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Lands of Red and Gold
(LORAG) is an ongoing work of Alternate History
by Jared of AlternateHistory.com
(previously the author of the Decades of Darkness
The premise behind Lands of Red and Gold
is that the serendipitous mutation of a native Australian plant
during the Neolithic enabled the development of agricultural and later urban civilizations on the Australian landmass, similar to those in ancient China, the Middle East and Mesoamerica.
The timeline starts several millennia ago, when a tribe of Australian aborigines
begin to domesticate a local crop called the red yam (Dioscorea chelidonius
) in the Murray River basin. This results in the development of a sedentary culture based on irrigated agriculture and the raising of waterfowl. Gradually, the knowledge of agriculture spreads to neighboring tribes, and by 2500 BCE a genuine civilization emerges, complete with cities, complex social structures, and centralized political rule.
Over the following millennia this civilization waxes and wanes, evolves into newer forms, generates offshoots, and generally turns Australia into a very different place from the one we know. The first contact with European explorers takes place in 1618, and from that moment world history is going to take a different course.
You can find the TL on the AH.com wiki
(complete with a handy chapter guide
and additional factoid subpages). You can also download it in Word or RTF format from Jared's website
Lands of Red and Gold features the following tropes:
- Anachronic Order: A lot of the chapters,particularly the earlier ones, but most of them do flow together chronologically once you finish them and continue further reading.
- The Berserker: The Death Warriors of the Yadji Empire, who are usually deployed to battle in times of great need, when the empire seems to be overwhelmed by enemies and is in need of vicious shock troops. They also double as a kind of Church Militant Praetorian Guard. One of the older Death Warriors that appears in a few chapters is a Cultured Warrior.
- Butterfly Nets: Played straight at first. Outside Australia and New Zealand, world history is virtually the same as ours until 1618, when the first European explorers make landfall on the southwestern coast of Australia. The trope is averted after that first contact, when the Butterfly of Doom starts steering the rest of world history as we knew it until then onto an equally alternate path.
- Cool Boat: Thanks to their propensity to travel and trade by sea and increased contact with Maori sailors, the Nangu and Kiyungu are one of the few native nations that have highly developed, large and varied types of seagoing vessels. They even invent pintle-and-gudgeon fin rudders for their largest ships independently of Europeans, making said sailships more advanced than the usual oar-rudder types.
- The Conqueror: Several of the native rulers and dynasties prior to contact with the outside world, especially the founder of the Yadji dynasty and empire in the 13th century AD. In a reversal that occurs about four centuries later, Pieter Nuyts, the historical Dutch explorer and diplomat, tries to pull the exact same thing on the Yadji. He fails miserably and is forced into exile with the Gunnagal. However, the victory of the Yadji over the Dutch has merely prolonged the survival of their empire.
- Death World: Amazingly, Australia becomes even more of a Death World (at least, for Europeans) than it is in our universe. Not only are all the usual suspects still there, but native diseases that the Aururians have built up resistance to are fatal to the Europeans. When the explorers bring them back home, they cause the equivalent of the European arrival to the New World, in reverse.
- Fan Nickname: The official acronym for the project on AH.com is LORAG.
- For Want of a Nail: The mutation of an existing species of humble Australian tuber plant into a more productive offshoot species changes the history of an entire continent. And since the 17th century onward, the altered history of Australia changes the rest of the world as well...
- Horse of a Different Color: Averted. Despite some minor lighthearted joking from other AH.com members, Jared has confirmed that there is simply no way of having believable beasts of burden or cavalry animals even in this alternate Australia. Kangaroos are impractical and are nearly untamable, while emus aren't strong or intelligent enough to pull carts or act as horses. This also ties into the timeline's fictional history: An early great empire spanning much of southeastern Australia starts becoming unmanageable due to having grown too big. Since there are no beasts of burden or land vehicles available, even the mighty and skilled armies of the empire have a problem of being constantly overstretched, despite there being garrisons and foot messengers in every province. In short, it's an massive inversion of Easy Logistics. The native cultures can only rely on boats and dog-drawn travois (making their situation reminiscent to that of Native Americans). During the 12th-14th century, simple wagons are finally invented in one of the empires in the southeastern part of the continent - however, this invention doesn't really spread to other Australian cultures, due to the protectiveness of its originators.
