An Essay Towards National Self-Respect.
Cobber’s Morning Herald
September 25, 2020
First Instalment, June 1935
GENIUS OF THE PLACE
Australia is a unique country. All countries are unique, but this one is particularly so. Visitors, such as D. H. Lawrence, have discerned a spiritual quality of ancient loveliness in our land itself. The flora and fauna are primitive, and for the most part harmless to man, but to the visitor there is another element, of terror, in the Spirit of the Place. The blossoming of the waratah, the song of the lyrebird, typify the spirit of primitive loveliness in our continent; but the wail of the dingo, the gauntness of our tall trees by silent moonlight, can provide a shiver of terror to a newcomer. Against a background of strangeness, of strange beasts and birds and plants, in a human emptiness of three million square miles, our six million white people, of immigrant stock, mainly from Europe, are becoming acclimatised in this environment new to them but geologically so old that Time seems to have stood still here for a million years.
A new nation, a new human type, is being formed in Australia.
For the first hundred and fifty years of colonising, the immigrants have merely raped the land, or “settled” it, as we say, with unconscious irony in our choice of a word to describe the process of destroying its primitiveness. Now there are cities, half the people live in cities, huddled there, it may be, for mutual protection against the loneliness of the bush. Ships come and go, from Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. Ideas and people also come and go—we Australians ourselves come and go. All is in flux, a nation is being formed. Can it be a cultured nation?
Australia, throughout its brief whiteman’s history, has been primarily a colony of Britain, as Britain was once a colony of Rome, a place to be exploited commercially. For a hundred and fifty years all our vast production of gold, most of our wheat, wool, meat, and butter, have been sent “home” to Britain. In trade exchange we have received manufactured goods, and many loans. Britain, it may be, has had the best of the deal financially. We have sent our troops, too, to fight in British wars. We accept British exploitation of Australia as a natural fact, and scarcely protest. The price has been worth it, for has not Britain sent us, as makeweight and compensation for economic exploitation, the great heritage of her laws, her customs, her language and literature and philosophy, her culture?
Culture in Australia, if it ever develops indigenously, begins not from the Aborigines, who have been suppressed and exterminated, but from British culture, brought hither by Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotsmen throughout the Nineteenth Century. In a new and quite different environment from that of those damp British Islands we are here developing the culture which evolved there. We spring fully armed from the head of Jove, or fully cultured from the head of John Bull. Australian culture begins with a general background of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Herrick, Byron, Charles Dickens; and more specifically with a background of Samuel Smiles, Mr. Gladstone and Queen Victoria. We inherit all that Britain has inherited, and from that point we go on—to what?
As the culture of every nation is an intellectual and emotional expression of the genius loci, our Australian culture will diverge from the purely local colour of the British Islands to the precise extent that our environment differs from that of Britain. A hemisphere separates us from “home”—we are Antipodeans; a gumtree is not a branch of an oak; our Australian culture will evolve distinctively.
WE ARE NOT AMERICANS
There is a parallel, but not a close similarity, between Australia and America. In both countries a continental wilderness, sparsely populated with Aborigines, has been subdued and colonised, within recent historical times, by invaders from overseas. Here the parallel ends. Both countries have been “pioneered,” but Australia is quite dissimilar from America in social and historical construction. Australia has no large minorities—of Negroes, Jews, Italians, mixed Europeans—no historical Spanish, French, or Puritan influences: all mighty facts in America. We are in extraction solidly and stolidly pure British of the nineteenth century, homogeneously British, ninety per cent British. The ten per cent minority comprises Germans and Danes, who become assimilated immediately, with a sprinkling of Latins and “sundries,” who become assimilated in one generation. The only big minority is our twenty-five per cent Irish, who (whether they admit it or not) come from one of the two major British Islands.
We have none of America’s historical background of Elizabethan piracy and buccaneering, Spanish conquistadores, black slavery, French revolutionary ferment and Rights of Man philosophy; no Pilgrim Fathers or Mormon sects or Civil War traditions of “liberty” and emancipation—no “history” of the obvious or picturesque kind. America, the great melting pot, is often as incomprehensible to us as it is to any other homogeneous people observing it from afar. It is nonsense to say that Australia is becoming “Americanised,” as despondent English people often do say, observing our departures from the parent type. Australia is merely becoming Australianised.
Our background, such as it is, is operating upon us subtly to produce a new variety of the human species.
RACE AND PLACE
What is a national culture? Is it not the expression, in thought-form or art-form, of the spirit of a Race and of a Place? The Ancient Greeks were few in number, not more all told than the number of people who nowadays live in North Sydney, but the Greeks evolved, from their environment and historical background, a culture which has remained for 2,000 years after they themselves became subjugated and dispersed. The political, economic, and social forms of a nation are temporary forms, expressions of the Zeitgeist, which changes with every decade, with every vagary of invention, epidemics, wars, migrations. Each decade of history is “modern” to itself, and every modernism passes with the inexorable march of time. Nothing is permanent in a nation except its culture—its ideas of permanence, which are expressed in art, literature, religion, philosophy; ideas which transcend modernism and ephemerality, ideas which survive political, social, and economic changes.
Race and Place are the two permanent elements in a culture, and Place, I think, is even more important than Race in giving that culture its direction. When Races migrate, taking their culture with them, to a new Place, the culture becomes modified. It is the spirit of a Place which ultimately gives any human culture its distinctiveness.
Consider the differences between Indian Art, Chinese Art, Persian Art, Egyptian Art, Dutch Art, Easter Island Art—expressions of places rather than of epochs. The main art tendency remained in each Place while peoples and epochs changed.
Consider, too, how literature expresses the spirit of Place and Race, and forms the concept of a nation. A simple example is the poetry of Robert Burns, which created Scotland or was created by Scotland—which? For present purposes it is enough to establish that the poetry of Burns is linked with the idea of Scotland. When Scotsmen emigrate to another Place, they take with them the Scots Place-poetry of Robert Burns. Literature, even more than graphic art, is profoundly national. As an idea, what would England be without the poetic concept recorded by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Herrick, Dickens, and all the English writers from Beowulf to Rudyard Kipling? England lives as an idea, not mainly through the activities of her merchants and moneylenders and politicians and soldiers, though these also have played their part, but through the writings of her poets and men of letters!
So France, the idea of France, lives in Montaigne, Rabelais, Racine, Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Balzac, de Maupassant, and Baudelaire; and Germany lives in Goethe, Heine, Kant, Hegel and Richard Wagner; Russia lives in Dostoievsky, Tolstoi, Chekhov, Maxim Gorki, et al., Scandinavia in Ibsen, Knut Hamsun . . . need I continue the examples? I do not wish to flog the obvious fact that a nation, or the idea of a nation, is inseparable from its literature. A nation, in fact, without a literature, is incomplete. Australia without a literature remains a colony, no nation.
A deeper question arises, perplexities confront me, when I attempt the next step in this logic. If art and literature are nationally created, and linked to a vicinity or a Place of Origin, can there be such a thing as universal art or universal literature?
The question is answered by making a distinction between Creation and Appreciation. Art and literature are at first nationally created, but become internationally appreciated. Culture spreads from nation to nation. Each nation contributes ideas to the culture of every other nation. Shakespeare, Balzac, and Dostoievsky each began to do their work as national writers, but now in appreciation they are universal, and belong to all nations.
Throughout all human history, cultures have developed in vicinities because there was not much communication between the isolated parts of the world. Since the invention of printing and the development of transport and means of communication, national cultures are overlapping, influencing one another, local distinctiveness is disappearing. The whole world is becoming one cultural unit, and tends to become one international economic unit. In the twentieth century nationalism is receding, the world is becoming one Place. What then becomes of any theory of nationalism in culture?
I hold to the thesis that cultures are created locally, and that every contribution to world culture (even in a future world-political-and-economic unit) must be distinct with the colour of its place of origin.
Ideas, like men and women, are formed locally, no matter how much they may travel. There is a universal concept of humanity and world culture, but it does not destroy individuality, either of persons or places or nations. Soviet Russia, urged by dreams of world-unification, has energetically encouraged and even revived the various nationalities and languages of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. Why? Because the Soviet philosophers realise that the very idea of internationalism implies many separate nationalities—combined for economic and political purposes into economic and political unity, but remaining distinct in local customs, and cultures.
Thus, no matter how transport and communications may improve, local cultures must always remain. Art and literature will continue to be created locally, or nationally, even in the internationalised world. The charm of writing is to write of what one knows; the charm of reading is to read of what one does not know. For this reason cultures must remain local in creation and universal in appreciation.
COLONY OR NATION
What then of culture in Australia? Here is not a mere vicinity, but a whole continent, unique in its natural features, and unique in the fact of its continental homogeneity of race and language. Australia is the only continent on the earth inhabited by one race, under one government, speaking one language. The population at present is not much greater than was that of Britain in Shakespeare’s time, but by the end of the twentieth century we may expect that the population will expand to at least twenty millions, remaining of European parent-stock, but with locally-developed characteristics, and with a locally-created culture. Australia will then become indubitably recognised as a nation, and will lose all trace of colonial status.
As a colony, we exported raw material and imported manufactured goods and loans. The trade traffic was two-ways. We imported also the imponderables, culture, by a system of one-way traffic. As a nation we shall continue to import culture, but we shall export it also, as our contribution to world-ideas—there will then be a two-ways traffic in the imponderables.
At this present time (1935) we are no longer a colony pure and simple, nor yet are we a Nation fully-fledged. We are something betwixt and between a colony and a nation, something vaguely called a “Dominion,” or a “Commonwealth” with “Dominion status.” We are loosely tied to other Dominions in the British Empire by law, strongly tied by sentiment and an idea of mutual protection. Inasmuch as we are politically autonomous, we have entered into virtual alliances (political, military, commercial, and sentimental) with other Dominions or Colonies in the Empire, including Canada, the Irish Free State, South Africa, New Zealand, Great Britain, and Jamaica. Where it will all lead to we do not know; but the virtual alliance gives us a sense of security in international affairs for the time being. The political and legal ties that bind us to the other “Dominions” are loose enough, but the sentimental and financial tie is strong, particularly with the “Dominion” called Great Britain. And the cultural tie is strong.
Is it sedition or blasphemy to the idea of the British Empire to suggest that each Dominion in this loose alliance will tend to become autonomous politically, commercially, and culturally? A military alliance between the various component “nations” of the Empire may perhaps survive long after the other ties have, in fact, been weakened—though this would be contrary to the lessons of history. Such a prognostication has nothing to do with aesthetics. What matters for present purposes is that Australia has nowadays an acknowledged right to become one of the nations of the world. Australian nationalism, with or without the idea of the British Empire, has a right to exist; and there can be no nation without a national place-idea; a national culture.
AN ENGLISHMAN’S VIEW
An Englishman resident in Australia, Professor G. H. Cowling, who is Professor of English Literature at the University of Melbourne, recently ventured from his own field to criticise Australian literature. In an article published in The Age newspaper of 16th February, 1935, the learned Professor made several statements expressing doubt concerning the possibilities of Australian literature. Catalogued, his more provocative remarks were as follows:
(1) “Australia is not yet in the centre of the globe, and it has no London.”
(2) “The rewards of literature in Australia are not good enough to make it attract the best minds.”
(3) “Book production (in Australia) is, on the average, poor.”
(4) “In spite of what the native-born say about gum trees, I cannot help feeling that our countryside is ‘thin’ and lacking in tradition.”
(5) “There are no ancient churches, castles, ruins—the memorials of generations departed. You need no Baedecker in Australia. From the point of view of literature this means that we can never hope to have a Scott, a Balzac, a Dumas . . . nor a poetry which reflects past glories.”
(6) “‘What scope is there for Australian biography? Little, I should say.”
(7) “What scope is there for Australian books on travel? Little, I think.”
(8) “Good Australian novels which are entirely Australian are bound to be few . . . Australian life is too lacking in tradition, and too confused, to make many first-class novels.”
(9) “We might have one Australian Sinclair Lewis but not many more.”
(10) “Literary culture is not indigenous, like the gum tree, but is from a European source.”
A certain amount of indignant controversy followed the well-meaning Professor’s pessimistic analysis of the situation. Nobody thanked him, as he ought to have been thanked, for putting the Unteachable Englishman’s point of view so succinctly on record. There is as yet no chair of Australian Literature at Melbourne University, nor at any other Australian University, and the Professor is to that extent quite correct in saying that literary culture is not indigenous, but is from a European source. With his unteachability we cannot here argue; it is of the same brand as that which lost England the American colonies. Substitute the word “America” for the word “Australia” in each of Professor Cowling’s remarks, and you have the kind of “criticism” which Americans had to put up with from generations of learned Englishmen; even while American literature was developing so strongly that to-day—despite a lack of ancient churches, castles and ruins—American literature is at least as strong as contemporary English literature, and some think it is stronger.
The Empire is in greater danger from patronising Englishmen than from insurgent colonials. Professor Cowling’s critique is a wet blanket applied to the fire of Australian literary creativeness. It can be read in no other way than as an attempt to throw cold water on our nationalistic literary ardour. His attitude is precisely that of the Latinists who, perceiving Wycliffe and Chaucer writing books in the English vernacular, sniffed (no doubt) at the very idea of literature in English. Here we are on the threshold of Australian self-consciousness, at the point of developing Australian nationality, and with it Australian culture, we are in our Chaucerian phase, and this Professor cannot begin to perceive the excitement of it, overlooks his grand opportunity of studying and recording for posterity this birth-phase of a new literature in formation under his very nose—and directs our vision, if he could, towards old churches, castles, and ruins in Europe!
The academic mind, by timorous instinct, rarely concerns itself with the present or future; the past is safer.
Some day there will be learned Professors to write text-books on the developments of literature in Australia during the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties. They will soak themselves in the period, and attempt to reconstruct it for their students. They will find Cowling’s article and quote it to show some of the difficulties which literature in Australian had to contend against at that time—the discouragements, the gratuitous insults of the learned, the Unteachability of the already-too-well-taught. They may go on to record that, as a result of Professor Cowling’s demonstration of hostility towards Australian culture, a Chair of Australian Literature was ultimately endowed at Melbourne University and at six other Australian Universities (including Canberra), to supplement the traditional teaching in English, French, German, and other European literatures; and that thus Professor Cowling’s excursus into journalism indirectly helped to establish Australian literature in a way which he did not intend.
Is this all too fanciful? I, at any rate, have to thank Professor Cowling for his venture into controversy. He provides me with a contemporary example to illustrate my present thesis. Instead of blaming him for blanketing the flame, I at least can thank him for inadvertently fanning it. His arguments are all cogent, from his point of view. From an Australian point of view they are, by provocation, equally cogent. I shall have occasion to refer to them, more than once, as my own argument here develops.
There are two elements in every nation’s culture—the imported and the indigenous. English literature, for instance, developed through centuries of contact with Latin and Greek, and with directly contemporaneous imported French and Italian and other “foreign” literatures. The effect upon Shakespeare of Plutarch’s Lives and of Petrarch’s sonnets is a sufficient reminder of the effect of imported culture on an Englishman. English literature, indeed, has been constantly enriched and replenished by European mainland contacts. For centuries in England it was the fashion to speak French at the court, to regard France as being the only “cultured” nation, and to be apologetic for local English uncouthness. Milton was a Latin clerk. Shelley and Byron went abroad naturally, as Norman Douglas and D. H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley go abroad in our own time, to be out of the wet and stifling, local and insular, atmosphere of England. Without foreign stimulus, English literature might well have remained on the level of Wycliffe or perhaps Bunyan. Who can estimate the tremendous influence upon English literature of Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais, or of Burton’s Arabian Nights?
The impact of foreign cultures upon a native culture is the greatest possible stimulus to literature. Think of the influence of that foreigner, Freud, upon English writers of to-day; or the influence of those foreigners, Ibsen and Nietzsche, upon the English writers of two or three decades ago! Think also of the tremendous impact upon English literature of the Hebrew Bible, which originated in the arid valleys of Palestine. Survey the whole field of English literature, survey the English language itself, and you will find it overwhelmingly rich in elements of foreign and imported cultures.
With such an example before us of the English plant fertilised by phosphates from all countries, we Australians can prepare to plant our own culture here. The imported phosphates will stimulate our native plant to grow; we cannot do without them; but it is the plant rather than the phosphates which concerns us most. The Professor of English who states that “literary culture is not indigenous, but is from a European source,” is a vendor of phosphates so lost in enthusiasm for his wares that he forgets the only real purpose of them here, which is to make our Australian plant grow.
Discarding a metaphor which might become misleading, I state plainly that English culture, imported here, is valueless to us as a mere exhibit. We admire the English, we love them frequently, we never fail to respect them, we are astonished by the spectacle of their culture, and by their castles, churches and ruins. We stand and gape in admiration. But there it does not end. Unless we can use imported English culture here as one element (concede it to be the most important element!) in building up our own indigenous culture, it is a meaningless spectacle to us.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
The culture of a country is the essence of nationality, the permanent element in a nation. A nation is nothing but an extension of the individuals comprising it, generation after generation of them. When I am proud of my nationality, I am proud of myself. My personal shortcomings, of which I am only too painfully aware, are eliminated to some extent by my nationality, in which I may justly take pride—such is the reason for nations and nationalities, and also for tribes, mobs, and herds. In numbers there is a strength and permanence not found in individuals.
The nation as an extension of the ego, as a permanent idea which lives when the individual dies, is essential to an individual’s well-being. One’s nationality is something to boast of.
This does not mean, or should not mean, sabre-rattling, challenges to fight other nations to prove superiority, except in the case of Huns like Hitler, who are intrinsically lacking in culture, mentally equipped like a school bully. It is possible to be proud of one’s nationality without wishing to prove it by slaughter. In what, at present, can an Australian take pride? In our cricketers, merino sheep, soldiers, vast open spaces—and what then?
Until we have a culture, a quiet strength of intellectual achievement, we have really nothing except our soldiers to be proud of!
We cannot be proud of John Galsworthy, we have no right to be proud of him. He is English, they are proud of him. Galsworthy does not belong to us Australians, except in a way by proxy, an unsatisfying way; our chests cannot swell by proxy. We can no more be nationally proud of Galsworthy than we can be proud of Yeats and Synge. These British Islanders are fascinating exhibits to us, but they are foreigners, as foreign as Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis. They are from overseas. The British Empire is much too large and scattered to have a Place Spirit, a unified culture. We Australians can only be proud of Gandhi and Synge (both British subjects) in a very general way, not in a personal or national way, as we might be proud of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, fond of them, with all their faults, which are our own.
I am not going to say at this stage that Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson are greater men than Gandhi and Synge and Galsworthy. It is not necessary here to make an absolute comparison of quality. I merely affirm that Paterson and Lawson are of geographic necessity more real to us Australians than Gandhi and Galsworthy and Synge; and I will concede that Gandhi is more real to Indians, Galsworthy to Englishmen, and Synge to Irishmen than any of them can ever become to Australians.
Every creative thinker contributes first to the culture of his own people, and secondly to the culture of the world. A writer or an artist needs the stimulus and the encouragement of his own people; without it he often becomes timorous or soured. Writers and artists and thinkers, no less than cricketers, need applause to be at their best. In a foreign country a writer must be imitative, cannot be his natural self, at ease, as he could be at home, amongst his own people. Thus culture arises nationally, and can arise in no other way.
This question of the localised development of cultures throughout the world is, for a civilised person, of a much greater importance than the domination of all the world by one part of it, which is the credo of imperialism.
Imperialism is international. This fact gives rise to paradoxes—as for example that an Australian loyalist, one who puts Australia’s development first in his thoughts, might find himself termed disloyal to the larger entity in which Australia is assumed to hold a place of secondary importance.
An Australian, under the system of imperialism, is expected to swallow the Englishman’s view of the Empire—i.e., that England (or its euphemism, Britain) is, and must remain for all time, paramount under the imperial system; and that it is disloyal, seditious, or possibly even irreverent to suggest that there could be any actual growth to adult national status of the Empire’s component local parts.
Such a frame of mind, while it does great credit to the political sagacity of those who, in “Britain’s” interests, foster it, is not conducive to the intellectual maturing of life in our Australian Commonwealth, which is my sole concern in this Essay. A thorny argument, we must nevertheless grasp it, or give up all pretensions to the development of a culture here. The subject is one which should be discussed without heat, hate, or bitterness; but it may not be discussed without candour.
I seek here, and tentatively, to hypothecate the foundations of a mature national culture in our continent, knowing full well that none except Australians could be vitally interested in such a topic. I cannot accept the carefully-fostered legend that Australians are of the naturally uncouth, “rough Digger,” “Dad-and-Dave” or “Bloke” type. That is the “colonial” legend; and Australia is no longer merely a colony.
Our contribution to the world’s thought is the definition of ourselves: in literature, art, and all the civilised achievements. If we cannot define ourselves, culturally, our existence is of no more significance to the world than was that of the Marquesas islanders, lotus-eaters who have now become bastardised, christianised, and Europeanised almost out of existence.
A nation’s cultural self-definition provides it not only with an individuality, but also with a title to survive. Imperialist internationalism has a tendency to pour all nations into one mould: to make culture uniform and monotonous throughout the world.
To resist any such monotonising of culture here is the plain duty of an Australian patriot who considers that there is no place like home—and means Australia when he says that. If the advocacy of Australian patriotism is to be considered “disloyal” by some and “chauvinistic” by others, such epithets, it may be presumed, cancel one another.
As the Australian soldiers learned to say during the last European war, Ca ne fait rien. We have a job to do here: nation-building.
BIRTH OF A NEW IDEA
Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson may be regarded as typical pioneers of indigenous culture in Australia. Whatever their faults, their work has an outstanding quality of being drawn direct from Australian life, and not from a bookish or “literary” idea, in imitation of English poets. Lawson and Paterson were both Australian born, and wrote for Australian readers primarily. Their work is crude enough in parts; it is the raw material of an Australian culture, but it is of high national significance, as being truly indigenous. The poet Kendall, who immediately preceded them, was also Australian-born, but his mind had an “English” cast. His first poems were sent to England to be published; he wanted to please the English. Kendall wrote of Australia, but in a prim English way, not in a robust Australian way.
Adam Lindsay Gordon was English-born, an immigrant to Australia, and never saw Australia except through his English fox-hunting squire’s eyes. He is, therefore, acclaimed, in England, as the typical Australian poet. In Westminster Abbey his bust is placed with the absurd, indeed impertinent description, “Australia’s National Poet.”
From Gordon, the Englishman writing about Australia in an English way, to Kendall, the Australian writing about Australia in an English way; thence to Lawson and Paterson, the Australians writing about Australia in an Australian way, is the evolution of our indigenous culture. This evolution, in a general way, went on, in the works of Australian writers, or writers in Australia, throughout the whole of the nineteenth century, the process of Australian self-definition gradually becoming more clarified, until, with Paterson’s and Lawson’s work, it could be seen plainly that Australian literature proper was beginning to stand on its own feet.
To dissect these two elements, the indigenous and the imported, from Australian literature, is a fascinating task, worthy of a book in itself.
In the broadest sense, Australian literature comprises everything written in Australia, or about Australia, or by Australians—everything from Captain Cook’s log to D. H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo; but this definition would be very wide indeed. Visitors to Australia, in addition to Captain Cook, D. H. Lawrence, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and Professor Cowling, have been numerous and frequently very distinguished. Charles Darwin, Henry Kingsley, Orion Horne, Havelock Ellis are notable visiting Englishmen who have contributed to the literature of Australia in the widest sense of the term. Marcus Clarke is another visiting Englishmen. Can it be presumed that these visitors ever saw Australia through Australian eyes? I think not. They were Englishmen abroad, in foreign parts; England was home to them—Australia was merely an interesting. foreign colony. But to Lawson and Paterson Australia was home, the native land. They had no other native land.
Henry Lawson (or Larsen) was of Scandinavian extraction, and to such a man, born in Australia, the European tie is irrevocably severed. Such a man will fight passionately for his Australian nationality. He has no direct sentimental tie with England. Australia is his only motherland and home. Even though his ancestors, of a thousand years ago, may have raped, raided, plundered, colonised, and settled England, Ireland, and Scotland, and put the red-headed spirit of adventure into the British race—even though he be a direct descendant of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes—he has no lively interest in his present-day collateral cousins, no vicarious “home” and “motherland” in the British Islands. Australia is home to him, the only motherland. If Australia is not a nation, then he belongs to no nation. This same feeling arises in the second and third generation of Australian-born, no matter what their ancestry, whether it be English, Irish, Scots, or Chinese. England is “home” to the first-generation English immigrants to Australia, and sometimes by legend to their children. But to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Australia is the only convincing homeland. The pretty legend that England is “home” to all Australians arises from a figure of speech, or a habit of speech rather than from any reality of thought.
In denying that England is, in contemporary reality, “home” to the Australian-born, I insist and reiterate that I am not arguing politics, imperial or otherwise. I am seeking a basis for indigenous culture in Australia, for a state of mind from which Australian culture can emerge. One of my model Australians, Banjo Paterson, is, I believe, a convinced imperialist in politics. There is no reason why a good Australian should not consider it expedient for Australia to remain forever in the political-economic-military alliance called the British Empire. England would not try to keep us in by force if we ever wished to secede. This question does not, at the moment, arise. The point is that, on the basis of nationality, of theoretical equality in nationhood with all the other nations of the earth, within or without the British Empire, we must find our own culture and define it; we cannot suck pap forever from the teats of London.
Throughout the nineteenth century in Australia, from the earliest writers, whether they were convict gentlemen or military gentlemen, or black sheep sent out to the colonies with a remittance, or merely colonial gentlemen dabbling in “letters,” there was a pronounced note in “Australian” literature of regret at the colonial lack of culture. These sentimental exiles, no less than Professor Cowling, regretted the lack of castles and ruins here, regretted that Australia was not like England. Their state of mind, nostalgia for the homeland, is common to all exiles. In Australia, owing frequently to the circumstances of the exile, nostalgia took an acute form.
The country of one’s birth is almost of necessity the country of one’s youth. The longing of an exile to return to his native land is only too frequently the longing of a middle-aged man to be young again. A migrant’s discontent with his new environment is often enough a discontent with middle-age. Beyond this there is a real link with one’s birthplace, a real aversion to unfamiliar new environments.
Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said
This is my own, my native land?
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?
Probably not! As an Australian who spent eight years in England I know how powerful is the yearning to be home in the native land, which in my case meant the yearning to be in a country without any castles or ruins, to be at liberty in a country in which there were thousands of square miles of ground not staled by history and tradition. Because of this experience, I can sympathise with Englishmen in Australia who feel a pull in the reverse direction. Australia is different from England, of course it is different from England! It can never become like England; but does this difference imply an inferiority either way? A black swan is different from a white swan, a gum-tree is different from an oak, the differences are charming. There is a difference between a primitive country and a castellated country, a profound difference—but what an impertinence for a denizen of the castellated country to decry the other country when he is visiting it; what bad manners, what an example of castellated culture!
