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Great White Fleet

American President Theodore Roosevelt's Great White Fleet, 16 battleships and four destroyers of the United States Navy, all painted white, visited Melbourne (then the federal capital) from Saturday 29 August 1908 until the following Saturday. The fleet had already been to Sydney.

Roosevelt sent the fleet around the world partly to remind Japan that his navy was the world's second biggest, theirs only fifth, and that it could move easily between the Atlantic and Pacific. Japanese vessels had visited in 1903 and 1906, and tension had arisen over both nations' ambitions in the Pacific. Australia's Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, had two reasons for inviting the fleet. First, the restrictive immigration provisions of the White Australia Policy aimed at keeping out the 'yellow peril', so a display of trans-Pacific Anglo-Saxon solidarity was timely. Secondly, Deakin wanted an Australian Navy, an idea not encouraged in London. Australia was expected to rely on the British Navy (which had an Australian squadron) and contribute to its cost.

Formality was minimal, with Melbourne mostly in festival mood for the visit. On the Monday, when the visiting sailors undertook a 6-mile (10-km) march from Port Melbourne to the Royal Exhibition Building by a roundabout route, the crowd was even bigger than for the 1901 inauguration of the Commonwealth.

Brian Carroll