- Istanbul Not Constantinople: Australian toponyms are predictably not the ones we are familiar with. The continent itself is known as Aururia. Tasmania becomes known as Cider Island. Even the names of many of the native tribes and ethnicities are different - sometimes completely, othertimes the changes in the etnonym are more subtle (e.g. the fictional Junditmara shared ancestors with our historical Gunditjmara). To avoid getting readers disoriented, one of the subpages of the project's main wiki page is dedicated to the alternate geography of Australia - with maps of various parts of the continent in different historical eras and a very thorough glossary that lists every alternate place name and where its location in our real history would be.
- Kill 'em All: After the Aururian plagues strike the Old World, a large percentage of the historically important figures of the 1620s drop dead, from King Charles I of England to Cardinal Richelieu to almost the entire House of Hapsburg. This will obviously have significant effects in the long run.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: And not only individual characters (fictional and historical alike), but also at least a dozen or so native Australian cultures/civilizations.
- The Plague: This alternate Australia is home to deadly diseases that will be let loose upon the world after contact is made.
- Precursors: The Gunnagal culture is the earliest of all Australian civilizations and influences all others to come (including younger offshoot states that eventually become empires of their own and gradually displace the original Gunnagal realm).
- Proud Merchant Race: The native Nangu or "Islanders" from what we know as Kangaroo Island, become a whole nation of prosperous coastal sea traders once more advanced sailing and ship-building techniques are introduced to native Australians (thanks to increasing contact of the continent's east coast with Maori sailors from New Zealand). Also, in the later chapters, a European example occurs in the form of the Dutch explorers and merchants who set foot in Australia/Aururia. Humourously, both the Nangu and the Dutch seem to recognise a certain commonality of purpose, despite their different cultures.
- Proud Warrior Race: Several of the alternate native ethnicities and nations are well-known and feared for their military prowess. Subverted in that few of the cultures are stereotypical warrior societies. More often than not, the natives are farmers, craftsmen or merchants first, warriors second.
- Pyramid Power: A certain group of headhunters...
- Scary Amoral Religion: In-universe, this is frequent reaction of the Dutch and other European nations to some aspects and rituals of the Atjuntja empire's state religion. Subverted in that, while the religion's rituals require the occassional human torture and human sacrifice (in order to renew balance between pleasure and pain in the world, from the natives' point of view), this happens quite rarely and the people sacrificed to death by torture are actually Atjuntja nobles.
- Scrapbook Story: To a large degree. It's a part-textbook, part-prose narrative.
- Sea Stories: The chapters focusing on the Dutch, Nangu, Kiyungu and Maori exploratory voyages certainly fit this trope. Of particular note is a chapter focusing on the exploits of Nangu captain Werringi (later known as Kumgatu the Bold) and his Badass Crew.
- In the year 1632, an English statesman says of the plagues ravaging Europe: "It is as if a ring of fire has encircled the Continent."
- In a later chapter, it is mentioned that the religion of the Kiyungu has a locally-unique deity that has no counterpart in the pantheons of other Gunnagal-descended cultures. While his exact name is never decoded by historians and linguists, they deduce that it meant roughly "He Who Must Be Blamed". This is a Shout-Out to a long-standing AH.com meme about board member and Look to the West author Thande being to blame about nearly anything.
- Shown Their Work: Impressive amounts of research have gone into this timeline, and the author isn't afraid to let it show. For one, he actually gives a well-researched rebuttal of the common argument that "native Australians didn't develop agriculture because there are no domesticable Australian plants". In reality, a lot of Australian plants have been domesticated in our history, but none of them are good "founder crops" - i.e. crops that are easy to plant and harvest and are vital to learning the basics of proper agriculture. The fictional red yam (a cousin of real Australian yam plants that gives higher yields than them) serves as the founder crop that never occurred in our history. The natives learn how to repeatedly farm it, and gradually learn to farm and harvest other domesticable species as well. Their efforts are later boosted by the adoption of another native ethnicity's idea of raising fish in simple man-made ponds. Later, they domesticate various kinds of waterfowl (raised in the same fish ponds), raise emus on pastures and tame quolls to hunt smaller pests in a manner similar to cats. Eventually, several civilizations crop up all over Australia thanks to the exchange of ideas and resources and make discoveries in metallurgy, architecture, warfare and astronomy. The later etablishment of contact with the Maori helps boost knowledge of seamanship as well (in exchange, the Maori get new agricultural knowledge, crops and livestock).