International bad manners are an inevitable concomitant of tourist travel. The tourist compares every country with his own, to the advantage of his own. Englishmen abroad are notorious for this trait; but Americans and Frenchmen are just as bad. American bad manners found a retort to English bad manners when Mark Twain guyed the castellated culture in his A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur. It was heavy and clumsy humour; he should have written about his own country, about the Mississippi, which he knew. But, more recently still, the Americans have had to put up with polite cynicism, the assumption of an effortless superiority, from a horde of English visitors, such as G. K. Chesterton and St. John Irvine, who lectured them (for immense fees) on their “cultural” shortcomings; unaware of the fact, or ignoring the fact, that American writers, such as Dreiser, Cabell, Hergesheimer, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, and a host of others were doing work, man for man, as good as the best English contemporary work; unaware of the fact, or ignoring the fact, that the Grand Opera Houses in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston, are among the world’s best, and that music is patronised in the United States a thousand times more than in Britain, where there is not even one permanent opera, but only “seasons”; unaware of the fact, or ignoring the fact, that Manhattan Island contains more art treasures than any other similar area in the world, not excluding Rome, Paris, and London, that in science and industry the United States is second to none; that education and criticism are alive in America; that the Carnegie Corporation has provided twelve million dollars actually to establish libraries in Britain, after having established the best public libraries in the world throughout America!
What then becomes of the “effortless superiority” of the Englishman vis-à-vis the American? Is the Englishman not resting on his oars, on the great achievements of his forbears, rather than actively leading the modern world of thought and culture, science, art, and industry? I am not going to take sides in such a futile dispute. I merely point out that such international arguments do exist, and that there is invariably much to be said on both sides. It is natural enough to exalt one’s own country in such a dispute, because in exalting one’s country one exalts oneself. I could, without difficulty, devise arguments to show that life in Australia is preferable to life in England, for the general mass of the people, castles or no castles, but I forbear. In any dispute between Poland and Czecho-Slovakia I could arbitrate impartially, but in any dispute between Australia and England I confess to prejudice in favour of my own country.
The two elements in Australian culture, the imported and the indigenous elements, have existed side by side from the time when the first white child was born in Australia of immigrant parents and walked upon this soil as his native soil. As the white population has grown, from zero to six millions by the two methods of increase, immigration from abroad and birth here, so the two tendencies have developed side by side. They are differing elements, not hostile elements; they can develop harmoniously side by side. I would deplore the bad-mannered “Australianism” of anyone needlessly decrying English culture as much as I deplore Professor Cowling’s denigration of the local culture. Let nothing I say here be taken as hostile to English culture, on its own soil, or to the reasoned absorption of English culture, by us here, on our soil! I regard imported English culture as a fertiliser of our indigenous culture, but I will not have our indigenous culture swamped and choked with fertiliser, in such a way that it cannot grow at all.
I want to find the differences, however subtle, between the two cultures; to see what we can learn from England and from every other country overseas; what we can learn, and digest and apply here. I do not care to be a spectator, or a passive admirer, of English or any other literature from a distance. I want these literatures absorbed into our own, to stimulate, not to kill, our own.
A POETRY COMPETITION
The two different cultures, English and Australian, found an early definition and contrast in the celebrated Prize Poem for the Chancellor’s Medal at Cambridge University in the year 1823. The subject of the poem was prescribed as Australasia. There were twenty-five competitors for the prize, which was won by W. Mackworth Praed, an Englishman who had never left England. The second prize was awarded by the judges to William Charles Wentworth, an Australian born and bred. Wentworth had been born in New South Wales in 1791, son of d’Arcy Wentworth, surgeon and police magistrate of the colony.
Young William Charles Wentworth was one of the very first Australian-born whitemen. At the age of seven he went to England for a few years, to school, and then returned to his native land. At the age of twenty-one he crossed the Blue Mountains with Blaxland and Lawson, opening the way to the western plains. Three years later he went to England, and matriculated at Cambridge, thus becoming eligible to enter for the Chancellor’s Prize Poem. As soon as he arrived in England, he published A Statistical, Historical, and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales, which we are told “did much to dispel the gross ignorance that had prevailed up to that time in the mother country concerning Australia.” Wentworth, in brief, knew what he was writing about in his poem submitted for the contest. He knew a great deal more about the subject than did any of the other competitors—or the judges!
It is interesting to compare the two poems, Praed’s and Wentworth’s, to try, if possible, to understand on what principles the judges awarded a preference to Praed. The judges, we may assume, were English professors, with prejudices, if any, similar to those of Professor Cowling.
We need not here consider whether or not Wentworth’s second-prize poem was inferior in the qualities of “pure” poetry to Praed’s winning effort, though many would perhaps still consider it so and agree with the Cambridge judges.
Both poems were written in stilted couplets, in the highfalutin style of the period, the verses decked with classical allusions. Praed’s winning poem runs smoothly and sweetly, and tells us precisely nothing about Australasia. Wentworth’s poem is in parts impassioned and fiery, full of exact knowledge about Australasia. Praed is genteel and refined, Wentworth is shouting and vigorous. Praed’s poem is purely “literary” and bookish; Wentworth’s poem is from life direct. I should like to illustrate my arguments by quoting both works in full, but must be content here with extracts from each.
I quote the poems substantially because they illustrate, in a condensed manner, the fact that Australia is antipodean to England, and vice versa, in literary concepts: a fact which should be obvious to anyone with a sense of intellectual geography. Praed’s poem is a contribution to English literature. Wentworth’s poem was one of the first contributions to Australian literature.
CONVICTS AND SINNERS
Praed’s poem, characteristically English from the very beginning, opens with a description of a convict ship leaving England, while a busy seaman coils rope on the deck, carolling a song, and laughing lightly. Below deck are the unfortunate convicts:
Children of wrath and wretchedness, who grieve
Not for the country, but the crimes they leave . . .
There the gaunt robber, stern in sin and shame,
Shows his dull features and his iron frame;
And tender pilferers creep in silence by,
With quivering lip, hushed brow, and vacant eye . . .
A mixed lot, old and young, male and female, all longing to strike the fetters off, and bidding—
the last and long adieu
To the white cliffs which vanish from their view.
These miserable creatures, as England recedes, are already overcome with nostalgia of the exile. They go “tottering forth”—
to find, across the wave,
A short, sad sojourn and a foreign grave.
A stripling amongst them clasps his young hands, and looks “with marvel” on his galling chain. His soul dreams of the days when he tended his father’s plough:
Oh, yes! to-day his soul hath backward been
To many a tender face and beauteous scene;
The verdant valley and the dark brown hill,
The small fair garden, and its tinkling rill,
His grandame’s tale, believed at midnight hour,
His sister singing in her myrtle bower . . .
And also he dreams of the girl he left behind him, as all correctly sentimental exiles do in such circumstances. He wonders whether there will be a new life for him in the foreign land to which, under duress, he is going—
In some far distant clime
Where lives no witness of his early crime,
Benignant penitence may haply muse
On purer pleasures, and on brighter views . . .
The poet then proceeds to rhapsodise on the charms of Australasia, as he imagines them, from having read, one presumes, some accounts of Pacific voyages. He thinks of Australasia as a collection of islands, arcadian in atmosphere, with green turf and pleasant glades wherein Dryads and Naiads might dance:
Beautiful land! Within whose quiet shore
Lost spirits may forget the stain they bore.
But one thing is lacking in this idyllic Australasia: the Christian religion unfortunately has not yet reached the savage natives:
Alas! Religion from thy placid isles
Veils the warm splendour of her heavenly smiles,
And the wrapt gazer on the beauteous plan
Finds nothing dark except the soul of man.
The unredeemed savages in their darkness are presumed by the poet to be incapable of appreciating the beauties of their environment:
But where thy smile, Religion, hath not shone,
The chain is riven, and the charm is gone,
And, unawakened by thy wondrous spell,
The Feelings slumber in their silent cell.
In proof and illustration of this theological contention, the poet next recounts, as an example of the horrors of Australasian mental darkness, the death of a New Zealand chieftain, alone and unattended, because the customs of his savage tribe forbid attendance upon a dying person. Nevertheless, shuddering friends stand near, and the frantic Maori widow—
Binds her black hair, and stains her eyelids fringe
With the jet lustre of the emu’s tinge (sic)
and then, after staining her eyelids with the feathers of a black emu, she commits suttee in the manner of widows in India,—
And long acacias shed their shadows grey
Bloomless and leafless o’er the buried clay.
Worse things happen in New Zealand than emus and suttee and bloomless and leafless acacias! The poet next describes a fight between tribes of cannibals, who subsequently gorge on corpses:
And, last of all, the revel in the wood,
The feast of death, the banqueting of blood.
Cease, cease the tale—and let the ocean’s roll
Shut the dark horror from thy wildered soul.
The obvious remedy for this dreadful state of affairs in pagan Australasia is to send Christian missionaries there, as the poet proceeds to explain:
And are there none to succour? none to speed
A fairer feeling and a holier creed?
The death of Cook and La Perouse amongst these savages will surely, Praed thinks, be not in vain:
O’er the wide waters of the bounding main
The Book of Life shall win its way again,
And in the regions by their fate endeared
The Cross be lifted, and the altar reared.
In fancy the poet sees a missionary coming to Australasia, bringing Religion (or should we not nowadays say Culture?) with him:
Upon the shore, through many a billow driven,
He kneels at last, the messenger of heaven.
The messenger of Heaven duly converts the Australasian heathens, shows them, with his superior knowledge, the advantages of becoming enlightened and cultured like himself and other Englishmen. It is a great day, indeed, for the Australasians when the missionary converts them wholesale to his point of view:
In speechless awe the wonder-stricken throng
Check their rude feasting and their barbarous song . . .
and gather round to listen to the Message from Overseas.
The first-prize poem ends on this note, with a brief envoi from the poet, an insincere sigh for the Arcadian peace of Australasia as a retreat from the anxieties and vexations of life.
Reading and re-reading this early classic work by an Englishman upon our Antipodean theme, I am more and more convinced that it provides an extraordinary demonstration of the key-attitude of Englishmen towards Australia. The poem tells us nothing actual about Australia, but much about an Englishman’s attitude towards Australia, which is regarded as the land of convicts and savages, the former homesick for their native land, the other waiting to be enlightened by English missionaries of culture. This poem by Praed contains the germs of all the English literature written about Australia during the nineteenth century, and even down to our present day.
THE AUSTRAL MUSE
William Charles Wentworth’s poem, on the other hand, contains the germs of our indigenous Australian literature. It begins passionately with what must have seemed astounding to Englishmen at that time, and would even be astounding to some Englishmen to-day—a cry actually of nostalgia for Australia, uttered by an Australian in England, in the very halls of culture, at Cambridge!
Land of my birth! Tho’ now, alas! no more,
Musing I wander on thy sea girt shore . . .
Where Sydney’s infant turrets proudly rise,
The newborn glory of the southern skies:
Dear Australasia, can I e’er forget
Thee, Mother Earth? Ah no, my heart e’en yet
With filial fondness loves to call to view
Scenes which, though oft remembered, still are new . . .
The spacious harbour, with its hundred coves
And fairy islets—seats of savage loves . . .
And shall I now, by Cam’s old classic stream
Forbear to sing, and THOU proposed the theme?
Thy native bard, though on a foreign strand,
Shall I be mute and see a stranger’s hand
Attune the lyre? . . .
The audacity of this opening must have appalled the judges, with its reference to England as a “foreign” country. No doubt poor Wentworth, in exile at the grey English University, felt that he ought to shock them a little, stir up their insular complacency, shout at them that Australia was not what they thought it was, that the new continent was a vast literary theme, not merely a subject for a pretty exercise in versing. It was not his fault if they failed to understand him, at that time, and preferred Mr. Praed’s cold prettiness and religiosity to Mr. Wentworth’s surely incomprehensible Australian patriotism.
“Proud Queen of Isles!” he hailed Australia, sitting “vast, alone” upon the ocean, with the “Polynesian brood” of islands dispersed around her like the cygnets of a swan—
While every surge that doth thy bosom lave,
Salutes thee, Empress of the Southern Wave.
His poem tells how De Quiros, “first of Europe’s roving train,” came to Australia, and astonished the natives with his giant ship looming shoreward, “portentful of impending fate.” He tells how the natives, “with frequent spear,” caused the Spaniards to retrace a “sullen course” to their ship. Next comes a long and delightful eulogy of the Aborigines:
Ye primal tribes, lords of this old domain,
Swift-footed hunters of the pathless plain,
Unshackled wanderers, enthusiasts free,
Pure native sons of savage liberty . . .
Say—whence your ancient lineage, what your name,
And from what shores your rough forefathers came? . . .
Let Learning’s sons who would this secret scan,
Unlock its mystic casket if they can . . .
There follows an apt and exact description of the natives, in their hunting, their corroborees, their fights:
Such, mountain sons of freedom, your delight,
Such your rude sport by day, your mirth by night,
Nor would you these few savage joys forego
For all the comforts all the arts bestow.
and after a charming picture of a tribe nestling naked in a cave to shelter from a thunderstorm, the poet says that Diogenes himself would have thrown away his cloak and tub to join them; an extraordinary prognosis of gymnosophy, which must have seemed the maddest blasphemy to the judges after they had read Praed’s description of Savage unbliss.
Wentworth next refers to Cook and La Perouse, not merely perfunctorily, as Praed had referred to them, but in some close detail:
Illustrious Cook! Columbus of our shore,
To whom was left this unknown world t’ explore!
Its untraced bounds on faith l chart to mark
And leave a light where all before was dark . . .
And thou, famed Gallic captain, La Perouse! . . .
Whereas Praed had described La Perouse as an “adventurous Frank” upholding the Sign of his Saviour in pagan parts of the earth, engaged in a “gracious plan” and a “pious toil,” as one whose death was mourned by the Muse, Wentworth honours the Frenchman’s memory with a suggestion that he and his crew, stranded on a desert island, drew lots and ate one another,—
Till of thy ghastly band the most unblest
Survived—sad sepulchre of all the rest!
Such an idea in poetry, at that time, shows to what an extent Wentworth’s Muse was uncloistered, unacademic, a creature of realistic trend, the Muse who had accompanied Wentworth and his two companions among the chasms and gorges of the Blue Mountains, where, perhaps, the food question had threatened to become acute!—a Muse not theoretical and “pretty,” not sentimental and piously “cultured”—the Muse of a man of action!
Next comes a picture of Sydney Harbour and Sydney town, growing apace in the thirty-five years since Phillip’s fleet came to anchor there:
Lo! thickly planted o’er the glassy bay,
Where Sydney loves her beauties to survey,
And every morn delighted sees the gleam
Of some fresh pennant dancing in her stream,
A masty forest, stranger vessels moor
Charged with the fruits of every foreign shore;
While, landward the thronged quay, the creaking crane,
The noisy workmen, and the loaded wain,
The lengthened street, wide square, and columned front
Of stately mansions, and the gushing font,
The solemn church, the busy market throng,
And idle loungers sauntering slow among . . .
This picture of urban life changes next to a pastoral of peaceful colonial settlement:
. . . frequent stand
The cheerful villas ’midst their well-cropped land;
Here lowing kine, there bounding coursers graze,
Here waves the corn, and there the woody maze;
Here the tall peach puts forth its pinky bloom,
And there the orange scatters its perfume,
While as the merry boatmen row along
The woods are quickened with their lusty song . . .
From Parramatta to Hawkesbury and Richmond and Windsor, says the poet, not noticing the incongruity of the two Thameside names—
Thence far along Nepean’s pebbled way,
To those rich pastures where the wild herds stray,
The crowded farm-house lines the winding stream
On either side . . .
It is delightful to imagine the effect of this upon the judges, assuming always that they were quite unteachable English professors, somewhat ignorant, in the manner of professors, of contemporary events. Praed’s poem would please them, because it would express their own preconceived idea of Australasia the wilderness; but what would they make of Wentworth’s description of the urbanisation of the wilderness? Would they believe him? Have Englishmen of the insular kind ever believed that Australia is urbanised, or can become urbanised? It is hard to part with an illusion. Even in 1935 Professor Cowling can sigh that “Australia has no London.”
Wentworth next comes to a subject dear and familiar to him—the Blue Mountains:
Hail, mighty ridge! that from thy azure brow
Survey’st these fertile plains . . .
Vast Austral Giant of these rugged steeps
Within whose secret cells rich glitt’ring heaps
Thick-piled are doomed to sleep, till some one spy
The hidden key that opes thy treasury;
How mute, how desolate thy stunted woods,
How dread thy chasms, where many an eagle broods . . .
This is the very exciting stuff of real experience, and any reader but the English professors would have felt the ascending excitement of the poet’s recollection:
How dark thy caves, how lone thy torrents roar,
As down thy cliffs precipitate they pour,
Broke on our hearts, at first with venturous tread,
We dared to rouse thee from thy mountain bed!
I should like to print the whole poem here, and probably shall reprint it in some form as soon as possible, though, indeed, it is well enough known to scholars, if not to Australians in general.
From the wide sweep of the Bathurst Plains, where—
The ripened harvest bends its heavy blade,
And flocks and herds in thousands strewed around
A wake the woodlands with their joyous sound,
the poet turns with sadness to ask why the Australasian muse is silent:
Thy blue-eyed daughters, with the flaxen hair
And taper ankle, do they bloom less fair
Than those of Europe? Do thy primal groves
Ne’er warble forth their feathered inmates’ loves?
To ask such questions is to answer them, and Wentworth looks at the only blot on the landscape, convictism, which restrains Australasians from bursting into song:
’Tis slavery’s badge, the felon’s shame
That stills thy voice and clouds thy opening fame . . .
Land of my hope! soon may this early blot
Amid thy growing honours be forgot;
Soon may a freeman’s soul, a freeman’s blade
Nerve every arm, and gleam through every glade—
No more the outcast convict’s clanking chains
Deform thy wilds and stigmatise thy plains . . .
I find such lines as these full of power, even to-day, when convictism is still obtruding into our literature. To the English professors, identified with the nation who sent the convicts and floggers here, Wentworth’s resentment must have appeared unseemly. This is only another example of differences in the point of view.
A PATRIOTIC PROPHECY
Wentworth’s poem concludes with prophecies and hopes for the future of Australasia, a patriot’s prophecies and hopes, the intensely significant visions of an idealist.
He hopes that Australasians will never take part in wars of foreign conquest:
Of foreign rule ne’er may the ceaseless thirst
Pollute thy sons, and render thee accurst
Amid the nations . . .
. . . from thy peaceful plains
May Glory’s star ne’er charm thy restless swains;
Ne’er may the hope of plunder lure to roam
One Australasian from his happy home . . .
At a time when Europe was full of alarms, in the period when Napoleon had assumed the role of military terrorist which Hitler and Mussolini would assume to-day, Wentworth desired that his native land should learn from Europe mainly what to avoid:
Yet ne’er, my country, roll thy battle-car
With deadly axle through the ranks of war . . .
ne’er may crouch before
Invading legions sallying from thy shore,
A distant people, that shall not on thee
Have first disgorged his hostile chivalry.
In other words, Wentworth’s foreign policy for Australia, enunciated in the year 1823, was: Fight no enemies except those which may have the temerity to come here looking for fight!
The poet wishes Australasians to engage in all the arts of peace:
Be theirs the task to lay with lusty blow
The ancient giants of the forest low,
With frequent fires the cumbered plain to clear,
To tame the steed, and yoke the stubborn steer,
With cautious plough to rip the virgin earth
And watch her firstborn harvest from its birth . . .
Such be the labours of thy peaceful swains,
Thus may they till, and thus enrich thy plains;
Thus the full flow of population’s tide
lts swelling waters pour on every side . . .
So, Australasia, may thy exiled band
Spread their young myriads o’er thy lonely land
Till village spires and crowded cities rise
In thick succession to the traveller’s eyes.
He wishes Australasians also to encourage Science, Learning, Philosophy, a study of the Classics, and, of course, Poetry. He invokes the Goddess (who dwells, he informs us, on the Warragamba Mountains) to inspire some kindling soul—
To wake to life my country’s unknown lyre
That from creation’s date has slumb’ring lain . . .
He invokes this Goddess to grant that an Austral Milton, an Austral Shakespeare, an Austral Pindar might arise.
And then comes the stanza, every word of which is significant and stimulating to Australians, and probably somewhat provocative and annoying to Englishmen, the stanza which surely lost Wentworth the first prize, if he had been otherwise a close runner-up to Praed, the stanza which has led me here to quote both poems at such length, in order that I may quote it, the stanza which for breathtaking colonial impudence was the dizzy limit in 1823, and is still in 1935, with its assumption that the British Islands might some day decline in power, an astounding prophecy or hope of what might then be the future of Australia as a great and responsible nation—
And, oh, Britannia! shouldst thou cease to ride
Despotic Empress of old Ocean’s tide—
Should thy tamed lion—spent his former might—
No longer roar, the terror of the fight;
Should e’er arrive that dark, disastrous hour,
When, bowed by luxury, thou yield’st to power;
When thou, no longer freest of the free
To some proud victor bend’st the vanquished knee;
May all thy glories in another sphere
Relume, and shine more brightly still than here;
May this, thy last-born infant then arise,
To glad thy heart, and greet thy parent eyes;
And Australasia float, with flag unfurled,
A new Britannia in another world!
Wentworth, in the concluding stanza of his poem, had the audacity to suggest, in effect, that culture and power in the British Islands might some day decline. That would, indeed, be a “dark, disastrous hour,” but might it not happen, nevertheless? Dean Inge has been saying for years that England would be happier as a second-class power, without a colonial empire; as a kingdom, say, about the size of Holland or Denmark, with a population reduced to about ten or twelve million people, economically self-contained. There is quite a strong school of thought in England in support of this view that England is overpopulated, and, in fact, with five million adults chronically unemployed, the population is slowly declining. Britain no longer has the biggest navy, the biggest merchant marine, the biggest industrial equipment. Britain’s strength to-day is mainly as a financial clearing-house, rather than as a world-leader in industry and trade. The Dominions, including Australia, are becoming industrially self-contained. Per contra, far-sighted statesmen in Britain intend to make Britain self-contained in the matter of foodstuffs, as far as possible. The imperial system of even a decade ago is undergoing a profound change. The Labour Party in Britain is opposed to imperialism, and may at any time take charge of the government. Nothing is gained by refusing to look at these facts.
It is quite possible that, in the year A.D. 2000, Britain’s population may have declined to twenty millions and Australia’s population may have risen to twenty millions.
What then? Both countries would have the same size population, but Australia would be immensely richer in natural resources. England would still be richer in castles and traditions, but what of that? Castles and traditions do not make a literature, or Egypt and Palestine would be the most literary countries in the world to-day. Literature is concerned with living realities, with the present and future rather than with the past. Literature and culture blossom at their best during a period of national expansion, as in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, or again in England during the reign of Queen Victoria—two distinctly expanding periods. Literature and culture do not flourish during a period of national decline, except the literature of decadence.
Nothing less than a new and exclusive industrial invention, comparable with the steam engine, or the discovery of a new world to pre-empt and conquer, could maintain Britain’s expansion, or her population at forty-five millions. There is no sign, as yet, of this new invention or discovery.
Well, then! Is Wentworth’s dream so impossible, that Australia might become A New Britannia in Another World?
DECLINE AND FALL
The history of all empires and cultures has been a history of rise, zenith, decline, fall. The changes occur slowly, in centuries rather than in decades. Australia’s effective history of colonial growth occurred during the nineteenth century, while Britain, at “home,” was expanding industrially. Two parallel and complementary expansions occurred—ours pastoral, theirs industrial. In the twentieth century Britain has entered a phase of comparative industrial decline. Must Australia, too, decline? If not, our basic ideas must begin to diverge from those of Britain.
If we are to continue to expand nationally, we shall need a different set of ideas from those current in Britain during a probable period of twentieth century decline or national restriction.
Our literature, our culture, should normally, during the twentieth century, which is our second century, be a literature and culture of national expansion. English literature and culture might, during the same period, be a literature and culture of decline and “decadence.” I take as an example the cynicism of Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, and the eroticism of D. H. Lawrence in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. These books are both works of “decadence,” of English social decadence. (I use the term decadence in the sense of ultra-sophistication, and not in any simple “moral” sense.) Both these products of modern English culture are formally banned in Australia, on the silly “moral” ground, and not for the more exact reason that they represent a culture in decline, which in such a tendency is against the grain of our potentially-expansionist Australian culture. There is no need for the silly “moral” censorship; I think these books of the English decadence could never have profoundly moved Australians. We are much more likely to be moved and influenced by an American book, such as Anthony Adverse, with its great sweep of new historical colour, romance, and action, than by Huxley or Lawrence, with their codes of intrinsic English despair. As for Michael Arlen, Ethel Mannin, Evelyn Waugh, Beverley Nichols, what do we care about their picture of England going downhill? It can move us only vaguely, as a spectacle seen from afar.
During the nineteenth century, while English culture was, like English industry, still expanding, we, also expanding as a people, could look more eagerly to England for cultural guidance that we can in this twentieth century. We were more in harmony with England then; we were dominated by English culture to a greater extent than we shall be henceforth.
WHERE ARE THE ANTIPODES?
The effect of English culture upon Australian culture during the nineteenth century is well worth attempting to trace. I showed, in the quotations from Praed and Wentworth respectively, in their poems on Australasia, that there were two contrasting views of this country as a theme for literature—the Englishman’s and the Australian’s. The Englishman regarded Australia as a barbarous, uncultured, convict settlement and colony. The Australian regarded Australia as home, native soil, a potentially great nation.
From Praed to Marcus Clarke, Rolf Boldrewood, A. L. Gordon, Kendall, Price Warung, and other melancholics is one line of succession in Australian literature, based on the idea of Australia as a permanent colony.
From Wentworth to Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, Tom Collins (in Such is Life), young Miles Franklin (in My Brilliant Career), Steele Rudd (in On Our Selection), and the whole of The Bulletin school under Archibald in the ’eighties and ’nineties, is the other line of succession; optimistic and humorous about Australia, based on the idea of Australia as a Nation which led to Federation of the Commonwealth in 1900.
Developments of Australian culture during the twentieth century have been rather more complex, and will be dealt with in a subsequent section of this essay. At the present it is sufficient to indicate these two nineteenth-century streams in Australian literature and idea, the imported and the indigenous cultures existing side by side. The two tendencies still exist, and will continue to exist in our culture as long as there are immigrants from overseas and native-born living side by side in the country, and both writing about it.
