Disillusion, Dystopia and Drays – G.W.W, Pope’s Views on the ‘New Australia’ Experiment

Below, courtesy of archive sleuths Terry Irving and Humphrey McQueen, we reproduce several items which appeared in the trade journal The Australasian Coachbuilder and Saddler in 1894 and which are a highly critical ‘inside’ view of life in the New Australia settlement in Paraguay. The perspective offered is that of one of New Australia founder William Lane’s most outspoken ‘inside’ critics, G. W. W. Pope. A Single Taxer from Adelaide, Pope was an upholsterer by trade. He arrived in Paraguay with the first continent of settlers on the Royal Tar in 1893 and was one of the 81 who seceded from ‘New Australia’ at the end of that year. According to Gavin Souter, Pope, like Lane himself was, by temperament, ‘a very touchy person’.l Even so, Pope’s remarks provide a graphic illustration of the depth of animosity which he and his fellow secessionists soon came to feel towards Lane the self-proclaimed visionary. And alone the way, we learn perhaps more that we would wish to about the peculiarities of Paraguayan vehicle construction!

New Australia Mr. [G.] W. W. Pope, whose interesting letter from New Australia appears in another column, may be remembered by readers of the Coachbuilder as the draughtsman who prepared a drawing of a village phaeton which appeared in this journal about eighteen months since. Mr. Pope is a coach trimmer by trade, and was employed for many years by Messrs. T. Barlow and Sons, of Adelaide. Slackness of trade in Adelaide brought him to Sydney about this time last year, and failing to secure employment at his trade in Sydney Mr. Pope decided to throw in his lot with some friends who were already members of the New Australia Association. He left Sydney in the Royal Tar on her first voyage to South America, full of the enthusiasm which those who were convinced that they were finally out on the ocean sailing for a heaven upon earth, could not have restrained if they had tried. But, alas! that such pleasant dreams should be so short-lived! Mr. Pope and his unfortunate fellow voyagers only saw one side of the medal in “old” Australia. The obverse picture is vividly depicted in his letter. He has learned from dearly bought experience that the lot of those, many of whom for years have occupied comfortable positions in Australia, and all of whom had been able to save at least the minimum of £60 necessary to join the Association, was not after all so very bad. He has probably learned one other important fact that was not reckoned with by the New Australian leaders, namely that a man’s ideals are largely the outcome of his environment, that the ideals of the bushman about whose “honest heart within a rough exterior” so much cant is written are not likely to be the same as the ideals of men of good education. Mr. Pope has kindly furnished us with a drawing of the only vehicle used in Paraguay, which will be published in our next issue.

(From The Australasian Coachbuilder and Saddler, 10 May 1894.)


Ascunsion, Paraguay,
South America, Feb. 9th, 1894

THE EDITOR, Australasian Coachbuilder and Saddler.

