eventually Lane became completely disillusioned with the process, and returned to Australia in 1899, from whence he went with his family to New Zealand. After an initial depression, he soon refound his old verve as a pseudonymous feature-writer for the New Zealand Herald ("Tohunga"), only this time as ultra-conservative and pro-Empire. His racism turned ever towards Asia, the First World War saw him develop the most extreme anti-German sentiments imaginable. He died in 1917 whilst still working for the Herald, much-admired, having lost one son Charles at a cricket match in Cosme in Paraguay, and another Donald on the first day of the ANZAC landings (April 25, 1915) on the beaches of Gallipoli.
- Gavin Souter's account of Lane and New Australia in his A Peculiar People
- Peter Bruce's thesis (Univ Sydney) The Journalistic Career of William Lane.
- Lane, William (1892) Working Man's Paradise - a novel written to support the strikers during the Shearer's Strike of 1891
- Larry Petrie (1859-1901) - Australian Revolutionist? by Bob James
- Whitehead, Anne (1997) Paradise Mislaid - in Search of the Australian Tribe of Paraguay University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia
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