This is the place for another reminder that differences do not necessarily imply antagonisms. In the relationships between Australians and Englishmen, whether in Australia or in England, there is a good deal of cousinly chaff. “Spawn of convicts!” is the Englishman’s none-too-polite but not necessarily unforgivable epithet of cousinly abuse of the Antipodean. “Newchum!” or “Pommy!” retorts the Australian. These pleasant exercises in vulgar banter mark a difference in point of view, but not necessarily a profound antagonism.
Yet the difference is there, the difference in point of view, and it finds its expression in serious literature.
No critique of Australian literature, or of the foundations of a national culture, can overlook the differerences and distinctions between the two contrasting Antipodean points of view. To the Australian, it is London of course which is in the Antipodes—this suggestion an Englishman tends to repudiate with scorn.
It will be as well to note, also that in literature no hard-and-fast or absolute criterion can be found in the mere fact of birthplace. In general, the Australian-born are Australian-minded, and the English-born are English-minded; but there are many exceptions to the rule. Kendall, the Australian native, was as melancholy and English-minded as anyone English-born, in his attitude towards Australia. Louis Stone, an Englishman, in his study of Sydney larrikins in Jonah, showed himself to have almost instinctive Australian literary sympathies. The British genius for colonisation consists in a quick adaptability to a new environment. Hundreds of thousands of Englishmen and other Europeans have become good Australians within a very short while after landing on these shores. These notable exceptions do not destroy the general rule, which is that immigrants tend to take a different view of Australia from that taken by the Australian-born.
Immigrants come to Australia with a preconceived idea, which they cannot easily lose. They look for those features in Australian life which will support their preconceived notion. The Australian-born, on the other hand, come into the country at least without preconceived ideas about it.
FLOGGING THE LAGS
Convictism, in Australian literature, has been mainly the prerogative of English-minded writers. “Yah, convict!” has been a form of retort to “Pommy!” In literature this emphasis upon convictism as the essential fact in our history has been an Englishman’s emphasis, an Englishman’s statement of a preconceived hypothesis of Australia. We saw, in Praed’s poem, a statement of this Englishman’s hypothesis of Australia:
Beautiful land! Within whose quiet shore
Lost spirits may forget the stain they bore—
and in Wentworth’s poem, a quite different view and a statement of the Australian’s hypothesis:
Land of my hope! soon may this early blot
Amid thy growing honours be forgot . . .
It remained for writers such as Marcus Clarke, Rolf Boldrewood, and Price Warung to see to it that the “stain” was not forgotten. Convictism and criminality (bushranging) became a dominant motif in the literature of Australia, not because in fact it was the dominant motif of Australian history, or of Australian life, but because the immigrant writers, with their preconceived hypothesis, thought that it ought to have been dominant.
It is remarkable, too, that the prime works of convictism and criminality in Australia, For the Term of His Natural Life and Robbery Under Arms, should be the acknowledged “classics” of Australian literature amongst English readers in England, almost to this day. The Englishman who stays at home does not easily lose his preconceived, or traditional, idea of Australia as a convict colony. Anything which demonstrates to a man what he already knows is likely to be considered profound. It fortifies a man in his own wisdom. New truths, new areas of knowledge, are perceived more slowly. A mental effort, to clear the old illusion out of the mind, is almost beyond the capacity of the average man, particularly the average reader of fiction. If Australia is, indeed, not merely a convict colony, but a new Nation, a new fact in human experience, the average English reader will be called upon to make a mental effort to grasp that new fact, a mental effort which may be beyond him. He will have a tendency to prefer the old, familiar, conventional and traditional view.
Thus, the Cambridge professors gave Praed’s fantasy the prize over Wentworth’s realism, and thus the English reading public have since preferred Marcus Clarke and Rolf Boldrewood to Lawson, Paterson, and Steele Rudd.
The theme of convictism and flogging is one which would naturally appeal to English people, for the convicts and floggers who came here were English, and the penal settlement here was a direct part of the English penal system. “Botany Bay” was like Dartmoor, a bleak and inaccessible English prison. More convicts were imprisoned and flogged in England at Newgate and Dartmoor and Ipswich and Maidstone gaols than ever were transported to Australia. Convicts indeed are imprisoned and flogged in English gaols to this day. Soldiers were flogged in the English armies under Wellington in France and under Clive in India. Sailors were flogged in the English navy under Nelson and Blake. Captain Cook and Lieutenant Bligh, and all the other English sea-dogs, flogged their English sailors, or had them flogged, most vilely. The barbarities of the convict system, the floggings and cruelties, were the barbarities of the English nation at that time, the persecutors and the persecuted alike were English, not Australian. In the saner atmosphere of Australia, and in the wave of humanitarianism which spread throughout the world in the nineteenth century, these barbarities and seventies came to be modified and to cease.
I am not one to advocate the falsification of history, or the sentimental glossing of harsh facts. But history does not consist of harsh facts only. If it did, English history would be a monstrous tale.
While the oft described horrors of the convict system were proceeding sadistically in Australia, what was happening in England? The gaols there remained full of criminals; Australia merely took off a surplusage. In the textile factories of England, children of eleven and twelve years of age were working at the looms for periods of from twelve to eighteen hours a day! These child slaves were beaten and preached at and sent straight from work on shift to a bed still warm from the previous child-slave occupant. In the mines of England, women and children, stripped to the waist, were pulling skips of coal along underground tunnels so narrow that the human beasts of burden had to crawl on all fours in an absolute darkness. In the cities, small children of nine or ten years of age, frequently orphans, were apprenticed to chimney sweeps, and were used as human brooms, made to climb up narrow, stifling, sooty chimneys in factories and the houses of the rich. It was in English ships that cargoes of Negro slaves were being carried to America, to be sold in the markets there, starved and beaten and in chains.
So horrible were these cruelties of Eighteenth-century England that at last a giant protest of outraged humanitarianism went up, led by Lord Shaftesbury, and after a time the worst horrors abated. But flogging in the English army and navy persisted, and flogging and sadism in the English prisons persisted, long after these horrors had been ended in Australia.
“England!” says the legendary old Australian lady who won Tattersall’s sweep. “No, I don’t want to take a trip to England. That’s where the convicts come from!” She expressed, at any rate, an Australian point of view which the litterateurs of convictism have had a tendency to overlook. Australia quickly abolished convictism, an imported English institution: that is a national achievement to be proud of.
I have spoken to an old man who had joined in the gold rush from Sydney to Bathurst and thence to Araluen in the 1850’s. I asked him about the convicts and bushrangers of the early days.
“Convicts?” he said. “Bushrangers? I never saw any. There were a few Old Lags and criminals and rough characters on the diggings, but they did not amount to much. There’s worse characters about nowadays, or just as bad. The diggers were a decent, law-abiding and hardworking lot.”
I asked him if he had ever read Marcus Clarke and Rolf Boldrewood. “Those writers!” he said. “They only make up a tale to astonish the public, that’s all. There are just as many convicts and criminals about now. Read the newspapers! Also just as many thieves. Bushrangers were only thieves—nothing to get excited about. The police caught them, just the same as now.”
I could not make the old man budge from this point of view, which to me at that time was novel.
“Why make a song about flogging and convicts?” he said. “It is silly to write a book about that. The early days were great fun, not all horrors.” And he repeated that the diggers, pioneers, and early colonists were for the most part decent, hardworking people, who knew how to enjoy life, and lived well on the fat of the land.
I had the curiosity to check up from the statistics of transportation the old man’s point of view that convicts were a minority. It appears that, in the year 1855, when transportation had virtually ceased, the population of Australia was 800,000. Altogether, from the first convict ship to the last, not more than 150,000 convicts had been transported here. A large number of the convicts may be presumed to have died without issue (the percentage of females among them being very small), or to have returned, upon expiry of their sentences, to the Land of the Free from which they came. Effectively, by the year 1855, the proportion of convicts in the population could not have been much higher than one person in twenty, even if all the surviving convicts had been released from prison.
Then came the tremendous influx of immigrants, free persons, seeking gold, which raised the population to a million-and-a-half by 1865, to two millions by 1880, and to over three millions by 1900. What had happened to the convict proportion of one in twenty in the year 1855? It must have dwindled to not more than one per cent by 1880, and to zero by the year 1900. To-day the population of Australia exceeds six millions, very few of them, indeed, descended from the dolorous English convicts, poor miserable creatures that these were to inspire such a doleful quantum of literature.
On these lines of thought there is no need to falsify history or whitewash Australia’s “shameful” convict past. The falsification of history has arisen from a wrong emphasis by the convict school of writers, who seek an obvious drama in the historical crudities, and cannot see the subtler facets of our growth to nationhood, cannot see, as material for literature, the pioneering and nation-building feats of the overwhelming majority of the Australian people, the free people.
“There are just as many convicts and criminals now as in the early days,” insisted my old pioneer friend, and I take his word for it. The American colonies received immeasurably more convicts from England than ever were sent to Australia, and they have lived down the “stigma”—probably because, about the time that Australia was “discovered,” the American colonists declared their independence of English rule, and a fortiari, of the Englishman’s interpretation of their history!
It would not have been necessary for me to make this excursus into convictism as a literary theme if the subject had been allowed to die with Marcus Clarke, Boldrewood, and Price Warung. But it has not been allowed to die. Their books have become “classics,” and their theme is being repeated, down to the present day, by journalists such as J. H. M. Abbott and B. Penton. Landtakers, an historical novel by Penton, which wallows in the sensationalism of convictism and flogging, has been published in Sydney by The Bulletin as recently as 1934, and subsequently became a newspaper reviewer’s “Book-of-the-Month” boosted in Britain by the book critic of The Daily Mail, a journal of the moron millions published under the motto of “For King & Country.” Thus, the legend of convictism and flogging is perpetuated both in Australia and in Britain down to the present day; while a finer, less sensational, less journalistic, Australian literature still has to make its way in both countries.
“ARCHIBALD, CERTAINLY NOT!”
“The Bulletin,” in the ’eighties and ’nineties, provided a rallying point for Australian literary nationalism. J. F. Archibald gathered under his banner a representative collection of rebels against imported culture, and began to encourage the local article. The Bulletin under Archibald did not encourage fine literature in Australia; it encouraged crude literature. The note was defiance, an aggressive Australian nationalism, an attitude which led in politics to federation of the Commonwealth, the growth of the Labour Party, and a protective tariff for Australian manufacturers.
Viewed in historical retrospect, I think that Archibald’s Bulletin has had a dubious effect on Australian literature, and on culture in Australia. It has presented a larrikin view of Australian life. It has made the larrikin idea paramount, as in an earlier phase convictism was paramount. The larrikin and the convict are not representative citizens, though they are dramatic citizens. Convicts and larrikins in Australian literature have been what redskins and cowboys were to American literature—a fiction travesty of the representative life.
The Bulletin was rude, it was slangy, it was smart, it was naughty (in a ’ninetyish way), it was vigorous and robust, it was, in a larrikin or urchin sense, “Australian,” and it had a tremendous effect, I think on the whole a bad effect, on Australian literary and cultural development. Henry Lawson, for example, had in him the materials for great Australian novels, indigenous novels; but Archibald wanted short stories and sketches and poems for his paper, so Lawson became a writer of fragments, suitable for newspaper rather than for book-publication, and the great works, the sustained works, the ample and leisured works which Lawson might have written, and which Australia required of him, remained unwritten.
Archibald’s cult was the terse. Make it short! Make it snappy, make it crisp, boil it down to a paragraph! Such was Archibald’s advice to writers. As a result, The Bulletin and “Bulletinese” (which is a clipped kind of slangy jargon), diverted Australian literature into the channels of dialect, and laid on local colour, not with a brush, but with a trowel.
Archibald was an Irishman by temperament, an Irish-Australian by birth. It is said that he came of mixed extraction, including French, Scottish, and Jewish strains; but his father was Irish, and, anyway, Archibald had no English in him, and no inherited or acquired love for England. He had no mother country except Australia to call “home,” no vicarious patriotism for England. The Bulletin, under his editorship for twenty years from circa 1880 to 1900, was aggressively anti-English and pro-Australian. It opposed the Boer War, or, more precisely, was pro-Boer in its view of that conflict. This provides a keynote to its general attitude towards England and the Empire. The Bulletin, under Archibald, was pro-colonial, and, therefore, anti-English. It was also radical and rough. It provided an Irishman, in fact, numerous Irishmen and Irish-Australians, with a grand opportunity to express themselves.
The Irish element in Australia, comprising twenty-five per cent of the population, never loved England, nor had any reason to love England. They provided the basis, if not for an indigenous Australian culture, at least for the weakening of English influences here. It was Peter Lalor, an Irishman, who raised the Flag of Stars at Eureka Stockade, and proclaimed the first Australian Republic. Irishmen are a splendid lighting element in any country, but they suffer when in exile, no less than Englishmen, from an acute and sentimental nostalgia for their homeland. Irishmen of the first, and even of the second migrant generation, are more concerned with Erin than they need be when they become Australian citizens. But to be anti-English is not in itself enough to make one a good Australian.
The word “larrikin” is said to be of Irish origin; it conveys the same meaning as “playboy,” in J. M. Synge’s drama, The Playboy of the Western World. Archibald was the larrikin, or the Irish playboy of the Australian world. The Bulletin was a lark played by a literary larrikin (I cannot avoid the alliteration, for the phrase expresses just what I mean to say). The BuIlet-een (as it used to be called) thumbed its nose at England and at respectability. It was irreverent and cheeky, as “quick on the uptake” as any street urchin, smart and pert and vulgar, and rude. Because it proclaimed itself pro-Australian it attracted Australian native genius towards itself. And because Archibald himself was a journalist and a literary larrikin of genius, Australian literature and culture became cast, for a time, at a formative time, in The Bulleteen’s mould.
The big men of The Bully (to use another slang abbreviation of its title) were Archibald, Edmond, Macleod, and Hopkins—an Irishman (paramount), a rebel from Glasgae, a staider Scotsman, and an American—strange combination! As a supernumerary, A. G. Stephens, Celtic-Australian literary critic of genius, the greatest and almost the only Australian critic, established the “Red Page” literary column, and performed one of the most truly distinctive feats in Australian literary history by publishing Tom Collins’ Such is Life in book form, before he left The Bulletin—in a huff, as a result of some minor dispute, or merely from incompatibility of temperament. But he had shown, in his Red Page, what literary criticism really could he in Australia. May the saints reward him, for Australia didn’t. He struggled in penury for thirty years after leaving The Bully, and never got the audience he deserved.
One of the biggest elements in The Bulletin’s success was its pictures. Archibald imported to Australia the first half-tone process engraving plant. It can be imagined what this meant, as all newspaper illustrations before this event had been by the slow method of hand-engraving on steel or wood. It meant that The Bulletin could “say it with pictures”—its jokes, its gags, its political cartoons became world-famous. Hopkins, Phil May, Norman Lindsay, D. H. Souter, and, later, David Low, were redoubtable caricaturists, cartoonists, joke-illustrators—a whole school of Bulletin black-and-white artists was evolved, the best of its kind in the world.
What an instrument of power to ridicule, satirise, and give cheek was placed in Archibald’s hands! Besides using the new method of zinc-block pictures, he could cast his net all over Australia and the Pacific Islands, to draw in literary men of genius and talent such as Louis Becke, Price Warung, E. J. Brady, Randolph Bedford, Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Steele Rudd—and ten thousand paragraphists and poets from every shearing-shed, drovers’ camp, and human outpost in the continent. Thus, an indigenous Australian literature was brought to growth—and trained in flippancy, vulgarity, smartness, terseness, and irreverence; taught to express itself in a slick vernacular, an idiom presumed by the editors of The Bulletin to be typically Australian, which was no more typically Australian than the argot of Paris urchins is typically French.
Thus Archibald’s Bulletin, if it provided an antidote to imported culture of the “haw-haw” kind, did little more for the real development of Australian culture than to substitute larrikinism for convictism, as a theme, or more precisely, as an attitude, in the Australian idea. What The Bulletin has become since Archibald’s day, what the Red Page became under Cecil Mann and John Dailey, what the whole paper became under S. H. Prior, need not detain us long, for The Bulletin of to-day is not paramount in Australian culture. The one-time radical ragamuffin became respectable and conservative in its political attitude, and became jingo-imperialistic during the War. It proved itself politically at variance with the mass of the Australian people by plumping for conscription in the two referenda which were defeated by popular vote, including the votes of the troops at the Front. Nowadays The Bulletin is violently and hysterically anti-radical and anti-labour in politics, with a tendency to a Fascist outlook. The merry larrikin rudeness of its youth has decayed into the crusted spleen of senility. A flippancy that sat comically upon the features of the bright youngster has become grotesque in the face of the conservative old man. A slang idiom that was interesting at least by its novelty has nowadays become stereotyped and merely tiresome. Slang to be vivid must be used as the Americans use it, continually created anew. The incongruity of all this stereotyped flippancy with The Bulletin’s present-day conservative line in politics sets up a contradiction which could be resolved only by dropping either the flippancy or the conservative line. As for the criticism on the present-day Red Page, its writers know better how to sneer than to criticise. English, no less than Australian, authors are lectured in the manner of the “Answers to Correspondents” column, as though they were tyros composing paragraphs written by campfires on the back of jam-tin labels to submit to an editorial omniscience. The attitude is very much like that of the small-town Tasmanian editor who, during the Russo-Japanese War of the ‘nineties, began his leading article with the portentous words: “We warn the Czar . . .” It may be presumed that overseas authors of to-day are not profoundly dismayed by The Bulletin’s rebukes and sneers, if they ever read them. If Australian authors, nearer at hand, have sometimes been discouraged by these rebukes and sneers, our literature has, to that extent, been kept back. Australian literature and culture, if it is ever to become more mature than it was in the ’nineties, will need to be emancipated from the tutelage of the Archibald tradition in these days of its atrophy.
PAINTING THE PLACE
Art, in Australia, provides a truer gauge of national growth in culture than does literature. Convictism and larrikinism never intruded into oil-painting, or, at least, into landscape-painting; and neither did journalism, to any serious extent. The half-tone process of reproduction, even to this day, cannot reproduce colour satisfactorily or cheaply in newspapers. The colour-artist in Australia has had to work to please the taste of individual patrons of art, and has not had to subordinate decoration and design to “meaning,” as his brothers of the pen, whether in literature or in black-and-white drawing, had to do.
The foremost black-and-white artist, Norman Lindsay, developed his slickness, speed, sense of humour and sense of human caricature, it may be presumed, under journalistic influence—under the influence of the half-tone process, and, later, of the etching-press. Even his best work is not entirely free from caricature and “cartooning.” Norman Lindsay is in a class apart, and will be considered as such at a later stage in this tractate. He is not a representative “Australian” artist. Hilder, Heysen, and Gruner I take to be the leading examples of distinctively Australian achievement in art.
Landscape artists, whether they liked it or not, have had to face Australia, examine it carefully, and create, or recreate, the land as art. They came by intuition and of necessity close to the Spirit of the Place, whatever it is, as they submitted themselves, with easel, colour, and brushes, to necessary vigils on lonely hillsides, observing the unorthodox contours of the land, and the light quality of an atmosphere not previously painted or described in text-books. Landscape painting in oils, by its meditative and quiet technique, is a mystical process, an intuitive process of mind. If there is any such thing as the Spirit of a Place, the landscape artist will be likely to find it first, and to show others what it is.
Thus the birth of a distinctively Australian culture has been heralded more precisely by our great landscape painters than by our writers, because landscape painting has been subjected to fewer disturbing and extraneous influences than any other form of aesthetic expression in Australia. The work of Gruner, Hilder, Heysen, Streeton and others is a new contribution, an Australian contribution, to the art of the world. Whether it is recognised as such by overseas critics at the moment does not matter. The work is there, and the distinctiveness is there. Art-criticism and art-recognition in London (or Paris) is very much allied in practice to art-marketing and the artistic struggle for existence. Among so many “schools” of modern and modernistic theory, mainly concerned with the log-rolling of cliques, and among so many dealers concerned mainly with marketing Old Masters to the New Rich, it may well be that Australian art will have a long time to wait for recognition outside Australia. Some day, by a swing of the pendulum away from Epstein, towards restfulness and the exotic but quiet beauty of Gruner, it may become a Vogue to have gum trees and sunlit Murrumbidgee valleys on the walls of Mayfair and Manhattan fiats. That day has not yet arrived, and could only arrive if a group of art-dealers first secured a “corner” in Gruner pictures before launching a campaign of theory to prove that he was Corot redivivus, but more charming, more strange, more incomprehensible except to the initiated.
While appreciation of an artist by his contemporaries remains a matter of whim, or of “wangling,” or both, the Australian landscape painters need not seek world-recognition, for they will not get it. They are forced to establish themselves here; to please their own people first—a stroke of luck for the development of Australian culture.
Art depends more directly upon individual patronage than does literature, which depends upon mass-patronage. An artist sells his original, his unique object of merchandise, almost directly to the buyer whose walls it will adorn. The landscape artists in Australia have been fortunate in finding patrons, picture-buyers, amongst Australian people of wealth. I do not say “people of taste”—the artists themselves provided the taste; their patrons merely bought the works, and thus almost unknowingly encouraged the development of culture here. Perhaps they bought mainly for “furnishing value,” perhaps the dealers here, working a “wangle” in their own way, urged upon patrons that the pictures were a commercial investment; perhaps, even, the buyers were actually pleased by the landscapes—anything is possible in a “new” country, and to a new bourgeoisie . . . but whatever the reason, the fact remains that pictures have actually been bought here, that an Australian school of painting has thus been established, and that this school of painting is something new and delightful in the world’s art—certain at some time to be lauded as such; something quite as distinctive as Japanese art, or Persian art, which have had their vogues in world-appreciation.
The development of art in Australia (I confine the discussion for purposes of the thesis to landscape art) has been subject to the same influencing factors as the development of literature. The factors are:
(1) A preconceived or European hypothesis, brought hither by immigrants.
(2) A continued contact with Europe, by the export of artists and the import of European works of art and criticism.
(3) The growth of indigenous art, despite the repressive influence of the two former factors, by means of local criticism and a local marketing technique.
Landscape art in Australia, in colour-painting at least, had no journalistic side-track to explore, no bumptious proclamation of “Australian” aggressiveness to pervert its intention, or to force it into crude and larrikin channels. Art, in the violent atmosphere of Australian democracy-with-growing-pains, miraculously found a means of remaining aloof and dignified. The painters who have hypothecated Australian landscape have been able to do their work without vulgar brawling, without the discouragements of the criticism-which-sneers, and actually with the encouragements of a market and an adequate réclame.
The preconceived or European hypothesis of Australian landscape is seen clearly in the work of Conrad Martens, who came to Australia, in 1835, at the age of 35 years, and painted here until he died in 1878. It may fairly be said that he never saw Australia except through a European’s eyes. His landscape drawings are astonishingly “European.” They portray a land where (as Adam Lindsay Gordon said) “flowers are scentless, and songless bright birds.” Conrad Martens’ colour is murky, his trees droop and spread like English trees; he painted our paddocks as if they were meadows; over his eyes there must have been a European film. His pictures of Australia are as unreal as was Praed’s poem. They are of tremendous significance as showing pictorially what Australia must have seemed like to the first immigrants here, and probably still appears to the first vision of immigrants.
But nowadays we can show the immigrant another interpretation of Australia, an indigenous interpretation, not murky. In the bright yellows and blues of Streeton the murk was cleared away; in the brightness and lyrical colour of Hilder and Heysen a new world is revealed; while in the subtler purples and delicate tints of Gruner all the first garishness of Streeton has vanished, to the picture of a land that is loved, a unique land interpreted by an artist of subtle and delicate mind.
Gruner’s pictures provide an Australian’s hypothesis of Australia. He can show Australians themselves, no less than immigrants, how Australia shall be viewed henceforth. Gruner’s lucent but faint Australian purple and his dry-refracting Australian subtle blue is as distinctive an example of artistic creativeness as was Turner’s misty London blue or flaming Venice sunset red. Gruner, the greatest Australian landscape painter, has shown in his work how the Spirit of a Place creates and is created by the artist. He sees Australia lyrically, the only true realism is his—that which constructs a country as a vision to be attained, as a country that is loved. In proof of this love, there are his pictures, a reality: Australia become real in its own culture and by its own aesthetic. Once you have seen a painting by Gruner, you can never again believe that the Australian landscape is drab or colourless. Here is the ultimate expression of confidence in Australia—the ability and the will to depict it as beautiful and as a desirable land in which to live.
That landscape art should have arrived, from Conrad Martens, through Streeton, to Hilder, Heysen, and Gruner, is a proof that indigenous Australian culture is possible, that the Spirit of the Place will find its own expression, and that that expression will be not only distinctive, but may be beautiful and sophisticated. Gruner is a sophisticated painter. He has travelled to Europe, and absorbed what he needed of European traditions in painting; but no more than he needed. This should be the keynote of our developing culture.
Art in Australia, like literature, has been subject to loss by the export of talent. We have exported quite a number of artists, and there have been Australian R.A.’s. We have imported artists and teachers of art, and works of foreign artists, but not to the extent that we have imported literature, and teachers of literature, from abroad. If we are respectful of foreign criticism of our art, we have nevertheless (thanks to S. Ure Smith, Gayfield Shaw, and a gallant band of dealers here), developed critical standards of our own, which have encouraged the best in indigenous art. As a result, Australian art, instead of being merely imitative of, or repressed by, overseas standards, has arrived at standards of its own.
Second Instalment, July 1935
ALL IS IN FLUX
The task now, or interesting duty, which falls upon the minority of Australians who know that growth of mind, or intellectual culture, is even more significant than growth of sheepsí woolóis to seek, find, and develop the basis of that intellectual culture in the Commonwealth: to explore now and pioneer the Vast Open Spaces of the Australian mind.
The first essential in any such exploration is to make a survey of ourselves in historical perspective. Without a strong sense of our own history we cannot expect to arrive at national self-consciousness. Broadly speaking, it may be said that our history, prior to 1850, was a branch or sector of English history. After that date, or when transportation of English convicts had ceased, our history tended more and more to become our own property, of interest peculiarly to ourselves as being formative of our own national character. It was a dramatic moment in our national story (our “Boston Tea Party”) when a band of free colonists, armed with muskets, went down to Circular Quay and bawled out to the skipper of The Hashemy, just in, that any attempt to land his convicts would be resisted by force. That ship hauled up her anchor and put to sea again, headed for Moreton Bay. The first big Australian gesture was made that day; the beginning of the movement for Australian independence.
Our national Australian history is comparatively brief. Its rhythms are calculable in decades, and not yet in centuries; but, for us, each decade of our history is packed with lore and legend and significant national experience. A decade of our own history is more important to us than a century of history from elsewhere.