DEAR SIR, – I wish to acknowledge receipt of several numbers of the Coachbuilder and Saddler while at the colony of “New Australia,” and to assure you that they were very welcome, as forming almost the only link of connection with the dear “old Australia.” They also reminded me of the many discussions which we had together upon the merits of our scheme, when you so earnestly combated all my arguments in favor of it, and so persistently denied the possibility of success, and then I could not forget the promise I made, that if you should prove to be right in your contention I would acknowledge the fact and own myself wrong. This I do now fully and freely. When I last saw you I was full of trust in our leader, and confidence in my mates, now I am certain that the one was utterly and entirely unworthy of trust, and the confidence was to a great extent misplaced in the others. No doubt the newspapers will have informed you of the state of affairs very fully. I need only say that our leader Lane turned out to be hopelessly untruthful and then a bully; he assumed all the powers of a dictator, refused to allow us either a voice or vote in the government of ourselves, or to criticise his actions. This naturally created dissatisfaction, and then he and his satellites, mostly drunken, obscene and immoral bushmen (I do not wish to class all bushmen as such, far from it) armed themselves with revolvers and made continual threats to shoot any person who differed with the great King Billy. Women were treated in a most barbarous manner should they happen to speak to any of the class mentioned above in terms derogatory of Lane’s management. They were in many cases treated to a specimen of bush obscenity such as could only be formed by the foul and filthy mouths of degraded men in an entirely ungoverned stave. The treatment of women in New Australia is a scandalous disgrace to the name of Australians, and would justify any government taking such measures as would prevent their being brought out here. Life became at last unbearable there, so eighteen families and thirteen single men cleared out with what they could get, averaging one-fifth of what they had paid in, after having worked for from three to five months for their food only. That is the practical example of the sentiment “each man a brother,” a very pretty thing to sing about and that is all. Well, these people had not sufficient money to take them out of the country, and there is absolutely no chance to earn a living as tradesmen in it; there is no trade, so the majority have had to go into a government colony, where I fear their lot will be a hard one. Every European with whom I have been able to speak here in Ascunsion considers they have gone to a living death, but it was their only chance to avoid starvation and they have tackled it like the good brave men and women that they are. What an infinite amount of human misery might be saved if one only had the money to take them all back to the old Australia, where they had been able to live and rear their families decently and in comfort, and in addition save the minimum of £60 demanded by the association as the price of a share entitling a man to have a hand in the great work which was to reform the world. What fools these mortals be! Two other families have left since the great migration, one of them being that of a trustee of the concern, and one of its hardest workers since the conception of the idea four or five years ago. He saw the rottenness of the fraud and refused any longer to be associated with it. I said the conception of the idea, that was wrong, as the idea and every detail of the scheme was originated by a Frenchman named Chabit just fifty years ago, and was plagiarised by Lane from a book called “Icaria,” by Shaw, a well-known writer on socialistic subjects. Anyhow Paraguay is no country for a white man to work in. There is very little trade carried on in it, and the demand for skilled labor almost nil. What there is is paid for at the rate of four to five dollars a day, which sounds high until you find out that the dollar is really sevenpence-halfpenny (7½d.). To-day a pound sterling is equal to 32½dollars, and as wages are paid in paper and everything brought into the country has to be paid for in gold, you will see at once that the workman’s lot is not a happy one. The heat, too, is intense. There are people here from North Queensland, from Bourke, and the interior of South Australia, and all agree that they have not known anything like it. The moisture in the atmosphere is excessive. You can sit still in the shade and perspire at every pore. There is very little chance to get back to Australia from this place, as there first the 1000 miles of river to reach Buenos Ayres [sic] and then no other means than that of going first to England, which makes a most expensive voyage and can, hardly be thought of by those who have already given up all they had to the Association. I am waiting here for the arrival of the next batch, who I understand left Adelaide at Christmas and amongst whom I expect some friends. After seeing them I shall immediately make for Buenos Ayres, there, to try and find something to do until the help arrives which will enable me to retrace my foolish steps. In conclusion, I beg you to accept my assurance that anything you can do or say or write dissuading people from being led into following us on our “wild goose chase” will be in the cause of humanity, and will entitle you to the thanks of all who are interested in the welfare of their fellow creatures and certainly of yours faithfully.


(From The Australasian Coachbuilder and Saddler, 10 May 1894.)


In accordance with my promise to keep an eye open for anything of interest I am sending you a drawing of the only kind of vehicle in use in Paraguay. They are not likely to be introduced into Australia, but I send it as a curiosity. One feature of them is that there is not a bolt or nail or peg in the whole structure. They are built of hardwood. The tenons are not even pegged, the whole thing soon becomes movable in every joint. The front bottom sides thicken at the middle and the pole goes right through to the back, the cross reaches in the body are mortised through the pole and so the thing holds together. The body rests on the axle, which is about 6in. thick, and is lashed there with raw hide, which goes around the cross reaches. The wheels range from 6ft. 6in. to 7ft.; they have no tires, that is, only a few have them; the spokes protrude a 1/4 or 3/8 in. through the felloe, but they are tightened up by a good big wedge, driven from the inside of the felloe. The body is about 4ft. wide, and the backs of the hubs grind against the bottom sides all the time. They have four or six bullocks. The driver sits inside and uses a long light bamboo, which is suspended in the ring hanging over the front. In the end of the pole is a small spike for the leaders, another piece is fixed at right angles for the middle bullocks, and he has a short stick wherewith to prod the polers. They do not use any of the brutality with which the Australian bullocky is credited, but they get a lot of work out of the animals.

I should have mentioned that the felloe does not come down to the shoulder on the spoke within about half an inch, the object being I imagine that when a wheel gets very rickety a man may with a hammer or the back of an axe tighten it all up together.



(From The Australasian Coachbuilder and Saddler, 10 June 1894)


  1. Souter, G. (1981), A Peculiar People: The Australians in Paraguay, Sydney University Press, p.Sl.