While it's true that Australia was originally used as a dumping ground for Britain's criminals, for the most part, "criminals" was a code word for "poor people," and it wasn't prison so much as exile. After America's whole War of Independence thing, England was at a loss as to where to stick all their petty criminals. Really serious crimes like capital theft and murder didn't create such a predicament -- people convicted of those crimes were simply sentenced to death or torture. The real problem was what to do with people who stole a loaf of bread or some potatoes because they were hungry. They couldn't very well let those people run around all willy-nilly, or else the population might realize there was some sort of poverty problem.
Unbeknownst to Victorian Londoners, their entire economy ran on scrappy ragamuffins.
So whenever the British authorities found some excuse -- any excuse -- to banish poor people, they gave them a one-way cruise ticket to Australia. Rather than hardass, shank-you-in-your-sleep criminals, Australian convicts were mostly average, working-class folk who committed a public faux pas or failed to show proper respect for The Man. Once in Australia, they generally weren't even subject to that harsh a punishment. More often than not, after a fraction of their sentence, they were released on good behavior and allowed to marry, start their own businesses, and more or less live as normal (albeit with a lot more snakes and crocodiles than they were accustomed to in urban England).
Far from being one giant Guantanamo Bay breeding facility full of terrorists and Hannibal Lecters, early Australia was basically an average colony of white folks from the start. And in a few short generations, it managed to rise like a phoenix from its humble origins in poverty and petty crime, and get its revenge on the world by creating Rupert Murdoch.
Francois Durand/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
He broke out of the green blob.
S Peter Davis is the author of Occam's Nightmare, a book about the history of conspiracy theories and weird ideas. Get it on Amazon, or visit his blog. Jason is an editor for Cracked. His Facebook page is entirely about toilet frogs (starting now).
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