Our history has been, and is, a gigantic pageant played on a vast stage. The least important of each of the seven millions of us is still playing a part in that drama. There are enough of us to make a nation; not enough to make a vast amorphous mass (such as the Chinese Republic) in which the individual practically ceases to exist. Individuality, in Australia, still matters.
Every ten-year period in our history, particularly from 1850 onwards, has had its own character and quality and national meaning. We are not a crystallised, set, people: there is much movement of both body and spirit in the progressive formation of Australia’s national mind.
The scenes and actors in our giant pageant have changed swiftly and colourfully. No decade has resembled the previous decade even in externals of social, political, and economic life. Nothing has settled into a form of apparent permanence, as yet; though the outlines are at last beginning to be defined.
Our history has had its own glamour.
Wave after wave of adventurous exploration has swept across Australia’s vast stage-setting. In one decade the gold-prospectors went fossicking, thousands of miles “from anywhere,” in the lonely hills and gullies, not of a mere region, but of an entire empty continent. In another decade the patriarchal Shepherd Kings went moving slowly, moving always, on and on, “further outback,” with their flocks and herds, pack-horses and bullock-waggons, into the enormous lyrical wilderness. In another decade came the “settlers,” knocking down trees with axes; putting up fences and houses, building townships and towns.
In one decade it is bullock-waggons for transport; in the next it is Cobb & Co.’s coaches; in the next decade ten thousands miles of gleaming rails are suddenly laid down, and locomotives begin to scream like iron parrots through the bush: then, hey presto!, a wave of history’s wand, and, in one decade more, motor-cars are going across our plains and hills on roads of concrete and macadam . . . and yet, already, look up, Kingsford Smith flies from Australia right around the world and back home here, mails and passengers zoom across the continent to a simple and matter-of-fact timetable; it is only four days by plane to England. . . .
Bullock-waggons, horses, locomotives, automobiles, aeroplanes, one after the other in five decades: all in a lifetime! Children of these days are born into a different environment from that of their parents. Old ideas, old fixed concepts, are necessarily open to challenge by those who belong to each new generation: to each new decade. It is the old who now must learn. The young can teach. There was never before a human epoch like this.
All is in flux, our Australian nation is emerging, finding itself, in a welter of accelerated human change which is occurring all over the globe. Profound historical changes, which by all precedents should have taken centuries or aeons of evolution to be effectuated, have been packed, as it happens, into the few foundation decades of our Australian national story.
Ought not we Australians now to pause, even if only for a few moments, to review our position, take a sight of the stars and of the sun at noon, and set a course?
NO DEARTH OF GENIUS
An act of intellectual self-consciousness, an act of thought performed now, by those equipped to do the thinking for this nation, is necessary if we are to preserve and develop our Australian fibre, our individuality, our national self respect. Dispensers of mental bromides to the public may feel in their smugness that Australia is doing quite well without any thought, and that thinkers and critics are dangerous stirrers-up of trouble, who ought to be in every way discouraged; but the bromide-merchants have had their own way so long, and are now so stultified themselves by the prescriptions they dispense, that the power to dull the edge of a new idea is not what it used to be. No one who can think at all is satisfied with Australia’s intellectual status and the achievements of culture in Australia to-day.
Within the limits of this present Essay an attempt is being made, mistakenly no doubt in parts but never insincerely, to understand why it is that Australian culture has become so stultified, smug, and puerile; to ask why and how the exultant outburst of Australian creativeness of the nineties (in politics as well as in literature) had a damper put upon it so that the Australian national fire, for thirty years or more, has merely smouldered when it ought to have blazed.
The diagnosis and treatment of Australian provincial smugness, of the frame of mind quite satisfied with cultural conditions here, is a matter of sustained clinical, surgical, and alienist work which I could no more than begin. Smugness is seldom or never aware of itself as being smug, and it is a thankless task to administer a realistic jolt to sufferers from this complaint.
In England, the smug, attempting to live by Queen Victoria’s formulae, have received constant jolts from critics such as Shaw, Wells, and Chesterton, who, under the great liberal traditions of free thought and free expression handed down from Milton, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill, have not hesitated to state a new truth when they perceived it sincerely. In America, more recently, writers such as Mencken, Nathan, and Sinclair Lewis have remembered that their national ancestors, Ingersoll and Tom Paine, established the right of a thinker to think, aloud when necessary and damn the consequences, and because this right has been thus re-established and re-affirmed, modern America is once again a home of thought instead of a prison, as it threatened to become twenty or thirty years ago, in the heyday of Comstock, Pinkerton, and the Prohibitionists.
But in Australia we have had no fearless social critics and thinkers even remotely comparable with Shaw, Wells, Chesterton, Mencken, Nathan, and Lewis; the smugness here has been quite undisturbed and has settled down into lethargic self-contentment. The purveyors of bromides, from press, pulpit, and university, have administered their sedatives without meeting with any perceptible resistance from their patients.
Bland and smug, the second-rate minds have made Australia safe, for themselves. Seated firmly in editorial and professorial chairs, in economic security obtained only too frequently by adeptship at crawling, these second-raters have been able to put humiliation and sickness of spirit upon the major geniuses of our country. Victor Daley, we are told, wept actual tears at his own helplessness in the face of an affront offered to him by the editor of a weekly newspaper who paid for a rondel at ordinary “lineage” space-rates. Henry Lawson, we know, begged for money in the streets of Sydney. Chris Brennan was saved from starvation only by the tactful charity of friends. A. G. Stephens never could be sure of his next shilling. The two Lindsay brothers, Jack and Philip, could never earn a living in Sydney, and thus were impelled to depart to London, where their great intelligence and literary ability in due course met with a fair reward. I could name more than a dozen men and women of real literary genius, in Sydney to-day, who earn less from their writings, per week, than the lowest paid manual labourer, and cannot, like the labourer, draw a government dole when unemployed.
In no other country in the civilised world is literary genius so badly treated, so humiliated and crushed and despised and ignored, as in Australia. Let us recognise this and drop all the blab about our progressiveness, all the familiar cant about our Vast Open Spaces, superb cricketers and tennis-players, and marvellous Merino sheep.
Australia, the country that produces genius, for export, and kills them slowly but surely if they stay here; such is our reputation. Australia, the land where the second-rate are on top. . . .
There is no dearth of genius here, merely a dearth of opportunity and encouragement for genius. Until the social and economic position of the thinker; the artist, the creative intellectual worker in Australia is made at least as secure as it is in the more civilised countries, we are not a nation, we remain colonials, hewers of wood and drawers of water, exporters of primary products; yokels, peasants, clods; soaking up “culture” or anything else that is handed to us, including propaganda of all kinds from Overseas.
To those who know Australia and the Australians, this mental inertness, this smugness, is a complete anomaly. Physically, man for man and woman for woman, the Australian is more than on a par with the world’s best. Mentally, the Australian is not actually a sluggard, on the contrary the Australian is particularly energetic as an individual. The deplored inertia and smugness would seem to have resulted, not from any inherent intellectual incapacity in the Australian, but rather from some remediable condition, some external phase of life, some wrong turning which has been taken nationally.
By an act of intellectual self-consciousness, an awakening of the self-critical faculty, a determined essay in self-definition, now, we ought to arrive nationally with considerable speed at a more civilised and enfranchised intellectual atmosphere. Sophistication, it may be, is just around the corner.
That act of Australian self-knowledge and self-definition and awareness of our own history and destiny would seem to be all the more necessary and urgent now, when the systems of the Old World, which have culturally supported us hitherto, appear to be on the edge of collapse.
ISOLATED FROM EUROPE
This act of cultural self-definition, in Australia at the present time, may mean a great deal more than emancipation from the Dictatorship of the Smug, important though such an emancipation would be. It may mean more than a restoration of our national vim of the nineties, which has apparently been undermined by the bewilderments of the ensuing machine-and-war epoch. It may do more than prevent us from becoming mere automata of the Machine Age and puppets of Elsewhere; though all these enfranchisements are necessary.
The significance, to all thinking people, of a movement for real cultural autonomy in Australia at the present time resides in the fact that such an autonomy may yet be able to save a relic of civilisation in Australia, should civilisation happen to go smash in Europeís apparently inevitable “next war.”
If Europe is determined to go smash in an unprecedentedly insane machine-and-poison war, if all Europe is to become a charnel-house and devastated Waste Land and No Man’s Land, what then? Might Australia not just happen to escape the holocaust, might Australia in that event not even become the sole repository of what were once European culture, ideals of decency, and civilisation? Might not this torch also be handed to us before the end of the twentieth century, as well as the torch of European physique?
We should hope for the best, but, quite realistically, prepare for the worst to happen in Europe. We must be prepared to accept the status and responsibilities which our brief but significant history has thrust upon us, of being the only whiteman’s continent, the only isolated continent; and incidentally the only continent peopled entirely in the modern age, unhampered and undivided by old local and traditional feuds, differences, languages, and hates.
There is storm to-day over Asia, over Africa, over Europe, and over America. Yes, even America may not escape the smash; for civil war, race war, class war, mutters there as angrily and constantly as imperialist war mutters in Europe. It will take centuries for America to become homogeneous by fusion of her racial hotch-potch in her vast crucible of miscegenation. America is not a nation, but consists of many nations, as does Europe; and with added Negro, Asiatic, and Red Aboriginal elements, which Europe lacks. America can never become a guardian of white culture in any pure sense of that term. America is heterogeneous, in ideas and culture as well as in race; and must remain so for at least another two or three centuries.
In Australia we have suffered, as some people think, from geographic isolation and distance from Europe. But, judging from the way things are now shaping in Europe, our isolation and distance therefrom may not ultimately be such a disadvantage. That isolation and distance, it may be, will save Australia from participating in the probable sudden international death-smash which so many prophets so persistently foresee as Europeís destiny.
Our first concern, as Australians, is to consider what may happen in Australia whether or not things go smash elsewhere. It is not impossible that, before the end of this century, we Australians may be called upon to accept a responsibility for which at present we are unprepared, a responsibility actually as principal guardians of white civilisation, of white culture, of white traditions upon this earth!
Events outside Australia and quite beyond our control may thrust this prodigious national responsibility upon us.
If, in prognosticating thus, I am seemingly a merchant of scares, if white civilisation is beyond doubt quite safe for all time to come in Europe and America; and if there is in fact no barbarian menace to either of those culture-systems to-day, then the suggestion, if less urgent, is still worth considering. I suggest here the national necessity of planting autonomous culture in the Commonwealth as firmly as it has been planted in Europe, so that it can grow upon this soil, if need be without further help from Europe.
As far as Europe is concerned, Australians can continue to hope for the best; and be prepared for the worst. Whatever is going to happen in Europe, during the next ten, fifty, or hundred years, it is time now, this year, for Australia to carry forward the process of becoming culturally weaned from Europe. It is time now for Young Australia to become Adult, to accept the responsibilities and duties of being Adult, of being civilised; of becoming a fully-cultured nation, self-supporting, if need be, in matters of culture.
And, let me here repeat, the first essential in such a process is that, as a nation, we should become actively conscious of our own history, literature, and traditions, in order to develop an adequate sense of our own destiny and national character.
“YOURS FOR AUSTRALIA”
During five decades, from 1850 to 1900, we grew swiftly towards our nationhood, more swiftly than any other nation in history has grown. Spread over such a huge area, we nevertheless grasped, as a people, the concepts of unity, common interest, defence, and democratic self-government: and we established the Federation, the Commonwealth of Australia, under no outside compulsion, but voluntarily as a pure essay in national logic.
In the eighties and nineties, at the close of one of the most dramatic centuries in human history, the century which saw the steam-engine perfected and the machine-age thus launched, we Australians arrived with a simple hurrah at our national self-definition. In the eighties and nineties men signed their letters, Yours for Australia, and wore lapel-buttons blazoning the same naive slogan: Australians reached out eagerly then to embrace their nationality. In an atmosphere of patriotic excitement and high hopes the Commonwealth of Australia was born, the White Australia ideal was formulated and proclaimed, Australian Democracy established itself (on the sound principle of “one bloody man, one bloody vote”); and Australian literature grew up as a rowdy infant under the tutoring of J. F. Archibald and A. G. Stephens.
The astonishing Nineteenth Century ended with the death of Queen Victoria and the foreboding rattle of Mausers in South Africa. . . .
Even while Australia at home had come peacefully to birth as a nation, Australian soldiers were dying, bullet-riddled, on the kopjes of Empire.
THE WORLD GONE MAD
The Twentieth Century came in with a fanfare of the trumpets of peace, optimism, progress, prosperity, and human certainty. Everything was for the best in the best of all possible Everlasting Empires and epochs. Alas! since then only three decades have gone by; we are but half-way into the fourth decade of the Wonderful New Century, and all those simple enthusiasms have already gone crash. The glittering bowl of prosperity is broken; pessimism, dismay, and sickness of spirit have afflicted all mankind. Even Australia Felix has become decidedly in-felix. From the world-depression there seem no escapes except war and revolution.
Disease and death, hatred and fear, ride the whirlwind of human imagination. The old are paralysed by the thought of their own ineptitude in the face of events beyond their experience to control; the young are bewildered and hurt by any attempt they may make to understand the apparent insanities of an earth gone whimpering mad to all appearances, a Waste Land, as their prophet from Boston has called it:
This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang but a whimper . . .
Few minds, indeed, are so basically resilient as to have preserved, across the Abyss of the second and third decades of this century, the simple optimism of the first decade.
Into that Abyss, of the Great War and the Great Aftermath, crashed not only ten million and more young human lives, but also the Spirit of Man itself; everywhere on the earth, and even in Sunny Australia.
If a resurgence of the Spirit of Life, and thus of Life itself, is possible anywhere on the earth, it may be possible in our Commonwealth, which is young enough, in mind and nerve, to remain uncynical under terrific shocks of fate: it may be possible here, where the physical basis of life is so young and strong, and as yet so comparatively unwearied and undefeated.
CHILDREN OF THE ABYSS
In this year of continuing calamity, 1935, if we are to take stock of realities, the reality is that there are already hundreds of thousands of young Australian men and women, now become adults, who were not even born in August, 1914; who, consequently, know nothing at first hand about the peace, prosperity, spirit of optimism, and general certainty of life as it used to be lived in the naive first decade of the century.
These are the young people brought up in the tired idea that the earth is a lunatic asylum. They know nothing about the good old steady-going days and ways of the horse epoch, they are born in the age of autos, planes, radio; and rumours of wars. Their education, after their school days, is partly from technical journals and partly from the bizarre cacophonics of cinema, wireless, and the disgusting stunt press The very ideas of permanent salaried employment, steady promotion, married life, home and family of their own, seem chimaeras to these new-age young men and women, who are the chronic unemployed of the Great War’s Aftermath. They are the untrained citizens in whom hope has been crushed; for whom (as they view matters) Industry and their nation have no apparent use. In their own bewildered view of themselves they are misfits and failure, and life is something irrational and utterly beyond the possibility of control by their Will.
Every year from now on there will be at least 100,000 Australian-born men and women coming of age and entitled to vote: and not one of these adult men and women, voters, will know anything at first hand about pre-war normality; and still less will they know of the insouciance of the nineties of last century. These sad young people are the Children of the Abyss, born since 1914, in the years of calamity and in the Aftermath.
And every year, as the sad young people become citizens and adults, the Old Hands, “from natural causes” are dwindling in numbers in the community; and thus the proportion of citizens who can even remember what things were like “before the War” becomes inexorably smaller each year.
There is still a tendency amongst the middle-aged and the old to regard those fine idyllic days before the War as being “normal,” but such reasoning is the result of a paucity of thought. To the Children of the Abyss, it is the Abyss that is normal.
PRESERVATION OF LORE
And so, if even the Great War of 1914-18 is being forgotten, save by those cheerful Old Kaspars, the surviving “Diggers” of the period (fast greying now, alas, most of them), or more precisely, if the Great War never was a reality to hundreds of thousands of now newly-adult Australians who were simply not born, or were infants in arms when the guns thundered, how much more so is our history preceding 1914 a blank to the oncoming Australians of to-day?
Seven decades of tremendous Australian events, from 1850 to 1920, are remembered, more or less as personal experience, by the old and the middle-aged; but can now never be made known or told to the young or to future generations of Australians, except through the printed word, the literary word: the development of Australian literature, which is the sine qua non of Australia’s nationality.
The balladists of the eighties and nineties caught and branded the contemporary phase of life, the phase of the shearing-sheds, of the sunlit plains extended, of the sundowners, of the Champion Ringers, and they sang the epics of the nomadic age so liltingly and truly that their Songs were immediately learned for recitation in every shearing-shed and swagman’s camp throughout the Six Colonies. But this was a phase, the phase of the horse epoch, and it has passed.
Steele Rudd, too, caught and parodied the cocky farmer, the pioneer of the small-holding, so truly that his books were sold in millions. They were distinctively Australian, and so was C. J. Dennis’ The Sentimental Bloke, with its picture of the dirty larrikin, popularising Louis Stone’s Jonah in glib rhymed verse. The picture of Australia presented by the balladists, by Steele Rudd, by C. J. Dennis, fixed an image of a “rough” type of Australian who was indeed characteristic at that time, a spontaneously generated type.
Our newspaper cartoonists and comedians have been drawing their sustenance from these types, repeating them again and again, right into these nineteen thirties, as though Australian life had not at all changed from the pioneering days. Such is the lore put forth as Dinkum Australian, to the understandable disgust of a newer generation, and to the amazement of people overseas.
The literature of the newer phase, of modern Australia, has still to make its way. If written, it remains unpublished; or if published (usually in England) it is not adequately distributed here. The immense sweep of the pioneering saga, as faithfully presented in the novels of Brent of Bin Bin, is but an indication of what can be done with the Australian theme. Our lore is much more weighty than the “Bloke” and “Dad” stuff. Even on the level of the outback theme, it seems preposterous that we have not had an Australian Zane Grey to depict the romantic Australian horsemanship of our West. It seems preposterous that Australians, who are the finest horsemen and cattle-stealers in the world, should be obliged to go to Texas for their cowboy lore. We are not living here mentally, it would seem. We are merely living here physically.
But, apart from landscape literary art and the crude distortions and parodies of Convict, Shearer, Cocky, Bloke, and even “Digger” lore, there is surely as much scope for faithful literary portraiture in this Commonwealth as anywhere else. Hath not an Australian eyes? Hath not an Australian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?
The substantial metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne offer as much scope for literary portrayal as any other metropolis in the world, more so, being practically virgin fields. All the ingredients of fiction, for example, love, hate, greed, sex, death, conflict, are as frequent in Sydney or Melbourne as in New York, Paris, or London.
As for Professor Cowling’s contention that “we might have one Australian Sinclair Lewis, but not many more,” that is, to use an appropriate Americanism, bunk. The Australian businessman, the Australian Babbitt, provides an inexhaustible fund of material for the satirical novelist who can rise to the opportunity. We have our Australian Main Streets, and our Elmer Gantrys too: a sufficient supply of them for a dozen Sinclair Lewises. The debunking of Australian contemporary life can provide, in full measure, for an entire school of debunkers, when these arrive (may it be soon!).
The first thing to debunk is the Lag Tradition, and then the Dave Tradition, and then the Bloke Tradition so dear to the Australian stylists who spell “you” as “yer” and “to” as “ter” in an attempt to introduce the local colour. In addition, our debunkers might then turn their attention to the de-Pomification and un-Yankeefying of Australian literature and life.
Our own lore, our fair-dinkum lore, might then begin to emerge, together with a truer concept of our national history.
Who will write an Australian Uncle Tomís Cabin, to arouse a salutary indignation against the monstrous treatment and enslavement of our expropriated blackfellows?
“HISTORY IS BUNK!”
The Aborigines, our admirable predecessors in sovereignty over the territory of Australia Felix, had their Bora ceremonies, their Initiation Corroborees; during which the seniors took the young men away into a sacred place, knocked out with a sacred stone a tooth from each candidate for knowledge (in order to test the youths’ resistance to hardship and pain), and then told them, with awe-inspiring circumstance, the holy secrets of the tribe. We white Australians should consider the advisability of doing something of the same kind.
Just as the sacred traditions and legends of an Aboriginal tribe provide that tribe with a collective soul and a continuity, so written history and literature provide a civilised nation with a national soul and a coherence. The recitation of national lore provides the foundation of a national survival-idea. Without this recitation of lore there can be no national centre: no nation. A nation is positively identified with its lore, which is actively handed down from generation to generation. This is the true meaning of culture in any Place, preservation of tribal or national experience in a memorable form; in holy scriptures, in churinga, in literature; because of the coherence-value, the discipline-value, the survival-value of that experience and lore.
Those who say that Australia “has no history” are merely talking utter, arrogant, academic nonsense.
Our history and pedigree prior to the nineteenth century is the whole history of England, or of Britain; a history which belongs to us as much as it does to any modern inhabitant of Bournemouth, Leeds, Glasgow, Cork, Llanelly, Tolpuddle, Margate, or Stow-in-the-Wold. We inherit, and are proud of inheriting, British history, legend, and lore, up to a certain point in British history: after that point we begin to diverge, we begin to have our own history.
We have a right to our own Australian nineteenth and twentieth centuries, our first and second centuries. . . . In particular, the seven decades from 1850 to 1920 are the foundation decades of the Australian nation; and, as such are of indelible interest to us.
Only an academic Mugwump, blinded by the formalities of learning, could contend that nothing much of importance, to Australians, occurred in Australia between 1850 and 1920.
During those seven decades the Merino sheep was bred, in Australia, from a mixed and dubious European ancestry, to the magnificent beast for his purpose that he is to-dayómodesty prevents an analogy from being drawn too strongly: it is enough to say that seven decades of sheep experience was enough to produce a new kind of remarkable sheep in Australia, and possibly something of the same kind has happened to the humans here during the same period of time.
In the matter of pedigrees, as any sheep-breeder knows, recent history is always of more importance than remote ancestry.
A nation can change its entire calibre, outlook, characteristics, and quality in 150 years. The French nation, for example, since the date of James Cook’s “discovery” of our Australia, has experienced the enormous events of the French revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-Prussian War, and the “Great” War; has become industrialised, and has acquired a colonial empire. These comparatively recent events are of more profound significance to Frenchmen of to-day than the whole of previous French history from Charlemagne to Louis XVI.
In the same way, the industrialisation and imperial expansion of Britain, during the reigns of Queen Victoria, of Edward VII and of George V, have had a profounder mental effect upon the inhabitants of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales than all the events of previous British history from Alfred the Great to George the Fourth.
Recent events, very recent events, in Russia, Germany, and Italy, are certainly more significant to Russians, Germans, and Italians of to-day respectively than all their previous histories of a thousand years.
It is a nice point to decide at what period in retrospect history ceases to be a vital study, and becomes a mere academic exercise. It seems doubtful whether anything which occurred more than 150 years ago is of anything but academic interest for Australians of to-day, or for the people of any other nation of to-day. History took such a new and extraordinary trend everywhere throughout the world during the nineteenth century, with the coming of the machine-epoch, changing all human categories and values so profoundly, that the relative importance of everything which happened before that nineteenth century has dwindled.
National lore, in Australia particularly, but also in every other country on the globe, should be concerned with the recitation and digestion and vital study of what has happened during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The place for all history earlier than that is in dustbins, and universities.
Vital Australian history, vital Australian lore, is not being taught, at present, to our Australian youth. We are employing pedagogues from overseas, outsiders, visitors from other tribes and nations, to teach their lore, their traditions, their legends, their interpretations (even of ourselves) to our young men and women! This process can have only one effect, an anti-Australian effect, no matter how intrinsically “noble” the teachings imported from those other places may seem. Consider, for example, some of the “youth movements,” such as “Toc H” or the Boy Scout Movements. As taught and practised in Australia, these “movements” certainly do not strengthen Australianism. They strengthen a puerile sentimentality about England and the Empire.
Consider, too, the cultural influence of the professional religious pedagogues who concern themselves, in “church” schools, with forming the ideas and characters of Australian boys and girls. All questions of sectarianism apart, the dear good vicars and curates and lordly bishops of the Anglican persuasion cannot but instill English sentimentality in their English-Australian school; while the holy fathers and monsignori and reverend bishops of the Roman persuasion cannot but instil Italian or Irish sentimentality. Similarly, the dour Presbyterian elders tend to instil Scots sentimentality; for every man who is a teacher, whether in Holy Orders or not, carries with him into his instruction the flavour of his own nationality, and religion, no less than other forms of culture, is tinctured with Place.
Few pedagogues, if any, in Australia to-day, and certainly none amongst those who instruct the children of the wealthier (and hence more influential) people, are to be found instilling Australian sentiment, indigenous culture, Australian national lore and tradition and respect into the minds of Australian youth.
The culture of a human being is not, in its essential quality of growth from within, different from the culture of a plant. External culture cannot be plastered upon a cabbage or a boy as one spreads butter with a knife. Yet this is what our imported pedagogues attempt. Our youths are being instructed in the empty formulae of culture, of European culture, and are not being shown the relationships between their own lives and their Australian national traditions and pedigree.
The result of such a sheer divorce between culture and reality in Australian education is a false orientation of the Australian mind, a mental orientation towards Europe (or towards a fantasy of Europe). Thus, many or most young Australians are endowed with what amounts to a split personality, a mental hankering for Europe plastered upon the physical necessity of living in Australia.
It is unfortunate for Australian self-respect that our pedagogy should be thus so deeply tinctured with a culture antipodean to our own. Formal education, whether religious or secular, has failed to strike roots into the Australian soil, and continues to float in a nebulous region of cultural unreality.
The religious pedagogues are of necessity inspired from overseas and from heaven; no discernible religion has, as yet, originated in Australia, poor savages, we have merely thirsted for religion, as we have thirsted for culture, from other countries which are so fortunate as to have a surplus of both for export.
The purely secular education, also, has failed as yet to become grounded in Australian national realities. Secular education is directed ultimately by the universities, which, in their “Arts” faculties, are really nothing but colonial strongholds, or outposts, or weak imitations, of Oxford and Cambridge. Our Australian universities, insofar as they are not merely technical training colleges for “careers” in engineering, law, medicine, applied science, dentistry and similar utilitarian professions, are on their cultural side virtually nothing but teachers training colleges. Almost all Australian “Arts” graduates take up the self-denying profession of school-teaching as a “career,” and have sought the University Degree as a means of advancement (to slightly higher salaries) in that profession.
Then what, we may well ask, is being taught to these teachers? A vast respect for Oxford and Cambridge, a scant respect for Australia, if we are to judge from the published remarks of professors such as Cowling (quoted earlier in this essay). It will be recalled that Professor Cowling rhetorically declared as follows in the public press:
What scope is there for Australian biography? Little, I should say. . . . What scope is there for Australian books on travel? Little, I think. . . .
