This is a history of port development, shipping services, and economic growth in Queensland. It is also an attempt to define the emergence of a sense of Australian economic nationalism. The history of the ports is considered in itself and as the product of the expansion of the economy and shipping, while the studies of the ports and shipping provide detailed examples of the argument about nationalism which is intended to unify the work. The result is a relatively straightforward discussion of ports and shipping, together with a selective treatment of Queensland's economic history. This approach is not an academically orthodox one. American historians, like Turner, Beard, and Hofstadter, have established an impressive tradition of speculative cultural history that is concerned with the meaning of the American past. Yet, until recently, Australian historians have usually modelled their accounts on English examples which have been as skilful as American studies, but less concerned with the purpose of their national experience. Trevelyan, Clapham, and Asa Briggs, for example, have written excellent but comparatively empirical history. This work is an experiment which aims at combining the strengths of American and English historical techniques to interpret the Australian past. It is a monographic history of the Queensland ports as well as a much broader treatment of some of the widest issues in Australian history.
This is primarily an economic history of the ports. Politically, some aspects of port history such as the evolution of port administration have been given a fair amount of attention, yet these are ultimately related back to the ports' worst economic dilemma in the period—their need to move to deep water. Port development was a colourful and often exciting affair, but the personal angle of port history has also been left to one side, and some of the most interesting questions about the ports still remain to be answered. What, for instance, was the exact influence of the port engineers and administrators on politicians in forming port policies? A general answer is given in the text but the full story still needs to be told.
The discussion of port administration has been restricted to the Queensland ports and cross-references to other ports have been confined to Sydney, Melbourne, and some English ports. This was partly because of the surprising lack of relevant historical studies of other Australian and overseas ports, but more importantly, it is one of my main points that port development in Queensland was tangled inextricably with much wider political and economic problems. It would seem to be inherent in the nature of a port that its historical connection with the hinterland is the single most important determinant of the form of port administration.
Otherwise, most stress has been placed on the economic reasons why ports succeeded or failed in the long run, so the early years in each port are dealt with briefly. Many small ports were set up on Queensland's coast after 1850 but what has been taken as most important here is why they survived. Port development was invariably based on hinterland exports, so the account of Queensland's economic growth has been specially tailored to suit it to explaining this problem. Questions about exports, producing industries, and regional trade have been emphasized, while urban construction, and even the import trade, have been passed over. In the treatment of the ports' shipping services there are two limitations. Firstly, there is a shortage of accurate historical information about shipping freight rates, and, as Geoffrey Blainey has noted, also about the Australian shipping services. Secondly, in assessing port efficiency emphasis has been placed on berthage and port depths as short-run indicators of capability, but the long-term issue of how port placement was influenced by the form of port administration has been taken as the more important criterion.
Lastly, in the discussion of the economy and the shipping services, only those features which were relevant to port development or to the question of nationalism have been brought out. No attempt has been made to write a history of waterside unionism. Instead, the special conditions which made the ports such troublesome areas of industrial militancy are discussed, as militancy directly affected the ports, and as it can be seen as a particular expression of a wider nationalist opposition to unconditional economic growth. Periodization has been based on the basic phases of economic development. The political reasons for breaking the account at 1900, 1918, and 1939 are obvious, but the choice of 1885 might be disputed. Finally, the discussion of the structure and timing of growth may be partly erroneous because of the lack of published historical material on the Queensland economy. All the economic statistics referred to in the text and not otherwise acknowledged are derived from the relevant physical production figures in the Statistical Registers. It is emphasized that at times they are only crude estimates.
So much for reservations. A few words about the work's methodological basis may be helpful however. In Stuart Hughes's estimation each of the leading figures in Western social science between 1890 and 1930 stressed the need for something more than a rigorous scientific method in their disciplines. Croce, Mannheim, and Weber had different ideas about what this extra-rational procedure should involve, but they each chose to step past the barriers of orthodox reason. Croce took pains to warn historians against writing what he termed philological history—uncritical history that reproduces the past in its own terms and lacks contemporary relevance. Camus later made a similar point when he condemned purely historical thought as nihilistic. The element of "something more" in this study is my argument about Australian nationalism.
To conclude: Australian port history is almost an untouched field and regionalism has been specially influential in Queensland's past. This book places the ports in the foreground of the state's economic development, as a vital part of the regional transport systems, and examines their history as a case study of the growth of Australian economic nationalism in Queensland.