Little he should say, and little he thinks, indeed! Confound their impertinence, is this the kind of anti-Australian nonsense these professors are imported from England to teach to the teachers of our Australian youth?
Formal education, as dispensed in class-rooms by pedagogues, furnishes ultimately, no doubt, but a small part of the individualís mental outlook and cultural equipment. Class-room instruction is important in its way, because it lays a groundwork in the mind, but the real education of a person begins after leaving school. The real education of the citizen to-day is obtained from books, from the newspapers, from the cinema, and from the wireless broadcasting stations. An adult learns more voraciously and unconsciously than a child.
In all these informal sources of real or adult education, no less than in the formal school and university pedagogy, Australian sentiment is crushed back into second place, or into no place at all. Whether in school or out of school, the paradox is that the Australian idea, in Australia, is relegated by the people’s educators to the far background, or else never comes into the picture.
Why, why, why? When we can answer this insistent question, we shall have travelled some considerable distance along the road to Australian self-respect; and we shall be approaching the means of a resurgence of that creative spirit in Australia which flared up in the nineties and then died down to a smoulder, near extinction.
I am inclined to think that the predominance in Australia of overseas culture-propaganda is a result primarily of superior mechanics of marketing and superior salesmanship by the culture-importers and distributors.
If, in Australian bookshops far and wide throughout the Commonwealth, nine hundred and ninety-nine books and magazines of a thousand on show are English and American; if, in the cinema-theatres of every Australian city, suburb, town, township and hamlet, practically all the films shown are American and English; if, on the wireless stations cluttering every millimetre of the Australian ether, grammophone records of English and American origin are broadcast and rebroadcast ad nauseam; if, in the columns of the Australian press, a priority is given not only to “features” but also to news from overseasóin all these disseminations of overseas culture (and the cumulative effect of them is paralysing to the Australian idea), I detect nothing more sinister than a superior salesmanship, a superior marketing and distributing technique, on the part of the vendor of the ubiquitous overseas culture-stuff.
Education, both formal and informal, is therefore, for one reason and another, taken out of the area of Australian patriotic sentiment and control. It is the cumulative effect of the insistent and ubiquitous foreign adult-education media plus the un-Australian groundwork laid in our class-rooms, which has wrecked the spirit of the Australianism that set sail in the bright eighties and nineties.
Until we can restore some measure of respect for the Australian ideal, some of the lost prestige of Australian creativeness, we must as a nation continue to be culturally passive, recipients of culture-manna from Elsewhere.
BOOKSELLERS AND PUBLISHERS
A nation culturally passive, culturally self-classified as second-rate, culturally dependent on another nation, in brief, culturally abject, is one which will exalt mediocrity and drive genius into silence or exile: precisely what Australia has done for almost forty years past, since the first florescence of national mind became nipped in the bud. To those who would refute this thesis by pointing to the fact that poets such as Mary Gilmore, and prose-writers such as Ion Idriess, have had no lack of publication and appreciation here, I would reply that such a contention exactly illustrates my meaning. Mrs. Gilmore and Mr. Idriess are competent and entertaining writers, but, as I view it, they are not profound, nor finally significant, writers. It is a good thing that, at a certain level, Mrs. Gilmore is esteemed for her poetry and Mr. Idriess for his prose: but it would be a tragedy if this level were fixed as the highest to which Australian writers could aspire, or as the highest to which Australian writers have, in fact, attained. We must not judge English literature by the prose work of Warwick Deeping, nor American literature by the poetical works of Edgar Guest! Yet there is (or was a years ago) some danger that literature in Australia would come to be judged in terms of its most boosted products rather than of its best.
The great Australian book-selling, or book-distributing firms have traditionally, and by a natural logic, been concerned mainly with the sale and distribution of imported books, rather than of “Australian-made” books. When such firms, occasionally and as a sideline, began to undertake the publication of books by Australian authors, their attitude would be naturally that of the bookseller rather than that of the book-publisher. The bookseller, accustomed to “to giving the public what it wants” (like a newspaper editor) has a tendency to give the public (or rather sell to the public) books of a familiar pattern, safe books, books beyond criticism, conservative books.
So it must be with all who follow rather than create a concept of Public Taste. A bookseller could “handle” an unusual, unorthodox, indecent, or even a radical book, if somebody else had published it, and thus had taken the responsibility of putting it into print. But a bookseller with 20,000 or more customers, most of them “regulars,” would (like a newspaper editor) think very carefully about what he published with his own imprint: would be, in fact, ultra-cautious as a publisher, and could not be blamed for being so cautious. It is more than fifty years ago since, in England, the functions of bookseller and of book-publisher finally became quite separate.
The Publisher’s frame of mind is much more venturesome than that of the Bookseller. The Publisher, in the course of his business does not hesitate to take risks, not only financial but “literary.” He has that in his nature which makes him desire to give the public, not only what it wants, but what it ought to want. Any publisher worth his salt will take up a “new” author, an unorthodox author, an outrageous author, a rebellious author, in the hope that ultimately he will discover a Shaw, a Wells, a Galsworthy, as the rebel matures. But a Bookselling Firm with a respectable connection could not take the risk of sponsoring a young Shaw, a young Wells, or a young Galsworthy: or any new writer who would curdle the innocent blood of maiden aunts.
So it is that in Australia a “safe” policy has been followed by the booksellers who undertook publishing as a sideline. The late George Robertson was the most typical of these. This kindly, shrewd Scotsman was one of the greatest booksellers the world has ever known. Few, if any, bookshops in Britain sold as many books as did his shop in Sydney. Glasgow-trained, he knew bookselling as a fine art. He ventured into book-publishing in Australia not from any urge to intensify and focus the national culture, but merely because the function of publishing was forced upon him, as it were, through an absence of other publishers. He was confronted many times, I feel sure, with manuscripts which he would, as a man, an artist, and a booklover, have been delighted to publish: but his policy, as Bookseller Paramount was caution: and who could blame him? It may fairly be said that, as a publisher, he did nothing to advance the cause of high poetry or of the literary novel in Australia. His oft-repeated advice to novelists was to send their work overseas. A cautious man, I think he very seldom lost money on a book which he published, or “took any chances” to foster a young genius. He was a businessman and not a literary foster-father.
He lacked the “gambler’s instinct” without which a publisher cannot deserve the name: the illogical desire to get a meritorious author into print, at the risk of going broke, which has made the fortunes of publisher after publisher in other countries. Only once, I think, did George Robertson achieve full status as a publisher: and that was in the publication of The Australian Encyclopaedia, a magnificent effort and gesture of faith in his adopted country, an effort which will stand as his monument when his work as an importing-bookseller has been forgotten.
I refer to George Robertson in this connection because he was a Man of His Time. He naturally regarded Britain as “Home” and had a tendency, in what he published here, to stress “colonial” subjects and treatments. From We of the Never-Never to Lasseter’s Last Ride, he showed a preference, in the prose works he published, for “descriptive” books rather than for creative or contentious fiction. His preference in poetry was for “sellers” such as The Sentimental Bloke rather than for any of the finer (but more “difficult”) poetry, such as that of C. J. Brennan, which would have brought him much more lasting renown, and much less immediate cash, if he had put his name on an edition of it. It was during George Robertson’s régime as Publisher-Paramount that Australian books came to be regarded naturally as “colonial” and as inferior to the imported product. The reasons for his policy of choice were perfectly natural, and comprehensible, and justifiable, in terms of the man himself, his primary occupation as a bookseller, and his period. But a new phase is coming, or has come, in Australian book-publishing: a phase of a greater venturesomeness.
I stated the principles of this new development three years ago as follows: Books evoke readers; readers do not evoke books. For those to whom this principle is not self-evident I would explain that it throws the onus of “creating a market” for Australian books upon the authors and publishers rather than on the reading public. The reading public is as latent as a mass of unleavened dough. It does not know what it wants. The Australian public does not “want” Australian literature; or anything else in particular. It takes what is offered to it, or what it can get; and hopes for the best. Slowly, by the publication of Australian books of quality, the Australian public will come to realise that it wants Australian books. But there is a period of “education” to be traversed, which is being traversed at the present time.
For forty years past, however, the nation has been, as I have said, culturally passive, culturally dependent on overseas supplies of book-fodder. As a result, major novelists such as Louis Stone and Arthur Adams have been unpublished in our midst. Others, such as Brent of Bin Bin, and Henry Handel Richardson, have gone “home” to Britain to be published, and their works have not had an adequate distribution here, their appreciation being confined to the cognoscenti. As for poets, although we have had Baylebridge, Brennan, McCrae, Jack Lindsay, and Shaw Neilson in our midst, where are their works? Read, I venture to say, by not one person in a hundred who ought to have read them!
Dowell O’Reilly and Bernard O’Dowd, Randolph Bedford and F. J. Brady, have such fine writers as these, for example, reached the summit of appreciation which their merit and national value deserves? In Dowell O’Reilly’s daughter, Eleanor Dark, Australia can boast of a novelist undoubtedly of world calibre: and there are probably a dozen other first class contemporary novelists, besides Eleanor Dark, living in Australia and not yet lured overseas to join the Anglicised Australian best-sellers such as Philip Lindsay and Helen Simpson. Australia could boast of its writers, but does Australia boast? Ah, no. Our pathetic intelligentsia, particularly the feeble “university” type, read T. S. Eliot, longing for the “sophisticated English” culture which they imagine that this Bostonian émigré represents. There is more poetical sophistication in a page of Brennan, of Baylebridge, of McCrae, or of Jack Lindsay, than in a whole volume of Eliot. But it is difficult or impossible to buy the poetry of Brennan, of Baylebridge, of McCrae, or of Jack Lindsay. Whereas Eliot, like Warwick Deeping, or Zane Grey, is properly marketed here.
THE “NORMAN” CONQUEST
It may be urged, by those who are more anxious to refute my thesis than to profit from its sincerity as an enquiry, that I am rebutted in the contention that Australia has exalted mediocrity by the fact that Australia has exalted Norman Lindsay! Here then is a challenge to the whole argument, indeed. Norman Lindsay is a genius, and he has been honoured. What can be said to that?
I admit that this is a ticklish question, because for many years, in a small way and whenever I have had an opportunity to do so, I have “defended” Norman Lindsay against those who “attacked” him: particularly in England, where his detractors are more subtle than they are here, confining the discussion to aesthetics and not obtruding “moral” issues. It is much more difficult to counter an aesthetic argument, such as that Norman Lindsay’s drawing is often careless, than, it is to counter the “moral” argument (of the Wowser) that his pictures are “too nude.” Against this silly attack of the Wowser, I would still, of course, “defend” Norman Lindsay on any occasion that arose. I am doubtful, however, whether, despite his incomparable virtuosity, he could be defended entirely on “aesthetic” grounds. A great deal of his drawing is indeed far too hasty and “spontaneous” to satisfy an ultimate sense of the planned perfection which is Beauty. But that is not the main point.
It is to the eternal credit of Australian intellectuals that, when Norman Lindsay was under “moral” attack from the Wowsers, they defended his right as an artist to draw the nude, even if sometimes flippantly or rotundly, when he so desired. The attack of the Wowser is sheer howling barbarism, and ought to be beaten off, wherever it occurs. Unfortunately for the critique of Norman Lindsay’s work in Australia, the Wowser attack upon it made it incumbent upon all decent-minded persons to “defend” Lindsay, or at least to refrain from criticising him, lest the Wowsers be thereby encouraged. If you did not happen to like Lindsay’s work, you were ergo a Wowser, as it were.
The fact is that morality has nothing whatever to do with art, or with art-criticism: the howl of the Wowser made it almost impossible for a decent or friendly criticism and evaluation of Lindsay’s work to be made. I shall not attempt it fully here; for it would be a big job. But I must draw attention to the fact that appreciation of his work in Australia has been more in the nature of a defence of freedom itself than of Norman Lindsay. He was a precursor of sex-freedom, of a sort, within Australia, but that is a sociological rather than an artistic achievement.
And so, as I view it, the rich rewards, honours, jubilee medal, publicity, and apparent applause accorded, particularly by journalists, to what they call “Australia’s Number One Cultural Personality” is scarcely to be interpreted as a proof that Australia, contrary to my thesis, does in fact recognise its geniuses. A sane appreciation of Norman Lindsay has not been made. He represents, or is held to represent, “sex” freedom, which has nothing to do with art-criticism, whatsoever.
He has hands like Pavlova’s feet, of an incomparable lightness and dexterity: therein lies Norman Lindsay’s greatest faculty; one which will make his work for all time astonishing to connoisseurs. But, as though Pavlova had danced tangos in a cabaret show, Norman Lindsay has, for many years, appeared as a cartoonist in the public press, coining his gift of the gods. To be an artist, in the finest sense, and at the same time a successful public cartoonist, is an impossibility, even for genius. Newspaper cartooning is the parody, the anti-type, of the highest achievement in art. The slickness, the versatility, the satire, so desirable in a cartoonist, become qualities of negative virtue in an artist.
The incomparable and much-loved Norman Lindsay has flung his pearls before swine: and, because swine notoriously will not eat pearls, he has had to coat them with something that swine will eat, namely politics. So it was that, during the War, this sensitive man drew Recruiting Posters which would induce his fellow Australians to enlist for mass slaughter: and so it has been that, in any real question of public concern, Norman Lindsay’s point of view, as expressed in his cartoons, has been that of his employers for the time being: very frequently contrary to those which might have been expected from such a formidably advanced thinker.
He, too, thus becomes a Man of His Time rather than of all time. For forty years, during the period of Australian eclipse by imperialism, he too turned his thoughts, as evidenced even in his “serious” art, to Europe and the fantasies of Europe, to “fauns” and eighteenth-century “ladies”, rather than to the Australian realities. The nostalgia for ancient Rome, which caused him to illustrate Petronius, the nostalgia for the Middle Ages which caused him to illustrate Villon (and both, be it noted, with incompatible dexterity) merely added to European, rather than to Australian culture. He too appears to have suffered from the illusion, peculiar to that period, that European culture is “world” culture: overlooking the fact that European culture, in Europe, is “local.” It is therefore doubtful whether Norman Lindsay has, in the ultimate analysis, done anything profound to establish an Australian culture, in Australia. His illustrations to the poetry of Leon Gellert and Hugh McCrae can only be described as superb in execution as pictures, and almost incredibly naif in conception, poetry does not require “illustration,” being itself a picture (Let him illustrate Kipling’s If!)
His clever caricaturing of Australian types, the city larrikin, the Wayback, the barmaid, however amusing in a newspaper, becomes grotesque when it is repeated in serious work: and has a tendency to stabilise the Australian type by its anti-type of the parody. Australian bushmen, in fact, bear very little resemblance to the “looney Dave” type depicted by Lindsay. And Australian women, most of whom, unconsciously driven by the racial need here to be fecund, are of the “domestic” type, have in fact little resemblance to the harlot, in appearance or manner. What with caricaturing and European culture-phantasising, Norman Lindsay’s work, in brief, is scarcely at all “Australian.” And lacking the “Australian” quality, it is scarcely of any more significance to us, ourselves, than are the novels of the émigré writers, which portray Australia as a desirable place, to escape from!
As for Norman Lindsay’s novels’ they are, like his “sex”-caricature pictures, mainly notable in that, having incurred the wrath of the Wowsers, they were “banned” and must hence automatically be “defended” by the decent who object to banning, of Norman Lindsay or of anybody else. The pity of it is that literary criticism, like artistic criticism, of our delightful Norman Lindsay, should thus be sidetracked.
But don’t tell me, because Norman Lindsay is notorious, or famous, and has made a good living in this Commonwealth, that other genius, on that account, is not here neglected!
THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS
The situation, then, which requires thought, analysis, and some kind of remedial action is that Australia is in danger of becoming culturally inert through too much spoon-feeding of pap from Overseas. A nation thus culturally spoon-fed and productively inactive can do nothing but develop fat on the liver, become sluggish and dopey, like a goose penned and craw-crammed to make pâté-de-foie-gras. It should be evident that intellect needs exercise no less than body: ideas, like muscles, improve with use.
We have been handed our culture, done up in parcels, by manufacturers of this commodity who dwell overseas; anywhere except in Australia. It has been presumed that, being raw colonials, we could not possibly manufacture the stuff here; just as, some years ago, it was presumed that we could not manufacture shirts, collars, glass-eyes, or tractor-engines. The Bad Australian has been with us always, the pessimist, the bellyaching decryer of Australia, the admirer of every country except his own. He is usually an importer of something. This person has been consistently defeated, in every arena of simple commerce, by casually-enterprising Australians who had no difficulty in proving him wrong.
Australians can produce anything; even a literature. This may be bad news for hypochondriacs, but it is none the less true. As this fact becomes generally realised in the Commonwealth, there will be a tremendous release of intellectual creativeness here.
First, it will be necessary to inform the English, the Americans, the Patagonians, and all their agents, ambassadors, spies, apostles and missionaries here, that the word Australia means something very special, excellent, and even sacred to us, not only for what it is, but also for what we know it can become. It will be necessary to state, with firm politeness, that we no longer need to be culturally garrisoned and policed by contingents representative of other countries.
The English, the American, and the Patagonian culture-garrisons may now go back “home”; or, if they remain here, can learn to salute our Flag of Stars, by way of a change. But first we must set up this flag and learn to salute it ourselves.
We ourselves must learn to take pride in the name of Australia as meaning something more than the designation of a land of convict, cricketers and kangaroos, and those ridiculous Vast Open Spaces. We shall have to learn to product something more, in the aforesaid V.O.S., than sheep, and sheepishness. We shall have to realise that the vast productivity of our soil is nothing for us to boast of, nothing for which we can take away any credit from the Almighty, who merely left it for aeons to lie fallow and await our coming hither.
Millions of bales of wool, millions of slaughtered beeves and muttons packed in ice, shiploads of gold, billions of bags of wheat we have ripped from our soil and dutifully sent home, home, home: out of the Commonwealth, and why should we take pride in that? Billions of trees destroyed, billions of acres of grass eaten down to the roots, and the roots also eaten, by herbivora, so that we, Australians, might send food to the European carnivora, can we be so proud of that now that the desert is encroaching over all the grass-denuded areas of our justly celebrated V.O.S.? Millions of our native rare and gentle animals ruthlessly slaughtered, poisoned, snared, wantonly destroyed to provide furs for the necks of women in the cold latitudes of Europe; millions of our rare and beautiful birds exterminated by bushfire, gunshot, poison, and the bane of the axe, can we boast of that? The Aboriginal human beings of the continent murdered, shot, poisoned; or enslaved, a human sacrifice to sheep, brutally exploited, demoralised, the women raped, the children starved or taught about God in missions, in all this can we take any pride?
The mad lust of primary production for export threatens to make Australia a desert from coast to coast: a desert like the Sahara (which in the days of the Roman Empire was a rich pastoral and wooded region, but became denuded of herbage and trees through too much pastoralism, and the sand crept in until it smothered even the great cities there, such as the city where Ozymandias reigned). And the bare hills of Palestine to-day, the dreadful heat oven of the Jordan Valley, was not this the smiling land of Canaan, “flowing with milk and honey,” breeding so many sheep that, in Jerusalem, at the Passover Feast, each year, no less than two hundred thousand lambs, male and without blemish, were slaughtered by the priests in the Temple of Solomon?
Palestine and North Africa to-day, and the great dust-storms of Arizona and (nearer home) of Bourke, should be a warning that unrestricted pastoralism may be easy and quick money, for a few people, for a few generations; but by the law of compensation it exacts a revenge upon the surface of the land itself.
Our big Sheep Men (a lovely name for them) imagine sheepishly that billions of bales of wool exported from Australia means Progress. But progress to what? To more exporting, presumably. These patriots have not hesitated to export stud Australian Merino and Corriedale rams to South Africa, Algiers, Japan, America, Russia, taking a few hundred guineas quick and easy money for themselves, and thus providing their sons with a problem of competition which the noble sheepish pioneers themselves did not have to face in marketing their fine wools.
I asked one of these patriots (who is, and looks, rammed with money) to help me, a year ago, in establishing a national Australian book-publishing house. His reply I am keeping for presentation to the Library of the Commonwealth in due course, as a valuable social document:
All my life has been devoted to my business of raising sheep, and I have no time or inclination for anything else. I cannot advise or help you in the matter of books, of which I know nothing.
I replied to my pastoralist friend in the following polite terms:
You came into this life endowed with an Immortal Soul. You have been warned, in the Bible, that the days of a man’s life are numbered, and that three score and ten is the allotted span. When you interview St. Peter, soon, I hope you will say to him what you have said to me, That all your life has been devoted to your business of raising sheep. He will draft you then with the sheep and not the goats.
EXPORT OF GENIUS
Sheep-culture, agriculture, physical culture, have reached high standards in Australia, but intellectual culture has been neglected. We require now to grow to fuller intellectual stature, to become a nation in all attainments. Not in a day, and not in many days, will a journey in this direction be done; but a beginning can be mad; and, in fact, has been made.
In matters concerning the only culture that endures, preservation, development, breeding, growth of living ideas, the inferiority complex of the Australian will be removed, and is being removed, by a bold gesture of those in the Commonwealth to-day to whom the very word Australia is a full and rich music. Our Australia, ours to hold and develop, ours to define, by our own virtue and power. Our giant scroll on which a new story will be written. . . .
Stern self-criticism is the mark and privilege of an honest man, as stern national self-criticism is the mark, duty, and privilege of a patriot. The criticism which sneers at Australia from the point of view of some other nationality is merely nugatory. The criticism which arises within Australia, as self-criticism, inspired by love of the country and belief in it, may be even more bitter than that from outside; but it will be valid, it will be genuine, it will ultimately become constructive.
It is easier and much more pleasant to lull than to provoke. Lull the public, dope them, tell them that everything is for the best in the best of all possible Australias, and honours will come thick and easy, or it has been so in the past. But truth resides in a well, and can sometimes be hauled up in bucketsful. “When the truth-tellers arrive,” says the immortal Brent of Bin Bin, “there will be Pillaloo.” Australia has had a surfeit of sedatives. It is time for us to be honest with ourselves, and stir up at least a certain amount of Pillaloo.
The nasty, unpalatable, and very deplorable truth which we now must swallow, is that Australia, for one reason and another, has become a cultural backwater, stagnant, and culturally green-slimed. It is necessary, in the more civilised countries, to apologise frequently for being an Australian. This must stop.
The pastoralists, the commercialists, who opened Australia like a bully-beef tin, gobbled the contents, and would throw the tin away, were invaders to Australia, found it an easy conquest, had no thoughts except get-rich-quick and clear-out-home-again. Then the lure of Australia grew upon them, they “settled” here, and bred families to the third, fourth, and fifth generation; but the psychology of get-rich-quick, the impulse to destroy, to rape and plunder, and then to make a getaway back “home,” has remained deeply embedded in the national mind.
Australia is an easy place to leave: that is the trouble. Steamer-ticket escape costs very little for anyone really determined to escape. Thus our intellectuals, rather than tackle the work of building up a culture here, have frequently emigrated.
Our formidable batch of émigrés, the big Australian émigré-colony in London, have been lured out of the Commonwealth partly by steamer-advertisements and the insistent propaganda of books and daily cabled news describing Europe’s glamour; and partly they have been driven out of the Commonwealth by the smugness, the intolerable hegemony of the Second-rate in positions of authority here. Flight was easier than fight. It is part of our national problem to discover how to keep our best minds from emigrating, how to prevent them from being driven or lured out of the Commonwealth, to become, from our point of view, a total loss.
Departing to Europe with a preconceived notion of Europeís glamour, our Australian émigrés find there precisely what they sought in terms of their preconceived notion. Just as the first English immigrants to Australia discovered what they had already decided to find a convict colony, and wrote about it as such, so by reverse process the modern Australian émigrés to Europe find a glamour there which was preconceived in their minds before they left Australia.
It is astonishing but true that the foremost historical novelists and antiquarians in England to-day should so frequently be Australians. Consider, for example, Professors V. Gordon Childe, Grafton Elliot Smith, and Gilbert Murray, Australians all, and unsurpassed as antiquarians of Europe. What’s the matter with us? Consider, also, the formidable list of Australian novelists who have recently ploughed in the already-well-ploughed literary fields of England and Europe. For example, Jack Lindsay, Philip Lindsay, Helen Simpson, Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead, Mary Mitchell, Christopher Morley, Frederic Manning, Alice Grant Rosman, that will do to be going on with. There are others, a whole colony of them, living in England or longing for England: Jack McLaren, Dale Collins, Norman Haire, W. J. Turner. The list is quite casually compiled and is incomplete. Katherine Mansfield and Hector Bolitho from New Zealand illustrate the same point. Then all the émigré newspaper artists, David Low, Will Dyson, H. M. Bateman, Will Farrow, Will Hope, Rick Elms . . . about half the working journalists of Fleet Street, more or less, and a fair number in New York . . . and then a large colony of young Australian writers and artists, in Chelsea or Bloomsbury, aspiring to set the Thames on fire, because the Yarra and the Parramatta seemed too damp. Australian émigrés in Harley Street; Australian émigrés on the stage in London’s West End theatres, and making pictures at Hollywood; Australian émigré Dons at Oxford: What’s the matter with them all?
If these novelists, professors, artists, and scholars had remained in Australia, had resisted the blandishments of the shipping advertisements, what a redoubtable body of literature, learning, art, and scholarship would by now be associated with the name of Australia! Had these people remained here, and dealt with the realities of Australia, instead of with the fantasies of European glamour and European antiquity, they would with ease have created a body of Australian literature which, added to that we already possess, would by now have been enough to make Australia’s name and quality resound as one of the most highly cultivated and civilised nations upon the earth.
But no; the shirkers, they have cleared out, funked their job. Let them return to their muttons! (“No blooming fear,” I can hear some of them murmuring as they read this. “Pioneering was all right for our grandfathers then, but we want something easier.”)
From a national point of view our émigrés may be written off as a dead loss. Australian culture must be established under a handicap of the export of genius and talent such as no other country in the world suffers. If only there were reciprocity: if Britain had sent us Shaw, Wells, Chesterton, Belloc, Hardy, Galsworthy, Thomas Burke, and a few more, in exchange, to live here permanently and write about Australia, we could have better spared our émigrés, who have left us to go and help the English develop their already-so-well-developed literature.
As things are, we must now find, train, encourage, and keep here, a new batch of writers entirely, to replace those we have lost.
What of the intellectuals who have remained in Australia? They are numerous enough, as I know, having had occasion, in the course of my business as a book-publisher, to meet many, if not all, of them. There is no doubt of their fine individual quality, either, if I am any judge of such matters. I give my opinion for what it is worth. As a book-publisher for a number of years, both in London and in Sydney, I have had, perhaps, rather unique opportunities of making comparisons between the personal qualities of writers in both metropolises. A publisher meets writers professionally, and it is part of his trade-equipment to be able to sum them up. In London my literary acquaintance was fairly extensive. It ranged from respected Victorians, such as Sir Edmund Gosse and Sir Lionel Just (for both of whom I published books) to ultra-moderns, such as D. H. Lawrence (for whom I published three books), and Liam Flaherty (for whom I published three books), and it included Norman Douglas, James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Burke, and a great many more, enough to be considered a representative lot.
By contrast, during the past two-and-a-half years, I have met, in Sydney, in Melbourne, in Canberra and elsewhere in Australia, approximately two thousand people with whom I found conversation enjoyable, persons who could fairly be described as intellectual. About two hundred or so of these people seemed to me to be brilliant; about a dozen to be endowed with unmistakable intellectual genius. I want no better company or conversation than these Australian friends and acquaintances of mine can offer. They all discussed Australian literature, and rather pessimistically, with me, because that was the occasion of my meeting them; and I discovered, to my intense surprise, that scarcely any of them personally knew the others. They had almost all retreated into castles of isolation, which seemed to me to be the same thing as retreating to Europe.
The cowardly intellectuals of Australia, retreating from the Australian problem, leaving the petty and the smug in control of things of the mind here, what on earth can be done to chivy them into their proper social activity as formulaters of the nation’s ideas? They lurk in their castles of isolation, whence occasionally they may be heard privately muttering that “Australia has no literature,” or words to that effect, vaguely echoing the ideas of the English books and magazines which they so sedulously read. How can these timorous lurkers be awakened to a sense of national duties and responsibilities?
No effective protest by Australia’s hermit intellectuals has been made against the monstrous Customs censorship of books which is making Australia’s name stink throughout the world. A mild mumbling protest has been raised, more or less privately, and that is all: the Censorship gets worse as the bureaucrats who exercise it find that they are unchallenged. No effective protest has been raised against other infringements of liberty, developments of Hitlerism and Fascism, such as the prohibition of free speech in the Sydney Domain and on Yarra Bank, the fantastic proceedings against Egon Kisch, the banning of periodicals by the Post Office (solely on political grounds), the humourless Blue Laws of the State of Victoria and the bathing costumes solemnly prescribed by the Government of New South Wales (so many inches, I forget how many, below the fork, and covering the chest to the level of the armpits); the prohibition of anti-war meetings and processions in Sydney and Melbourne, the ban on this, the ban on that, the growth of bureaucratic tyranny everywhere.
What has happened to primary liberty in “Advanced” Australia? In this Commonwealth, which was first in the world to give women the vote (and they surely deserved it, those pioneer women of Australia), a high police official, recently receiving a deputation, is reported as having refused to allow women to join the deputation; for no stated reason, but presumably because (as Hitler would say) “woman’s place is the home.” It was an anti-war deputation, too.
Against all these encroachments of legalistic Fascism, against bureaucratic paternalism, public regimentation, the prohibition-mania dear to Jack-in-Office, the itch to ban and to burn books and ideas which is only one remove from rubber-truncheoning the people who write books, against the Hun-idea, the Kaiser-idea, which Australians fought (or were told that they fought) during the “Great” War, against the sneaking emergence, ever growing bolder, of the barbarians who would seek to destroy Democracy and rivet the yoke of a new and uncouth feudalism of big business, upon our necks, against the intolerable smugness of the Second-rate who connive at these infringements and destructions of intellectual and popular liberty in out midst, what effective protest is being made by the cowardly intellectuals of Australia, mumbling in their castles of isolation that “Australia is culturally backward”?
It is useless to expect any protest from the public press, which has become the foe of liberty and is no longer its guardian. Fifty men were imprisoned in one batch in Sydney recently for breaches of the Domain byelaws, i.e., for a political and free-speech offence; but the press scarcely reported it, and the public was not informed, and the bureaucrats thus had nothing to fear.
When the Hitler-minded in Australia develop a little more self-confidence, enough, it may be, to seize power, the press which now tacitly encourages them, and the cowardly intellectuals who merely stand by and lift their eyebrows, will feel the weight of the rubber-truncheon, as the press and the intellectuals have felt it in Germany.
Fascism is a greater menace to us than Bolshevism could ever be; for Fascism is a schoolboy bully, armed. It has no intellectual pretensions, aims at imposing discipline “from above,” is a Junker-idea, a Hun-idea which Australians have fought to abolish from the earth. Bolshevism at least has a humanitarian goal, a cogent philosophy, and a professed respect for ideas and the raising of cultural standards in the community-in-general. Probably we shall not have either of these cults, in their European forms, in our Australia of the future; we shall work out our own destiny. But not without thought. Unthinking, we could go down a steep place to Fascism. Let our intellectuals awake from their reveries of faraway Europe, and deal, if they can, with this danger.
THE FORCES DEPLOYED
In the absence of facilities for publishing sophisticated or even moderately intelligent books; in the absence of any critical magazines or reviews comparable with The New Statesman, The Spectator, or with any of the English monthlies; in the absence of any great newspapers with traditions of fair reporting and fair play such as The Manchester Guardian or The Times; and in the overwhelming presence of our dreadful, venal, sycophantic, partisan, or screaming and stunting Australian daily press (edited by promoted cadet reporters and office boys), there has been no opportunity for our Australian intellectuals to do anything else except lurk in isolation, withdrawn from the life about them.
I say this in extenuation, for I have called them cowardly. I meant lazy. No means of expression existing, they should have brought the means of expression into existence. Lazy is the word, or dazedóby the fantasy of Europe. Isolated, and without a forum of any kind, they have daydreamed themselves into futility, and often enough allowed their intellects to rust. Long bouts of laziness, inertia, frustration, seem to have demoralised them. They want others to save them, themselves they cannot save. Through sheer inertia, arising from persistent discouragement but none the less inertia, they would allow the smug, the Second-rate (the editors and publishers who “give the public what it wants”), to define the name of Australia.
By some means or other Australia’s lazy intellectuals, cowardly intellectuals, inert intellectuals, must now be cajoled and wheedled, galvanised or shocked, into playing their full part in the national life. Without matured book-publishing facilities and conventions, without sophisticated journals of information and of opinion, our pathetic intellectuals are in a pitiable, as well as a deplorable, fix. We must provide those facilities, those rallying-points. Without them our poor isolated thinkers are scattered and deployed, an army without a plan, “each man his own General.” Some kind of plan or objective must be formulated.
At Mont St. Quentin, in September, 1918 (one of the most remarkable Australian feats of the war), there was a stated objective, the top of the hill. There was also an order, probably the strangest order ever issued to troops (each man to act on his own, and as many as possible to reach the top), emanating from General Monash, who, from the point of view of British Brass Hats, was three times an outsider, a civilian, an Australian, a Jew, but was nevertheless a man inspired when he issued that command which was a negation of all army ideas. Monash knew his Australians, who, deployed and scattered (each man his own General), casually and in broad daylight scaled the plateau bristling with German machine-guns, and promptly put vastly superior numbers of conscript goose-steppers into retreat. The attack was so audacious in plan, so unprecedented in method of execution, that the Germans could not believe in it, until it had happened.
If our Australian intellectual forces of to-day are similarly deployed and scattered, I believe that, recalling Mont St. Quentin, they will nevertheless reach the topóonce they realise that there is an objective, and that a thousand others (or even a hundred) are also “hopping over” into this intellectual fight.
I apologise to my pacifist friends for the foregoing military metaphor. It arises not from chauvinism, not from any desire to glorify militarism, which (in common, I think, with all those splendid fellows, my seniors, who were in the A.I.F.), I profoundly loathe and detest. The A.I.F. was the outstanding non-conscript, civilian, democratic army of the Great War: it defied every precedent regarding soldiering, and put militarism to ignominy by its examples of battlefield discipline.
The men of the A.I.F. were worthy of note, not as mere soldiers, as cogs in a military machine, but as men, as civilians who went willingly into war from a conviction that their cause was just. That they may have been proved wrong in this conviction by subsequent events does not alter the fact that they volunteered, and were never conscripted, to fight in a cause which they believed to be right. Neither does it alter the fact that, having become thus organised for a purpose into an army, these average Australian civilians made history, as their late enemy, and all their allies, well know and admit.
Made history, not jingo death-and-glory history, flag-flapping history, chauvinistic history, but a new kind of history, our history, of special significance to us, a history founded on individual initiative which became an astounding collective morale. Peeling all chauvinism off the history of the A.I.F. (which is not difficult), we need with the utmost care to study that turning-point in our national life, 1914 to 1918, in its moral, its psychological, its national aspects.
The story of the Australian soldiers on Gallipoli, in Palestine, and in France, should be told, in precise detail, to all oncoming Australians, not in glorification of militarism, but as the reverse: as a lesson in self-imposed individual discipline, comradeship, the superior value of the individual man, of individual initiative and self-respect. And also it should be taught as a warning to the nation never to be fooled again into participation in a war of European conquest, to keep out or other people’s brawls; to be prepared, if necessary, to defend our own soil against any invasion of any kind; to be prepared (as W. M. Hughes told them at Versailles) to “defy the opinion of the whole civilised world,” if need be, in defence of our own soil and our right to develop our own new civilisation here.
If we never had a history before 1914, let the imported professors observe, the A.I.F. gave us one, from which we suddenly perceived that we are indeed a Nation, with our own permanent quality.
And let our timid intellectuals observe that, if the democratic spirit of the A.I.F. still lives (as, of course, it does) the would-be Fascists will get the surprise, the biggest bump of their lives if they ever try seriously to impose a military, or semi-military, regimentation upon Australian civil life. These Fascist tykes, who boast about the A.I.F. as though it belonged to them, are undermining all that the A.I.F. established and fought for: the right of an individual Australian to think and act for himself.
The tradition of the A.I.F. will almost certainly, I believe, defend us against the extremes of Fascism should the nasty little plotters ever screw up their courage to the point of putting matters to the test. The Heil Hitler buncombe which goes with Fascism will be treated in Australia with the contempt such preposterous saluting and goose-stepping deserves. The only danger is that the nation might slip into loss of individual liberty by slow degrees, or be flummoxed into it at some false crisis (such as when Premier Lang had to close the bank). It is the duty of those who can think nationally to define now clearly what is meant by Australian liberty and democracy and Australian tradition, to keep watch upon the sneaking little Fascists and bureaucrats, and keep the nation warned against them, and against all who would fetter or restrict ideas, or the flow of ideas, in the Commonwealth.
With the spirit of the A.I.F. still in the land, what need is there for an Australian to fear proclaiming his Australianism? The “Diggers” were never ashamed of being known as Australians: they found their nationality during the ordeal of war. Let our intellectual defeatists remember this. There is no need to be ashamed of Australia: we have qualities. There is no need to ape English “culture” any more than there was need for the A.I.F. to imitate English army parade-ground spit and polish. We can establish our own culture, our own discipline, our own morale. We shall not be respected until we do so.
Let our lurking intellectuals have no fear in resisting Fascism, tyranny, commercial hegemony, the Rule of the Smug, and imperialist permeation, wherever they find it. The common man, the typical Australian, is a democrat, a free-thinker, an individualist to his core, a believer in Australia. The common man, the public, the allegedly rough and crude “Diggers” and their sons and daughters, will defend Australian freedom whenever they are called upon to do so, and will follow the intellectuals whenever they decide to give a strong and unwavering lead in the matter of proclaiming “Australia First” as the only constructive national idea.
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
The first precondition of a genuine culture in Australia is to establish, or re-establish, facilities for the free discussion of ideas, and of opinions: to establish that freedom of thought from which alone can arise the formulation of national policy through discussion, pro and con, the best minds in the nation. This precondition is lacking in Australia.
It would be useless to pretend that there is Freedom of the Press in this sense in Australia. The press is no guardian of liberty now. It is merely venal, crudely subservient to Commerce (to the advertisers). Not one paper in Australia is conducted actually in the public interest. All are against the public, creatures of special and sectional interests; apologists for Commerce and legalised robbery; channels of dope dissemination; special pleaders; partisan to the marrow; and for these reasons the press in Australia is despised by the public, and the profession of journalism is at its lowest ebb. The wheel has turned full circle from the days when freedom of the press meant freedom to defend the public against extortion, tyranny, and oppression. Nowadays freedom of the press means freedom for the press to bamboozle and hoodwink the general public in the interests of a special minority. In most countries there are at least some old-fashioned journals which will truckle to no special interest, tell their readers the truth, criticise encroachments upon public rights: and these journals make and unmake governments and national policies.
In Australia there are no such journals. The official censorship of books, the bureaucratic tyranny, is as nothing compared with the censorship upon Australian thought exercised by those editors who, anonymous in newspaper offices, defend big business against any “subversive” ideas, and kowtow daylong (and nightlong) to the advertisers. This censorship by editors establishes the Dictatorship of the Smug, the Hegemony of the Second-rate; and our poor defeated and timid intellectuals cannot cope with it; because there is no effective answer to an editor’s rejection-slip and no recourse against an editor’s blue-pencil.
Thus defeated, and in no other way, our intellectuals have withdrawn themselves, with private groans, from the current of actual life in Australia into their pipedreams and fantasies of Europe.
The gulf between intellectual and actual life, between the withdrawn European fantasists and the common or garden Australian who despises their “culture” (and no wonder), is a gulf which can be crossed easily once we begin to accept our national destiny fully, and begin to work to realise it.
Our destiny, and our history; the terms are inseparable. If we really had no history (as the Europe-minded think), we should have to invent some: but it is there, surely enough; we have merely to seek it out, our own lore, legend, and tradition. This is work for our writers, a national work of the utmost importance: the most important work now to be done in Australia.
From the body of Australian books already written and published (available if not easily accessible) it should be possible to select the books which are significant, the talismanic works which endow us with a national idea, and thus embody the national soul.
Amongst all the books written in Australia, by Australians, or about Australia, there are to my knowledge more than a hundred first-class books, and there are ten and more great books, which could well be prescribed, for example, for a study-course in our Australian universities and schools: as national talismans.
Some or most of these books are out of print; few of them are known, even by name, to the generality of Australians: this is where we have slipped so badly.
The imported professors of literature, of course, will do precisely nothing to seek out and establish values in our Australian literature. Disappointed at not securing professional posts in their own country, they come here disgruntled, to take the rank of Corporal in the English Garrison; and they hope to rise, by sedulous endeavour, to be Sergeant-majors in that corpsófarther than that their ambition could not extend.
An Australian-born professor (of Psychology, not of Literature) who, as a hobby, is preparing a bibliography of Australian fiction, informs me that he has read more than two thousand Australian novels, and that he is astonished by the high quality of many of them which are quite unknown and almost unprocureable. He is doing the kind of work which Australia needs most of all: research into our own lore. From research work such as he is now doing, in which we should all in our various ways assist, the idea and the critique of Australian literature, as a thing-in-itself, will robustly emerge. Australian literature, Australian national and free life, the linking of brain with brawn in our Commonwealth, will never be forwarded by the Europe-minded, nor by any form of patronage from on high or from abroad.
We must establish our own national culture and self-respect by our own efforts, by our own virtue and native instinct of patriotism; to meet our own national need.
Third Instalment, January 1936
POLITICS AND CULTURE
Six months have gone by since the foregoing portions of this Essay were written, originally with a view to serial publication. Sections 1 to 20 were actually so published (in The Australian Mercury, July, 1935), before I realised that it was necessary to pause, afin de mieux sauter. In now completing the attempt, with a view to book publication, I recognise that the scope is much wider than at first was indicated. The question of Australian nationality, as I now think, is not merely a cultural question: it is financial, political, economic. How far dare we follow an intellectual concept when it seems to lead us into the muddied arena of finance, politics and “business,” where honest thinking is so often besmirched by the prejudices which arise from sectional interest? I am personally not interested in politics, that is, in party politics and sectional bickerings, nor in the dog-fights of the market-place, where specious arguments can be so easily devised to “justify” this grab or that. The price of spuds—though it affects people—does not ultimately regulate human destiny, despite what Karl Marx proved in regard to the Materialist Conception of History. There are “non-material” factors, not so easy to define, but none the less real, in the determination of human affairs, particularly national affairs. Yet, following a thought wherever it leads, I cannot avoid the conclusion that the growth of Australian nationality must become a political and economic question, as well as a “cultural” question.
“Whoever thinks that a national enterprise can be successfully established in Australia without the challenge of thwarting circumstances to perverse men, is blind to the teachings of all history.”—This remark was made to me by Mr. N. D. Healey, an Australian of the fifth generation, who is engaged in pioneering a new Australian primary industry, deep-sea fishing, which could have as great a value for Australia as the wool industry, and could, if nationally developed, maintain a sea-coast and fishing-port population as great as that of Norway or Scotland.
It has become evident that there are “thwarting circumstances” to prevent such an industrial development in Australia, not less obnoxious than those which thwart cultural development here. “Perverse men” will be required to combat these thwarts, in business and politics as well as in the admittedly less sordid fields of “culture.”
We may yet have need for our Australian George Washingtons, De Valeras, Gandhis, or similar perverse men, to provide Australia with that modicum of “history,” which, according to imported English professors, has hitherto been so lacking. If Australian businessmen are being thwarted by overseas economic control of the Commonwealth, they will no doubt be driven to organise a “political” resistance which would be more spectacular than the merely “cultural” resistance hypothecated at the beginning of this Essay.
But it is difficult, or almost impossible, to differentiate a nation’s “culture” from the economic basis of life in that nation.
I began this Essay, naively enough, with a desire to find a non-political, non-economic, basis for the development of culture, or more specifically for the development of literature, in Australia. I thought that such a basis could be found in the Spirit of the Place, in the physiography of Australia, this unique and lovely land, which the imported English Professor described as “thin.” To the insularity of his small Island in the North Sea, I would have opposed the Insularity of our large Island in the South Seas: an Island so large that it could easily accommodate all the people in his island, if they cared to come here, bringing with them their castles and traditions, bag and baggage, and the whole boiling—except their slums.
Australia is so much the vaster, the sunnier, the healthier, and the more beautiful and diversified of the two Islands under comparison, that I felt this very fact must provide Australian literature with a spaciousness, clarity, health, beauty and variety greater than that of purely insular “English” literature.
Ultimately, it will be found that this is so, but the physiographic factors work slowly, and are only slowly defined in their effects upon a people. Ultimately the Australian race will be quite different from the “English” race, and hence Australian literature will be quite different from the merely English literature, of England.
Because we Australians intuitively know this, we will not endure, to any gross extent, a “patronising” attitude from visiting Englishmen here, not even from Professors. Our destiny is to become a great nation, and we know it; greater than local England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, or the four of them combined—because we shall be more spacious.
The argument from physical geography, however, is too poetical, too indefinite, to provide in itself a basis for the development of Australian literature to-day. Our “foundations” must be concrete, and firm-based in immediate realities, as well as in ultimate possibilities. It is for this reason that I approach, somewhat reluctantly, the conclusion that Australia’s present literary dependence upon England is no more than a result of Australia’s economic subordination to the “Mother” country. If our literature is to become autonomous and emancipated from English domination, such an enfranchisement must be accompanied by some form of political action to free Australia from English (or other international) control of the economic system of the Commonwealth.
There we are into politics, alas, and likely to stir up all the nasty technique, the mud-slinging, the prejudices, the heated and foolish propaganda of political debate: in the course of which the real purpose of the discussion, namely the maturing of mind in Australia, is likely to be forgotten.
But nevertheless it seems to me that, while Australia remains in the British Empire, and while the British Empire is controlled from London, and while Australia accepts mentally or politically a subordinate or subsidiary status within that empire, it will be quite impossible for Australians to develop a culture here with distinct national features.
Do the advantages of remaining within the Empire, namely, a market for our goods and naval protection, outweigh the disadvantages of our being culturally “colonial” and intellectually minor forever? That is the question, or the unbearable dilemma, which confronts honest-thinking Australians who, with a genuine love and loyalty for England in their hearts, may find another love and loyalty, for their own country, insistently emerging.
This unbearable dilemma, of divided loyalty as between English and Australian interests, wherever these happen to conflict, may be solved quite easily by anyone who considers that, within the Empire, England is paramount, and will remain so for all time. In fact, for a person who takes this stand, there is no dilemma. The policy of Britain First, within the Empire, is one which commends itself particularly to British Islanders. To such people it is natural to think that places like Australia exist for the permanent convenience of the British people who live in Britain. If I were an Englishman, as I am an Australian (to parody a famous statement in the House of Commons), I would never lay down my loans, never, never, while one Australian borrower remained willing to pay interest.
The dilemma of divided loyalty does not exist, either, for those British people who, within Australia, take the prone view that Australia is destined to be permanently a junior or inferior partner in the firm of John Bull & Co.—a concern in which the Senior Partner is immortal and can never, by virtue of his immortality, vacate the Managing Director’s chair through senility or death. Neither is there any dilemma of divided loyalty in those who, varying the metaphor, believe that Britannia is a “mother” with a large number of “children” who can never grow up, while the Old Lady can never die. Alternately, if John Bull is a Lion, or a Bulldog, with a number of “cubs” or “whelps” as the case may be, this metaphor, too, implies an immortality in the sire and a permanent juvenescence in the offspring which is contrary to the facts of nature.
The metaphor has not been mouthed which can define Australia’s permanent juniority in a manner which does not outrage the logic of time, growth, and change.
Imperial Federation, as defined in the Statute of Westminster, was an attempt to bring logic to bear upon a situation which metaphors were making ridiculous. Under this Statute, each of the self-governing Dominions, including presumably Britain herself, was declared to be a Sovereign Nation, with all sovereign rights, up to and including the right of secession from the Empire—the only “legal” links being the Crown and the right of appeal to the Privy Council. By the Statute of Westminster, the British Empire became a “Commonwealth of Nations.”
This arrangement, insofar as it was not merely another metaphor or a device to secure heavy British representation at Geneva, has satisfied the jurists and purists who previously were unconvinced by the metaphors about Lion’s cubs and Bulldog’s whelps.
Theoretically, then, Australia is already a Nation. Politically, the British Empire is a Federation, at least of its white, or “self-governing” Dominions. India, with four hundred million people, comprising by far the biggest portion of the British Empire, is, however, by this reasoning, not yet a member of the “Federation” and has not “Dominion Status.” Nor is India a Lion’s cub, a Bulldog’s whelp, or a daughter of Britannia (unless it is be a dusky daughter—but this metaphor is embarrassing).
Very well, then. Let us abandon metaphors altogether, and admit frankly that the British Empire, or Commonwealth, or Federation, is an illogical historical growth, but none the less coherent—a fact of nature rather than a fact of deliberate intent. If it is admitted that, under the Statute of Westminster, Australia has political autonomy, including the right to secede from the Empire, would it be seditious or disloyal for an Australian to advocate such a secession? Seditious to what or to whom? Disloyal to what or to whom?
Under the Statute of Westminster, Australia has equal status with Britain. Let us, for the moment, take this very seriously. Let us propose, in all seriousness, that the Throne and Person of His Majesty the King should be transferred to Canberra, or to Alice Springs.
Australian could then send a Governor-General to England. This suggestion may be made without sarcasm under the present constitution of the British Commonwealth, as defined in the Statute of Westminster, which affords Australia an “equal status” with Britain within the alleged Federation of the Empire.
LOYALTY AND DISLOYALTY
If Imperial Federation were a fact, instead of being merely a juristic fiction, and if all the “Nations” within the Federation were of equal wealth, population, prestige and power, it would still be necessary for an Australian to consider whether his primary loyalty was to the whole or to the part. Patriotism is a sentiment attached to one place, and cannot be attached to a series of places scattered over the whole face of the earth. An Australian patriot must of necessity place Australia first in his thoughts. It would be a species of altruism approaching insanity for an Australia to consider Canada’s welfare, for example, as being more worthy of attention than Australia’s welfare, in any particulars in which the two Dominions might happen to be in disagreement. It is the Canadians, presumably, who will do whatever is necessary to safeguard Canada’s welfare.
Similarly, then, if Britain has attained to “Dominion Status” under the Statute of Westminster, the people of Britain may be expected to safeguard the interests of Britain, rather than those of Australia, in any matters of mutual discussion. Australian altruism need not extend to the point of national suicide. There is a permissible limit to self-abnegation, even with a partnership, or federation, of nations with “equal status.” An Australian patriot is concerned mainly, and indeed solely, with Australia’s welfare, and relies upon neither England nor Canada for guidance in intrinsic matters. For the patriot, whether English, Australian, or Canadian, the part is greater than the whole: and will always be so. Patriotism is by definition local. The nation without patriotism will soon cease to exist.
Patriotism, which Dr. Johnson defined as “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” found an example in Dr. Johnson’s own account of Scotland in his voyages to the Hebrides. His loathing of the Scots merely for being un-English was a complete illustration of arrant English patriotism. It may be assumed that Dr. Johnson exempted himself and other English scoundrels from his definition. Similarly, when Nurse Cavell said that “Patriotism is not enough,” she was about to die for her country.
On Anzac Beach, a number of “Diggers,” with a rum-jar, were discussing the causes of the War. They were joined by a “Tommy” conscript, five feet three in height. The Tommy, they discovered, did not know where he was, though he thought vaguely that he was on the way to Berlin. He had no knowledge of geography, of history, or of world-politics. He had left school when he was twelve years of age, and had tended a steel-furnace, on night-shifts, ever since then—until now suddenly, without knowing why, he found himself in uniform in a strange place where some very large men were drinking rum. His contribution to the discussion was as follows: “Ah don’t know nowt abaht it. England’s in trooble, and Ah’m here, lads, that all Ah know . . .“
This perfect specimen of cannon-fodder, as true an English patriot as Dr. Johnson, represents the “invincible” type of Englishman who, after subduing Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, mentally and physically, then proceeded to conquer other foreign places beyond the seas; and extended the English ego all over the earth, to the considerable profit of the English merchants and moneylenders.
What concerns us is that the continued extension of this English ego to Australia, of this automatic English patriotism, however admirable it may be from the locally English point of view, has, as we may know discern after 150 years of it, a reverse effect of patriotism here: and tends indeed to become Australian unpatriotism. While respecting English patriotism, in all or most of its forms, in England, we begin to wonder in a vague way whether something of the same quality of feeling, of national ego, in Australia, and as regards the welfare and pride of Australians, might not be desirable in our own interests.
When Kingsford Smith arrived in England on his first and epoch-making flight around the world, he said to the enquiring English reporters: “No, I am not an American. Yes, I served in the War. I was in the Royal Air Force. No, I am not English. I am an Australian. I put Australia first. Britain comes second in my thoughts.”
This very just and handsome concession to “British” feeling is one which almost all Australians are willing to make. Very few English people, however, by reciprocity, would place Australia as high as second in their considerations. England first, England only, is their idea.
Any Englishman who, living in England, habitually regarded Australia as the most important part of the Empire, would be very properly regarded there as a madman. Any Fleet Street newspaper editor who habitually and every day placed news cabled from Australia in the most prominent type on his front page, and relegated the local (English) news to a place of secondary importance, would be considered a fool, a lunatic, or merely an incompetent editor; and would be promptly and properly “sacked.”
Yet in Australia there are thousands of Australians who habitually regard England as being the most important part of the Empire: and there are hundreds of newspaper editors who habitually place English cabled news on their front pages and relegate Australian (local) news to a secondary position amongst the drapers’ advertisements.
Are these Australian disloyalists mad, or merely thoughtless?
Not having heard, perhaps, of the Statute of Westminster, have they hence failed to realise that Australia is indeed now a nation, on a par with Britain as such?
Or is the Statute of Westminster nothing but a pretty fable?
“POPULATE OR PERISH”
All parties agree that population is Australia’s paramount need. Australian is perhaps the only country in the world which has actually a need for more people. If this continent is destined, as we believe, to be the future home of the white race, it is essential, and urgently necessary, that the white population here should be increased to at least twenty or thirty millions: a number finally adequate for defence against any possible military invasion. This is a primary Australian need, and its consideration takes precedence over all other political questions in Australia to-day.
It is the truly national, and non-party, question: and it is also an “imperial” question—but, curiously enough, the “Little Englanders,” the British who at present live in Britain, cannot see it as such. With chronic unemployed in Britain numbering approximately five millions for many years past, British statesmanship, both in Britain and in Australia, has not been able to devise any practicable scheme of migration from Britain to Australia.
This fact is so astounding that it merits the most careful thought. I have come to the conclusion that the question of populating Australia is one of those fundamentals on which the two countries will not easily be able to agree. I have come to the conclusion that British and Australian interests are in direct conflict on this issue—and that the “Little Englanders” do not want Australia to have a big population!
If the Empire is indeed a “great family” (as the late King described it in a broadcast speech), then we must be permitted the occasional luxury of a “family squabble” and some forthright speaking to our “cousins” or “brothers” overseas. A united family does not mean a family in which awkward questions are never discussed. Here then is an Australian point of view, and the answer to it would be awaited with interest:
An increase of Australian population means an increase of Australian industry. This must directly conflict with “British” industrial interests. If Australia’s population mounts to twenty or thirty millions, or even to ten millions, Australia will tend more and more to become industrially self-contained. In fact, Australia might then become another America, an industrial rival to Britain in world markets. With anything like equal populations in Britain and Australia, it is Australia which would become, and very rapidly, the wealthier and more “powerful” country of the two, for Australia has infinitely the greater natural resources; including coal, iron, and the raw materials of every kind which Britain lacks. It is therefore directly contrary to “British” interests that Australia’s population should increase. “British” interests require that Australia should have a small population!
This argument is a stunner. At present I can seen no reply to it from the “British” point of view. From the Australian point of view it implies that Australia must secure its population in the teeth of active or passive “British” hostility.
Here, then, is the fundamental conflict between “British” and Australian opinion, which no amount of mild palavering at Imperial Conferences will be able to solve. I believe that the “British” statesmen, in Britain, see it more clearly than do the Australian statesmen, at the present time. It is assumed, in Australia, that the British are anxious to send us their unemployed. Nothing of the kind! The British know only too well that a million Britons sent here would breed like rabbits, that Australia would then become industrialised, would even begin to manufacture wool for export as finished goods—and that this process, under the mad economic system of to-day, would create an even worse unemployment problem in Britain than already exists there.
NO NEED FOR A PROTECTOR
Defence is also a prime national question. On the practical need of defending Australia against the possibility of a Japanese invasion, all Australian parties (including the Communists) are in agreement. The only doubt which may arise is whether the Japanese imperialists are really so stupid as to wish to conquer and colonise Australia. These deep thinkers may have realised that, even if they were to conquer Australia and people it, Australia would then become the home of a new kind of Japanese person, a Japanese-Australia, who would be as different from the original parent Japanese as the present-day British-Australian is becoming different from the original parent British! Australia colonised by the Japanese would nevertheless become a great nation—one of the leading nations of the earth—and thus eventually would be serious rival to the Mother Japan of the Northern Hemisphere.
The cost, to Japan, of conquering and colonising Australia would be enormous, even if the attempt could succeed. The White Australian Natives of to-day are not so ignorant, unarmed, unorganised, trustful, primitive, and friendless throughout the world as were the native Australians when Captain Cook landed on these shores as precursor of the far-too-easy conquest of this continent. We, Whiteskin Australians, fighting for our lives on our own soil, would be infinitely harder to exterminate than were the Redskins in America, or than are the Blackskins in Ethiopia.
Counting the cost, the Japanese imperialists may decide that no ultimate profit would accrue to them from an attempt to conquer Australia by force. The raw materials, such as wool, coal, and iron, which Japan needs, may already be obtained from Australia, by peaceful trade, at world parity prices plus freight. Japan is already Australia’s best customer for wool—or is equal with Britain in this regard. If Japan conquered Australia, the Japanese industrialists in the “Mother” Country would still have to pay world parity prices plus freight for their wool from Australia—the “Japanese-Australian” exporters would see to that. Then what would be the advantage of the very costly military adventure to “conquer” this continent?
There is no escaping the fundamental fact of nature—that Australia is a vast and isolated continent, too vast and too isolated to be a pawn in anybody’s game.
Australia cannot become populated without becoming industrialised; and cannot become industrialised without becoming a rival to the original colonising mother-country—whether England or Japan: there is the irrefragable logic.
But assuming that Japan is too short-sighted to realised this, assuming that Japan wants to conquer Australia, would the British Navy defend us? We think so, we hope so; but we cannot absolutely be sure . . .
I state this question in the terms of a psychology which it is to be hoped will, in the New Age, become obsolete: the psychology of international clash. Enlightened opinion in all countries is tending to regard the soldier and the gun-maker with loathing, and is attempting to exterminate these pests, who war, in all countries, against humanity itself. A discussion of international fight-strategy may seem to have very little to do with the foundations of cultural achievement in any country: and I agree with this proposition, in the abstract.
Concretely, however, I perceive that Australian national morale, which alone can establish a culture here, has been undermined to a greater extent by the “protection” offered by Britain and the British Navy than by any foreign threat of aggression.
A nation which is under the necessity of being “protected” by another nation must make the age-old bargain which the Domestic Dog has made: in return for the security afforded by man’s protection, he submits his neck to the collar, his jaws to the muzzle, and his ribs, on occasion, to the boot. The Domestic Dog, having lost the wild liberty of the Dingo to wander where he will, even amongst dangers and sometimes hungry, has gained protection, but has lost independence of thought and action. As part of his price for protection, he must learn to wag his tail when the Master pats his head—as some of our Australian business men wag their tails when Britain confers a Knighthood upon them.
Protection, in other words, is always given at a price and as the result of an implied bargain. It creates a sense of inferiority in the person, or nation, so protected. How terrible, then, to discover suddenly that the “protection” may be withdrawn when it is most needed! Or alternately how stimulating to the emotions to discover that there is no longer any need for a protector!
If the Japanese intend to assault and invade Australia, they will of course wait until there is war or revolution or some such distraction in Europe to keep the British Navy in its “Home” waters. When Germany or Italy, or both of these dictator-ruled countries simultaneously, go berserk in Europe, the British Navy will, very properly, stay in the North Sea or the Mediterranean, to defend England: and will not be available for the defence of Australia should Japan choose that moment for its onslaught on this continent. That is not only plain truth and commonsense, but also a completely justifiable fact. The British Navy has been built to defend, in any emergency, England first. In any such contingency, Australians will be in the exhilarating position of having to defend their own country, unaided. Such a responsibility, I say, brings with it a sense of exhilaration, the feelings of a young eagle leaving the nest, or of a young man who, leaving his parents’ home, occupies a house which he himself has built.
Europe is the world’s storm-centre of war-danger. With an area not much greater than that of the continent of Australia, Europe is divided into approximately thirty nations, speaking different languages, under different political systems, and with conflicting economic interests. Europe’s history for two thousand years has been blood-soaked: in two thousand years Europe has not learned that wars are futile as a method of settling international disputes. Europe is the world’s cockpit and bearpit, the bloodiest and dirtiest continent in the world, the continent which, after two thousand years of “civilisation,” produces types such as Mussolini, Hitler, Hoare, Laval and Zaharoff!
Europe is war-crazed and power-crazed. European nations provide the only real danger to world-peace to-day. Europe is peaceless, a hotbed of intrigue and threat. Europe, as seen from a telescope from America, or from Australia, is a den of cutthroats, thieves, and barbarians. It seems doubtful whether Europe has really learned anything from the war of 1914–18, except the need for “revenge”—a lesson continued in serial instalments from the Franco-Prussian War, the Napoleonic War, the Thirty Years’ War, the Hundred Years’ War, the Crusades, and Caesar’s Gallic Wars.
Fed upon European history and “culture,” the Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans participated in the “Great” War of 1914–18, as though the quarrel really concerned them. In August, 1914, one day before Britain declared war on Germany, the Prime Minister of Australia, who was a Scotsman, sent a cable to the British Government offering, in the event of war, to despatch an expeditionary force of 20,000 men “to any destination desired by the Home Government, the force to be at the complete disposal of the Home Government.”
The result of this magnificent spontaneous offer was, as the world knows, that the Anzacs were placed “at the complete disposal” of that imaginative English politician, Mr. Winston Churchill, for the purpose of his phantasmagorical attack upon Gallipoli. Subsequently it has been revealed (by Mr. Hugh Dalton, in a speech in the House of Commons) that the weapons and ammunition which shot down on Gallipoli “the morning glory that was the flower of the young nations of Australia and New Zealand,” had been supplied to the Turkish Army by Vickers-Armstrong, an English concern!
The offer of 20,000 men from Australia increased, as the European War was prolonged, to an actual despatch of almost 400,000 men, the culling of the very finest sires from this under-populated nation, in a sincere belief that that European War was going to be “the War to end Wars.”
The result, twenty years later, is that Europe is once again on the “brink” of another of its devastating depopulating adventures. Do the European statesmen, including the English statesmen, seriously believe that the young non-European nations will a second time join in a European shambles if called upon to do so?
SIRES TO THE SLAUGHTER
Let us state the proposition in crude terms, from the point of view of Antipodeans, who dwell as far away from Europe as it is possible anywhere on the globe to dwell. Australian, the only underpopulated continent, cannot afford a second culling of its young sires for European slaughter in this generation, or in the next generation, or in any future generation. If, to put it brutally, the European nations are over-populated, particularly “Catholic” nations, such as Italy and Germany, where birth control is discouraged, and if these periodic mass slaughters, decimations, and devastations are necessary on sociological, biological, or “economic” grounds, the matter is of European concern only, and is not our concern. Far from requiring to be decimated, Australia requires an increase of population. Australian cannot afford one man, or one shilling, for European wars of the future. Every man, every shilling, may be needed for our own defence. Every young sire is needed for the peopling of our nation. Our part in any European war of the future, if we were to participate, could not be decisive of the conflict there; but another huge draft of 400,000 Australian sires sent overseas would be adversely decisive of our national destiny as occupants of this Continent. It would weaken this nation below the point at which it could offer resistance to Asiatic penetration. Another European war, if Australia participates in it to any extent, means the end of the ideal that Australia will be a future home of the white race.
We have therefore to decide, and may have to decide very quickly, what would be Australia’s attitude in the event of the tocsin being sounded for another of Europe’s familiar carnages.
During the carnage of 1914–18, we sent our draft of 400,000 men under an implied bargain with Britain, by way of reciprocity, and in return for, the “protection” of Australia by the British Navy. In the forthcoming carnage, which appears to be inevitable, shall we repeat our gesture of 1914? Is it fair to allow Britain to imagine that we shall repeat it, and to shape British policy in Europe on that assumption? Would it not be more courteous, more forthright, and in fact more manly, for Australians to make it officially and unofficially quite clear to English-Imperial statesmen that, for reasons relating to own actual existence, it will be impossible for Australia ever again to send soldiers to Europe to participate in a European war?
Britain’s reply to that would naturally be: “Very well, if you won’t or can’t help to defend us against Germany, or Italy, or France, or Russia, or Jugo-Slavia, or Whatnot, obviously you cannot expect us to defend you against Japan!”
Australia’s answer to that: “We shall defend ourselves!” is the only possible reply for a self-respecting nation to make. This answer has a particular validity in view of the fact that we should have to defend ourselves, in any case, if the hypothecated Japanese attack were launched while the British Navy was preoccupied, in its “Home” waters, with the defence of Britain; and in view of the fact that this Japanese attack would never be launched except during another self-decimating war of the white races in Europe.
AUSTRALIA IS AN ISLAND
History frequently makes attempts to repeat itself, but never quite succeeds in the attempt. If the British Navy, concentrated in the North Sea to defend Britain, were obliged to leave Australia defenceless, a striking historical precedent would occur to the minds of those who had sufficient leisure and learning, at such a time, to draw the analogy. It may be remembered that Britain was once a colony—an outpost of the Roman Empire.
While Britain was a Roman colony, the British were “protected,” by the Roman Legions, to such an extent that the British themselves, for a couple of centuries, had no need to fear foreign invasion.
But then suddenly the Mother Country, Rome, was menaced by invading Goths and Vandals—and Mussolini’s forbears decided that the Empire could go hang, but that Italy must be defended at all costs. Accordingly, the Roman Legions were withdrawn (and quite justifiably so) from the far-flung colony of Britain. Even the Governors and Governor-General were withdrawn, the loans and investments were written off as a dead loss; and Britain, a defenceless colony, was promptly invaded by the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. Such is the parallel from history which we may be confronted.
But history never exactly repeats itself. If it did, we should have to decide that mankind is incapable of learning from experience. There are invariably new factors when a historical situation looks like being repeated.
In this instance the new factor is aeroplanes. By means of a sufficient fleet of aeroplanes, Australia could defend itself against any possible invading force, which would be obliged to come here by sea. Australia, from the military point of view, is an island—even more so than Britain has been throughout all history. Australia can only be invaded and invested by troops brought in ships across oceans. For the price of one battleship, 250 bombing aeroplanes could be built and maintained. With two thousand such aeroplanes, for the cost of only eight warships, Australia could be defended for all time against all comers.
This is the spectacular new historical development which makes it possible for us in Australia, with only seven million people, to hold this continent intact. Aeroplanes, as far as the defence of Australia is concerned, have made the British Navy obsolete, or, from our point of view, unnecessary.
With a population increased to ten or twenty millions we could feel absolutely confident of being able to repel any invading force which might, if it could reach these shores, attempt to occupy our territory. Even with our present population, we believe that we could make things so hot for an invader that he would consider the attempt unprofitable.
But it is aeroplanes which will save us. Australians are aviators—that is scarcely to be denied. As soon as we have aircraft factories here, and the manufacture of oil from coal or shale, we shall be able to defend ourselves, and to build our national life without fear of violent interruption, from any quarter whatsoever.
Aeroplanes, oil from coal, and more people—but particularly aeroplanes is the paramount factor in Australia’s defence policy.
We face this fact not because we think the British Navy would not defend us: but because we think that the British Navy, in our emergency, might not be able, through preoccupation at “home,” to reach these waters.
Facts are forcing us into national self-reliance: the national self-reliance which presages adult nationhood.
Aeroplanes, which were invented in Australia by Hargrave in the year 1881, might be considered, by those who believe in God, as a special provision of the Deity for the national self-defence of this Commonwealth.
CHAUVINISM AND CULTURE
Once again, I feel that it is necessary to apologise, at least to my more civilised readers, for what may appear to be a chauvinistic disquisition, but is nothing of the kind. Chauvinism is a vice peculiar to European nations, and to Britain’s apt pupil, Japan. Nationality, in Australia, can have no tinge of chauvinism. It is self-evident that Australians have no need whatever to conquer or invade the territory of any other nation, in order to acquire more land. We have already more than sufficient land. Defence in Australia, means defence; and cannot, by any stretch of imagination or hypocritical logic, mean aggression. It is this elementary, and somewhat Antipodean, fact which removes the discussion of Australian nationalism from the sphere of academic discussion based on merely European categories of nationality and imperialism.
The Disunited States of Europe have contributed an atavistic concept of nationality to world thought—a concept which has no natural home in other continents. Federations, such as the United States of Australia, show how local disunities can be overcome in a continental area. But, in comparatively barbarous and sub-civilised Europe, there is apparently no real move toward Federation. The States of Europe still maintain their local governments, tariffs, feuds and grounds of disunion. Which Federation has abolished in America and Australia.
To the American or Australian observer, European squabbles are on the level of obsolete “interstate” disputes, which an enlightened Federation of Europe could amicably solve. The monstrous chauvinism of European States has certainly tended to bring the concept of “nationality” into disrepute: but that chauvinistic concept of nationality is a narrow and European one. If Europe is to go snarling into self-destruction under this concept, that is Europe’s affair. We non-Europeans seek a more decent concept of nationality—one not based on the murder of other peoples: though resolute in authentic self-defence.
It is necessary for Australians, with a culture of the future to construct, to free their minds of the European war-neurosis and chauvinistic psychology. In such ways we show that the Antipodean mind moves in Antipodean categories, and we provide the basis for a culture infinitely superior to the sub-civilised culture of sabre-rattling Europeans such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Winston Churchill. Europe, indeed, may prove to have been no more than the experimental laboratory of the white race; which may eventually find its fullest maturity in our Australia: particularly if the old laboratory explodes, chemically asphyxiating its inmates.
In brief, the word “nationalism,” in Australia, bears little or no resemblance to the same word as used in Europe. In Europe, for example, a nationalist would be a person who wished his country to participate in wars, for patriotic reasons of national aggrandisement: whereas, in Australia, a nationalist would, for the very same reason, desire his country to keep out of wars. In Europe a nationalist thinks in terms of a piece of territory which is often no larger than an Australian sheep-station: our national vision, even if insular, is at least based on the insularity of the largest Island in the world—an island which contains several sheep-stations as large as Germany or Italy. It must be admitted that there is a certain largeness in our view.
But, if this reasoning fails to convince “advanced” thinkers, who are afraid of such words as “nationality” and “patriotism” (because of the European implications of such terms), let me remind them that, in Soviet Russia, a country which advanced thinkers will presumably admire, the concept of nationality has not perished, nor has national defence—though chauvinism is discouraged there, let it be hoped.
Dimitrov, speaking at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, in 1935, severely rebuked the Communist parties in all countries (other than Russia) for neglecting national sentiments. He said in effect that the Communists had left it to the Fascist parties to encourage national pride, and that in this respect the Communist Parties had been grievously out of touch with the masses. He quoted Lenin on national pride: “We love our language and our motherland; we, more than any other group, are working to raise its masses to the level of intelligent Socialists. . . . We are filled with national pride, and therefore we particularly hate our slavish past.” Lenin, it is obvious, took pride in being a Russian, and considered that the Czarist regime was disloyal to Russia, because it “sold” Russia to foreign bondholders—British, French, and German. (The Czar’s court, even during the war, was notoriously honeycombed with German agents, and was a hotbed of anti-Russian intrigue. The mad contradiction of imperialist “nationalism” is that it is so completely international, without country and without national conscience, where investments are concerned.)
Dimitrov, in his lecture to the Comintern, rebuked the Communist Parties outside Russia for “self-satisfied sectarianism” and “doctrinaire narrowness” on this question of nationality and national culture. He claimed that, in Soviet Russia, the revolution had not only “averted the destruction of culture, but had raised culture to the highest stage of florescence as a truly national culture—national in form and socialist in content, under Stalin’s leadership.”
This should be sufficient to show “advanced” internationalists that they had better tread warily in condemning offhand any use of the world “national” in relation to culture. It is a paradox indeed, to those who think merely in formal and literal terms, to find an international communist such as Dimitrov advocating “national” pride. Obviously the word “national” has two meanings—one chauvinistic, one cultural. For this reason I decline to be carpeted for chauvinism in what I here advocate in regard to Australia’s need for national and cultural self-expression.
Before we leave the topic of Soviet Russia, I should like to add that, in my opinion, Australian Communists, if they blindly follow European Communist thought, without adapting it to Australia’s specific requirements, in application and idiom, put themselves thereby on the same intellectual level as the imperial-automata who, within Australia, blindly follow the line of imperialist thought imported from Europe. Australian conditions are not the same as English conditions or as Russian conditions. We must do our own thinking.
COMMERCE AND CULTURE
Throughout this “political” digression, I have been concerned with the fact that the development of culture in Australia, as a “thing-in-itself,” a dynamic contribution to world culture originating in this place, will not become a real possibility until Australia is emancipated from the economic and political domination of Europe, and of European thought. The mental orientation towards Europe has arisen from our economic orientation in that far north-westerly direction. With Britain, particularly, we have had a workable economic arrangement whereby we supplied raw materials and received manufactured goods in exchange. But in Europe, and even in Britain, the clear-sighted are now raising the flag of economic nationalism.
British farmers and cattle-breeders complain of the “competition” of Australian beef and dairy products. British exporters insist on two-ways trade with Denmark, the Argentine, and other “competitors” of Australia. The old automatic arrangement under which Australia was a primary-producing country, sparsely populated, a source of raw materials and foodstuffs, is drawing to an end. The growth of Australian manufacturing expedites the decease of “Empire trade.”
Entering a new economic phase, Australians suddenly realise that, if “economic nationalism” is to be the watchword, this continent is one of the best-equipped for such a policy of autarchy. If not a ship came to these shores for a hundred years, Australians would not on that account perish: nor would it be necessary for the Australian standard of living to decline; for we have everything in this Commonwealth that human beings require, and in abundance. While adhering to international trade, our standards of living on this island can vary downwards as the standards of other countries vary, and as their purchasing power declines. But if autarchy is to be the watchword, if we are to be driven back entirely upon our own resources, we should grow fat, living upon the fat of this land. A future of economic nationalism, of economic self-sufficiency, we could face without fear.
This is the new world-phase which appears to be approaching, and we must prepare for it. For forty years past we have lived in dependence upon our export trade. We have “humoured the customer,” namely Britain—even to the extent (unfortunately for Australian self-respect) of toadying somewhat to the British. We have had the anxiety of a tradesman with a very full shop anxious to please his best customer.
Well now! Our “best customer” is going elsewhere to purchase his butter, eggs, bacon, and beef! We must naturally lose a certain amount of respect for anyone who treats us like that. Noting that our former best customer is going to other shops, we must attract new customers into our own. Such is the growing Australian commercial sentiment in regard to Britain: and with this new sentiment comes an attitude of mind very much removed from that of the small shopkeeper anxious to please a customer, or of the person who has borrowed money anxious to placate the moneylender. As we become independent of British trade and of British loans (by finding other customers and by paying off the loans)—so in Australia we must progress from an economic independence to a political independence—and thus, along commercial channels, we progress towards cultural independence.
For forty years past, Australia’s commercial policy has been not towards independence of Britain as a customer, but towards a greater and greater dependence of Australia commercially upon the Mother Country. It is only very recently that the gospel of permanent Australian commercial dependence upon Britain has been, to a certain extent, discarded by Australian businessmen. A whole generation of grovellers to Britain is now being replaced by a generation with more respect for themselves than to grovel to anybody. This new commercial generation in Australia may foster Australian culture and seek, in intellectual self-respect, an expression of the sense of power which arises from the growing commercial autonomy of Australia.
The passing generation, the generation which for forty years has grovelled to Britain commercially, spurning Australian literature, Australian art, Australian sentiment, Australian culture, is obsolescent if not yet obsolete. Time will extinguish this generation more effectively than arguments such as those of the present thesis. This obsolescent generation of alleged “Australians” has found its highest arcanum of desire in receiving Knighthoods from London and having its daughters presented at Court in London.
Sydney (even more than Bristol of the war-profiteering epoch) has become “A City of Dreadful Knights.” Australia’s modern “Bunyip Aristocracy,” bearers of the almost-noble titles of ancient European chivalry, embody the antithesis of Australian democratic, modern, and egalitarian ideals. Few of these “Knights” could sit upon a horse or even a donkey or go to the rescue of a damsel in distress. Most of them, like Knights of the Chessboard, can, in fact, move only crookedly: and have so moved, to secure their titles. The insignia of Knighthood in Australia, even more so than in Britain, has become a badge of Commercial Success, crude and undisguised. The comparatively few exceptions—Australian Knights who have won their titles by acts of learning, philanthropy, or public virtue—must occasionally blush for their compeers, the knighted grocers and graziers of this land of opportunity.
But no really self-respecting Australian could, with dignity, accept a title from the English, until such time as, under the Statute of Westminster, there is established a reciprocity between the Dominions in such courtesies. For each Knighthood conferred upon an Australian, there should, by imperial reciprocity, be an Australian title conferred upon some Englishman who, in Australia, has done something valuable to advance Australia’s cause in that country. The Order of the Mulga may be suggested, with the right to use the prefix of “Cobber”—the wives of persons so honoured may be entitled to the pre-name of “Mum.”
Failing such a reciprocity, the Order of Knighthood in Australia might, with an increase of dignity for Australians, be politely allowed to lapse.
The point is mentioned here solely in relation to the inter-dependence of Commerce and Culture in the modern world, and particularly in Australia during the past forty years, which has been a period rich in Imperial Commerce and poor in indigenous culture. The habit of looking to Europe for “trade” has led to the habit of regarding Europe as the fountain of all things that matter. The attitude of mind which seeks a Knighthood in Australia and sends daughters to be presented at Court, imagines that by such acts it is becoming cultured: but scarcely anyone is deceived, except the Knights and daughters in question. Knighthoods, like beauty, are only skin deep. Scratch an Australian Knight and you will find, only too frequently, a “beastly bourgeois.” Scratch away the plaister of “culture” which has been acquired by an Australian young “lady” who has been presented at Court—ask her to pronounce Cholmondeley, Cherwell, Magdalen, or Caius—and you will find how little she really “knows.” The private ribald jokes in what survives of authentic London “society” about the “contingents of colonials” presented at Court would fall like acid on the skins of Australian debs, if only they could hear what the genuine English county people really think about them. The tickets for presentation at Court which may be obtained at Australia House by any Australian gal who earnestly wants one are issued not by any means as a certificate of blue blood. They are issued as a harmless gesture of imperial expediency, more or less like Australian Knighthoods—in dozens.
Aristocracy, throughout a hundred centuries or more of organised human endeavour, and for twenty centuries or so in Europe, has patronised the fine arts. The People, the “Lower Orders,” have not patronised the fine arts: and still less have the merchants, the middle-class, the moneylenders, the beastly bourgeois, done anything in this way to nurture the soul of man. The people, the plebs, hoi polloi, have been, down the centuries, too greatly preoccupied with making a bare living, at subsistence level, to be concerned with “the trimmings” of life: cultural achievement, the cultivation of the flowers of the mind. And the beastly bourgeois have, down the centuries, been too greatly preoccupied with money-grubbing, or with “making money” (to use a term common to counterfeiters and businessmen)—too greatly preoccupied with robbing the poor and crawling to the rich, with “rising” in the social scale from petty to grand bourgeois estate, from lower to upper “middle”-class rank, with self-help, with getting on in the world—the businessmen, in other words, have been too busy to bother about such an obviously “useless” thing as culture.
England, Japan, and Abyssinia are probably the last remaining countries in which the forms of feudal aristocracy still linger: but in England the reality of feudal absolutism has had its wings clipped by Magna Charta, by the Puritan Revolution, by the Reform Bill, by Mr. Gladstone, by Death Duties, and above all by the merchants and moneylenders of the City of London; until to-day in England an Authentic Old High Tory, with escutcheon unsullied at any point by money-scrabbling, would be as rare as the dodo.
The English Aristocracy, in fact, has been taxed out of existence, corrupted by seats on Boards of Directors, socially weakened by intermarriages with heirs and heiresses of self-made men, or parodied by the elevation to the peerage of profiteers, politicians; pets, and similar canaille, until to-day the English Aristocracy, while preserving the form, can no longer preserve the reality of its status. The age of social grandeur passed away indeed in England, and without heads falling in baskets or the rattle of tumbrils, when it became possible for self-made men to buy peerages by contributions to party funds—and when the commonest of commoners, men such as the late Sir Alfred Mond, maker of poison-gas, could enter the precincts of the House of Lords as a peer of the realm: when Philip Snowden, bitter-lipped “socialist,” becomes a “Lord” in the company of “Lord” Beaverbrook and “Lord” Rothermere and a hundred other such “Lords” who are, by birth and breeding, precisely as “aristocratic” as a Barbary baboon.
The concept of aristocratic patronage of culture, the idea that the possession of wealth carries with it duties and responsibilities as well as privileges, is becoming no less extinct in England than it has become, by a different technique, in France and Russia. One speaks of aristocracy in the past tense in all countries of the world to-day—except in Australia, which never had an aristocracy.
Australia never had an aristocracy, and so never had a tradition of the patronage, by its social leaders, of the realities of culture. We had a Squattocracy, which for a time, like the Virginians of America, dispensed a large hospitality and attempted an exclusiveness based on the possession of broad acres. But the Australian Squattocracy is already extinct. Australian sheep-stations, no less than English country estates, have become Limited Companies. Wentworth’s proposal to establish a Colonial Peerage was laughed into oblivion.
In Australia the beastly bourgeois cannot disguise himself by changing his name and becoming a Peer, as the English bourgeois so frequently disguise themselves. The Australian businessman is none the less beastly and none the less bourgeois for having devoted all his life to the “business” of raising sheep. The emasculation even of a million lambs does not ennoble him. Neither does the title of “Honourable” (which may be acquired by wangling a seat in one of our farcical State “Upper” Houses) mean any increase of dignity: for such a title he will share with bookmakers, publicans, and Trades Hall secretaries: and he will take second place to the bookmaker-publican in any secret ballot in which votes can be bought.
How, then, may the Australian businessman disguise himself, or ennoble himself—cloak himself in an illusion or an appearance of grandeur, send on his name or his fame to posterity, dodge the grave, propitiate the gods for his sins against his fellow-men in a thousand dirty deals—become something other than he is? If a millionaire, or sub-millionaire, buys a dozen houses, a dozen Packards, a dozen mistresses, six yachts, a hundred suits of clothes—he can use only one of these things at a time, like any member of the common herd. The bourgeois slowly learns, as the aristocrat learned a thousand years ago, that money in itself is not an end; and that not even the power which money brings, the realisation of the poor boy’s dream of wealth, can purchase the ultimate satisfaction.
Our new bourgeoisie in Australia, which has been in the possession of wealth seldom for more than one generation or two, still has to learn what older nobilities had ingrained into their consciousness: the principle of noblesse oblige. Our Australian social leaders, commercial leaders, still have to learn that the possession of wealth carries with it the obligation to perform duties as well as the right to enjoy privileges.
New and crude, raw and culturally dreadful, our self-made Australians cannot begin to earn public respect until they learn (what Rockefeller and Carnegie ultimately learned)—that the expenditure of money in the endowment of national culture is a surer title to fame and a species of immortality than there mere purchase of a Knighthood, the presentation of a daughter (or ten daughters) at Court, or the laying up of treasures on the Stock Exchange, where moth and rust most definitely do corrupt.
All that our Australian very nouveaux-riches have learned to do with their money, “culturally,” has been to “travel”—i.e. to take periodical tourist trips, with or without wives and daughters, to England, to gape at the culture which there abounds: and then to return to Australia, deflated. The hordes and droves of colonial tourists to London has become a mighty joke, even if a profitable one, to the English. King Edward VIII, when Prince of Wales, in a public speech recently declared that the “Tourist Trade” to England, during the Jubilee Celebrations of 1935, increased British revenue by Twenty-five Million Pounds! The Tourist Industry, on these figures, he pointed out, was the third-largest British industry. A very considerable proportion of that twenty-five million pounds came from Australian tourists—and is the net result of that expenditure any raising of the cultural standards of Australians in general? Has travel broadened the mind of our Australian tourists? On the contrary. Our tourists come back home “like a defeated team.” They went, they saw, they were conquered.
“Travel,” in the very narrow sense in which it is given a meaning by our Australian steamship voyages to England, undoubtedly narrows the mind. “Travel” cannot possibly enlarge a narrow mind—reading, thinking, and intelligent conversation can alone do that. One evening spent reading Balzac will tell a person more about the real Paris than a week’s gaping from a charabanc.
The Americans, by the method of trial and error, have discovered this simple fact which Australians have yet to learn. After the war the American hegira to Paris and London reached enormous proportions; until the Americans themselves decided that Europe, merely gaped at, had little to teach them. Nowadays, Europeans are beginning to realise that America, by means of the cinema, can teach the “old countries” a great deal. Australians who go to Europe in order to see, amongst other sights, Frenchmen micturating in public, Shakespeare’s birthplace, and the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, may imagine that they are culturally enhanced thereby, but they deceive themselves.
The correct Australian attitude to European travel was portrayed by Randolph Bedford in his book Explorations in Civilisation. The correct Australian attitude to Australian travel was portrayed by E. J. Brady in his book describing a buggy-ride from Sydney to Townsville, The King’s Caravan. These two remarkable books are of the authentic stream of Australian literature, written by men, now veterans (whom I salute)—under the inspiration of that incipient Australianism of forty years ago which (let us swear it!) is now due for a revival.
To read Bedford and Brady will do more to broaden the mind than all the silly tourist travel aspired to by virgins who have saved up £300, or by scions of the Australian ignobility who escape, at intervals, from this Commonwealth, in an attempt to escape, temporarily, from themselves and from what they themselves have created.
WARDENS OF THE FUTURE
Our Australian mode, let me here repeat, is democratic and egalitarian. We can never expect to establish a national culture on “Aristocratic” or “exclusive” principles. We must be robust, fecund, original—be ourselves, with the defects of our qualities as well as the merits. As an adolescent nation, we have excelled at the crude arts of sport and war. As a nation of athletes and soldiers, however, we could win but a temporary renown. There is nothing so completely dead and forgotten as a dead athlete or a dead soldier. But a dead poet, paradoxically, “lives” in memory and esteem. Henry Lawson’s name will be respected and familiar when the name of every Australian soldier of 1914–18 and of every cricketer, from Trumper to Bradman, has been forgotten. Soldiers and athletes are heroes of a day, heroes of newspaper editors—those excitable men whose literary endeavours, twenty-four hours after appearing in print, can serve no useful purpose except for wrapping up sausages or lighting fires. These newspaper editors, who glorify sport and war as “sensations,” to whom normality is not “news,” for whom, in brief, bad news such as murders, calamities, robberies, rapes, arson, and disaster becomes, by a strange inversion, “good” news—who complain when they have not a decent murder to splash—these editors, too, when they die, become as dead as yesterday, and vanish without trace in the history of a nation. The question is raised here because it is the newspaper editors who, in modern democracies, assume, at least in their own conceit and certainly making a large noise about it, the role of arbiters of taste which in former days was unquestionably held by the noblesse.
The newspaper editor, in the modern world, is in a position to bestow patronage upon the creative writer: and seldom or never does so. This is because the newspaper editor, by virtue of his profession, has no sense of to-morrow, but only a sense of to-day. In aristocratic communities the Wardenship of To-morrow was in the hands of people whose property was entailed (to prevent them from wasting it) and whose titles were perpetual through the generations from father to son. Such families, developing a sense of perpetuity and futurity, developed also an appreciation of the permanent values which the creative artist embodies in his work. But in modern democracies, in an age when Aristocracy has finally disappeared from the earth or has become so attenuated as no longer to count, who are the Wardens of the Future? Newspaper editors with their vision of twenty-four hours, politicians with their vision of Next Election only three years or less ahead, businessmen with their vision of the next annual Balance Sheet? None of these persons, it seems to me, will be likely to patronise the national culture, as it slowly matures and takes its shape.
We are called upon, in Australia to-day, to show that Democracy can, in fact, devise a method and technique of patronising culture: if it cannot do this, Democracy will not survive; for any system is as ephemeral as the thoughts of its best thinkers. Beginning as the pioneers of a new continent, Australians have developed a technique of inventiveness, of individual initiative, which might as well be applied to this problem of saving Australia’s best writers, thinkers, and artists, from starvation, humiliation, and the despair which drives them into silence or exile. A nation which can afford ten million pounds to build a steel arch, and a like sum each year for tourist travel to gape at Europe, should have been able to afford the modest pittance which would have kept Henry Lawson from beggary or from humiliation by penny-a-line editors. This nation should have been able to afford to keep C. J. Brennan in comfort, and to print an edition of his majestic works. Under the reproach of having starved Lawson and Brennan, and of having ignored Louis Stone (and a dozen others whom I could name, whose needs are none the less acute merely because they are contemporaneous)—under this reproach of the monstrous neglect of indigenous culture and genius, Australians can only hang their head in shame. I know them, these Australian men and women of genius, walking dejectedly past the Stock Exchange in Pitt Street, Sydney, sometimes in dire need, and almost always dispirited, but with thoughts in their heads which are the stuff from which our national fabric is to be spun. Let one of our Bunyip “Knights” endow a National Book Publishing House, even if only to the extent of the cost of a Packard car, and it would be possible to print works of literary genius, already in existence in manuscript, which would make the Australian chest swell with pardonable pride. The very idea of a Bunyip Knight endowing literature is of course too absurd, but, by considering it as a remote possibility, we may realise just what Australia most lacks: a sense of the ultimate social responsibility in those who wield the power, whether of money, of politics, or of prestige.
One could forgive Sydney’s businessmen for their notoriously low standard of “business” ethics, for the scarcely-concealed ramps and racketeerings, plunders and piracies, if in the sequel, after they had accumulated riches, they could learn to behave like gentlemen, or even learn one-tenth of the behaviour of “gentlemen” in the manner of advancing national causes, acting unselfishly and patriotically, propitiating their consciences as the grave approaches.
But that a whole generation should be entirely banal, entirely devoted to Commerce as though Commerce were of ultimate significance—this is too much! This kind of thing digs its own grave, and cannot even preserve its privileges for its sons. This kind of thing is doomed, and has doomed itself.
The technique of modern business, with its morality of dog eat dog, which used to be called “free competition,” has led to the formation of Business Groups, which war, in unscrupulous ferocity, against other Business Groups or against individuals outside the organised canine pack. This process of the amalgamation of snarling curs into hunting packs provides mediocrity with a semblance of strength. Considered as a commercial phenomenon, it has justification of a sort. When there are too many dogs after one bone, partial unity is an advantageous compromise.
Thus it is that in Sydney, for example, the businessmen are organised into gangs not less ferocious, though perhaps more “legal,” than those which made Chicago notorious. The larrikin tradition of Sydney, with its Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo “pushes” that kicked men to death, has provided the necessary precedent.
Inasmuch as Sydney’s business gangs are organised solely for Commerce, their activities, of course, are merely significant in that field. It is when the technique of the larrikin push is applied to the suppression of new ideas, of national ideas, or to the suppression of a national culture, that it becomes really noxious, and ought to be put down. For forty years past the Australian business gangs, looking to England for three benefits—trade, protection against Japan, and protection against Socialism—have conspired to suppress the Australian Idea. It is thus that outstanding individuals, who might have done something to advance cultural standards here, have been hounded out of the country or into ineffectiveness. A vicious commercialism has gripped the nation by the throat.
Lying rumour, the characteristic “gossip” of small-towns anywhere in the world, remains rife in Sydney, spoiling other metropolitan features. Perhaps most of the Sydney business gangsters have come from small towns, retaining the slander-technique, if not the strict probity, of their background. In a true metropolis, the unusual man or woman—the “intellectual,” the person who dares to think originally—should have a place of refuge from petty persecution. It is so in all other metropolises.
But in Sydney it is not so. The liars who hounded C. J. Brennan out of Sydney University are of the same breed, and use the same technique, as those who hound a rival businessman out of business. This technique is known as “bone-pointing,” from the analogy of Aboriginal Magic whereby the witch-doctors point death upon a man. The secret whisperers of small-town Sydney, Pitt Street Sydney, following an infallible primitive instinct, do not hesitate to besmirch a man’s “moral” or financial character when they cannot cope with his Idea. Thus it will be said, “So-and-So is a very brilliant man—but, he is financially unreliable . . . he is not a very good business man.” In other words, he is a very brilliant man, but he is not One of Us.
Let anyone begin publishing Australian books in Sydney to-day (I can speak from experience!) and he will soon discover what is meant by “bone-pointing.” Mysterious telephone calls will be made to his printers saying that he cannot pay his debts. Prospective investors in his Company will be solemnly “warned” to be “careful.” Whisper upon whisper will come to his ears, slander and innuendo will destroy his character. A conspiracy without the courage to come out into the open will cause him endless delays and frustrations. It has been the same with every entrepreneur who, for forty years past, has attempted to advance national causes which might possibly interfere with the imperial economic exploitation of Australia.
The English Garrison here is armed not with rifles (that would be too absurd) but with propaganda, a form of hostility not so easily recognisable as rifles, but almost as deadly. Apart from the obvious paid agents of London finance, and apart from the dear delightful University Professors, and apart from the Bunyip Knights and their entourage, the English Garrison here consists mainly of importing merchants whose import businesses would be adversely affected by the growth of indigenous Australian enterprise, whether cultural or merely commercial. The anti-Australians include many Australian-born.
So it is that, in Sydney to-day, there is, as Balzac said of Paris in the year 1836, an incessant warfare waged by mediocrity against the superior man—
“In Paris, when certain people see you ready to set your foot in the stirrup, some pull your coat-tails, others loosen the buckle of the strap that you may fall and crack your skull; one wrenches off your horse’s shoes, another steals your whip, and the least treacherous of them all is the man whom you see coming to fire his pistol at you point-blank.”
(The Atheist’s Mass. Clara Bell’s translation.)
Balzac himself, of course, a literary giant, warred successfully against this “armament of pigmies” which so precisely resembles the armament of Sydney’s businessmen of to-day against Australian efforts to mount upon Pegasus. The businessman, naturally, with his mind set upon plunder, does not want the public to think: he would prefer the public to be doped and lulled by the cinema, the press, and American crime-, sex-, and horror-magazines. But in despising, ignoring, or obstructing the growth of literature here, the businessmen are placing a rod in pickle for the own backs: they will drive the finest minds of the country into the ranks of Socialist agitation, to organise and concentrate a fury there which will destroy the entire system of business, and replace it with a system less obstructive to national growth of mind.
Henry James the elder, writing in America at a time when America was in a phase of the undisputed hegemony of money-grubbing somewhat similar to that which exists in Australia to-day, defined intellectual liberty as follows:
Liberty consists in the inalienable right of every man to believe according to the unbribed inspiration of his heart, and to act according to the unperverted dictates of his own understanding.
It seems to me that such a definition would apply to national liberty as well as to personal liberty: and that in either application the term would not be condoned by the businessmen of Sydney in particular, and of Australia in general, to-day.
Without an aristocracy, and with a generation of business men utterly lacking in cultural appreciation or sense of responsibility, it would seem that the future of culture in Australia will find its guardians only amongst the plebs. It is highly significant that the first real outburst of Australian literature, and of Australian nationalism, occurred during the ’eighties and ’nineties after the Shearers’ Strike and the formation of the Labour Party. The eclipse of Australian literature and of Australian nationalism, during forty years of truckling to imperialist leadership and imperial trade, has been marked by the decline of the Labour Party to its present position of political gangsterdom and racketeering: the corruption, in effect, even of Labour ideals by the “ethics” of businessmen.
Many years ago, Australia was regarded as being politically the most advanced country of the world, in such matters as suffrage, industrial arbitration, and education. The “liquidation of illiteracy” by compulsory universal schooling was undertaken in this Commonwealth long before it was done in Soviet Russia. Australia was once, under the plebeian inspiration of socialism, an “advanced” country.
But to-day, alas! Thanks to forty years of the inferiority complex which arises from being commercially overshadowed and culturally flummoxed by the imperial rigmarole, we are earning and deserving the reputation of being a backwater where progress has been allowed to lie stagnant. Nothing by the proclamation of an Australian creed of life, of a faith in Australian nationality and destiny, can free us for a future cultural achievement of value. The choice is between Australian- and “Imperial”-mindedness. To be culturally inferior, commercially subsidiary, and politically an echo, may seem, to the imperial-minded, a fit destiny for Australians; but there are many, within Australia, who would reject such a destiny.
ONE PLACE IS ENOUGH
Population remains the paramount question, in any consideration of Australia’s future. “We must populate or perish.” A population greater than seven millions is not actually necessary for the development of a culture; by numerical standards we have already a population as great as was that of Britain in Shakespeare’s time, and much greater than that of Ancient Greece. Sydney and Melbourne of to-day are larger cities than was Paris in Balzac’s time, Berlin in Beethoven’s day, or London in the time of Shakespeare. We need a population solely for defence, for the feeling of security and superiority which England enjoyed in Shakespeare’s time, after the Spanish fleets had been defeated by Drake: after the English had come to realise finally that they could settle down upon their Island without fear of being disturbed. We need population in Australia in order to give us this feeling of security and invulnerability which alone can permit a people to develop in civilisation. In a world gone militaristically mad, we in Australia can provide an asylum of culture, probably with our present population, but most decidedly so if our population were doubled or quadrupled. Being an Island and a unity, racially and physiographically, this continent can be defended in a way in which the British Empire, as a scattered series of units, can never be defended.
Homer Lea, in his book, The Day of the Saxon, pointed out the danger and weakness of sectional policies within an empire: policies “that endure no longer than the men who make them and rise no higher than the mediocrity of public impulse.” The perpetuation of the British Empire depends, he maintained, “First upon its military unity and secondly upon its military unification.” (Neither of these conditions is possible of fulfilment.) The weakest form of empire, Homer Lea points out, is one that is “not only politically heterogenous and racially heterogenous, but also geographically devoid of any unity.”
It will be as well to take this argument very seriously, for our Australian national life depends on it.
To commonsense it seems self-evident that, nowadays, the whole scattered empire could not be defended, by the British Navy alone, if attacked at various points simultaneously by a combination of first-class powers, such as Germany, Italy, and Japan. It could be defended only by the aid of allies, as in the last war: and can we rely absolutely upon the efforts of the British Foreign Office to find such allies in perpetuity?
Without wishing to condense, by inadequate quotation, the argument of a writer whose style is already prodigiously condensed, we may, for present purposes, set forth another citation from Homer Lea’s book:
The decrease of imperial patriotism in segregated portions of the Empire is determinable by time. The fealty of a colony to the Mother Country decreases in inverse ration as is increased its self-government. Each generation leaves behind it local traditions; succeeding generations become more and more attached to the soil that nourishes them. Abstract ideals involving imperial patriotism give way to that which is material and local . . .
The application of this very cogent reasoning to the Australian situation to-day, and from the Australian point of view, is that the Empire is too scattered all over the globe to be defended militarily or culturally as an entity, that political unification, i.e., the domination of all the parts by one part, is impossible, and that the greatest weakness and danger to the Empire is sectionalism—not the sectionalism of the “colonies” only; but the sectionalism of the “Mother” country! The smallest possible view of the Empire is the one which limits its orbit and purpose to the sectional interest of the British Islanders who live in Britain. Living in a very much larger Island, we Australians can take a very much larger view. Such a vision is that propounded by Wentworth in his prophecy that Australia would become “A New Britannia in Another World!”
A NEW BRITANNIA
When the English finally conquered Scotland, in the reign of George the Second, they did so in order to find some land, on the bleak boggy hillsides of Ross and Cromarty, where sheep could be raised, to grow wool for Bradford. In so conquering Scotland, the English found it necessary to drive out the Highlanders; to depopulate the glens, in order to establish sheep-pastures. Sheep, it will be noted, replace people in the occupation of any territory. The whole of the Highlands was given over to sheep-culture, in order that the English woollen mills might have ample supplies of raw material. The Gaelic language and culture was suppressed, under this scheme of sheep-culture, even to the extent of the publication of an English decree that the wearing of the tartan and plaid was illegal! This was before John Macarthur drew the attention of the English to the fact that Australia was potentially the great sheep-country. In a century of sheep-culture since Macarthur’s day, Australians have sent a hundred million bales of wool to Bradford: and in the process the herbage of almost the entire continent has been nibbled away by that most destructive of all imported pests, the Merino.
Pastoralism does not, and cannot, maintain a large population. A few men, with Kelpie dogs, can manage a million sheep; and a few men, with machines, can shear them.
If Australia’s population has increased only slowly, it is because we are, and have been for a hundred years, a nation of shepherds. For the purposes of pastoralism, we have already a more than sufficient population. If our national destiny is to supply Bradford, in perpetuity, with wool, we need no more people: we merely need more sheep: until ultimately there will not be a blade of grass, or the root of a blade of grass, left on the surface of Australia from east coast to west. And thus, as a Second Sahara, Australia’s destiny, or the Bradford view of it, will have been fulfilled: and “fresh fields and pastures new” may be sought, for Bradford’s sheep, in some other place ready for devastation and depopulation.
But the Englishman’s view of Australia’s destiny, and the Australian patriot’s view, do not in this respect coincide. One must give way to the other: both cannot prevail. The industrialisation of Australia means that the population will substantially increase; and with that increase will come an increase of Australian national self-consciousness: in other words, a distinctive Australian culture. The industrialisation of Australia means that Australians will manufacture wool, and books, and almost every other civilised necessity, here. This is a view directly in conflict with the view of Australia as a solely primary producing country: the “narrow” Englishman’s view of the destiny of this portion of the Empire.
The development of Australian industry, and its accompanying growth of population, is the only means of holding Australia as a home for the white race.
And what a home! An entire continent, diversified from the snowy peaks of Kosciusko to the “sunlit plains extended” of the west; from the sub-arctic islands of Bass Strait to the palm-clad tropic islets of the Barrier Reef; a continent with enormous deposits of coal and iron, and with every mineral that industry requires; a continent capable of producing every kind of fruit and grain; with coastal waters that teem with fish—herring and pilchard in shoals greater than any that visit the cold North Sea: a continent capable of sustaining, at a high standard of living, a population of forty million yeomen and industrial workers, with ease.
“A New Britannia in Another World!”—Dare we begin to envisage it, after so many years of misguided sycophancy to the “Old” Britannia? A new Britannia indeed, and cured of some of the vices, it is to be hoped, of the Old One: particularly of the desire to conquer, subjugate, and exploit coloured peoples, and to be mixed periodically in Europe’s brawls. This Island, Australia Felix, effectively occupied by the British race, would be easily defensible against all-comers: which Britain to-day is not. This Island is waiting for the British people to occupy it effectively: to cultivate it instead of merely destroying it with sheep. There is no other part of the British Empire so suited as the permanent domicile of the British Race . . .
A New Britannia in Another World! When the Angles, and Saxons, and Jutes left their ancestral domicile to cross the seas and settle in Britain, they had, at first, no doubt, a nostalgia for Jutland, or for Denmark, which it was not easy to lose. But they had the commonsense soon to lose that nostalgia and settle down in the new home. Now, after a thousand years, a new Home again offers itself to that same race, a Home infinitely superior to the damp little Island in the North Seas, with its worked-out mines and fields and forests: a land as virgin now as was England when the Angles took it and named it as their own. Is the challenge too great, is the idea too immense for the English of to-day to grasp it: that they should abandon their bleak little Island, and come hither en masse to a land flowing with more milk and honey than Canaan ever produced?
Is the idea so enormous that is should never be stated except by a madman, an idealist, a visionary, or that rare bird, an Australian patriot, who knows no loyalty greater than to this idea—that the British people could find no better stronghold and focus than in the Island Continent of Australia?
Visions of race-grandeur become dangerous only when they imply the extermination or subjugation of other races: our Ideal of White Australia implies no such murderous doctrine. We can be “expanding and swift henceforth,” not at the expense of other peoples; but by our own virtue, and under our own Australian initiative and dynamic; and in our own land.
THE TRUE AUSTRALIAN CREED
In his New Year message to his fellow-Australians, speaking at 59 minutes to 1 a.m. on the first day of January, 1936, the respected Governor-General of the Commonwealth, Sir Isaac Isaacs, uttered these historic words:
“Whatever the future may have in store, one thing is certain—no inferiority complex ever found a place in the true Australian creed of life.”
Those who heard this message realised that the words were spoken with a peculiar intensity, and almost a passion of sincerity: the well-loved Australian-born Governor-General could not, on such an occasion, speak in cold official terms.
It was more than a New Year Greeting. The message was Sir Isaac’s valedictory to the high office which he had filled with such distinction: having proved thereby that Australian birth is no barrier to the highest achievement.
His name will go down in history as one of those who helped to remove the “inferiority complex” from the Australian mind.
His words were carefully chosen, and will bear the closest scrutiny. He does not say that the inferiority complex is absent from Australians. He says that it never found a place in the true Australian creed of life.
This presupposes a vast difference between true creeds and false creeds.
The inferiority complex finds a very big place indeed in the Australian creed of life.
But not in the true Australian creed. . . .