HENRY LAWSON

and an

AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL STATE


Brian Knight



The Roots of Australian Nationalism





National Republicans revere Henry Lawson as a founding father of our faith. Here we look at Lawson from yet another angle: his conception of the "old" imperial Australian State and his vision of a National State for Australia. Modern issues abound.


When Henry Lawson died in 1922, his Sydney funeral became a State funeral with the participation of thousands. This epitome of the national consciousness, a man lauded as the poet laureate of Australia, had died in miserable hardship, the victim of alcohol and despair.

The Australia which feted Lawson goodbye had altered from the land of patriotic writers and republican and labour activists of the 1880s and 1890s, of those who sought the 'national promise' in a Working Man's Paradise, in an Independent National State. Australia had become a fretful country with a people in fear of unseen Bolshevik demons and dominated by an imperial business-banking class prepared to organise dire violence in defence of its privileges and wealth. At Lawson's graveside stood Jack Lang, the Nationalist ALP leader, who 10 years later, would be struck down by the Establishment.

The great English novelist, D.H. Lawrence, gave a glimpse of this 1920s Australia in his 1921 classic - Kangaroo. This work was an expose of the "conservative" secret armies forming across the land; he described Australia:

"...out of the silver paradisiacal freedom untamed, evil winds could come, cold like a stone hatchet murdering you. The freedom, like everything else, has two sides to it. Something like a heavy reptile hostility came off the sombre land, something gruesome and infinitely repulsive...it was as if the silvery freedom suddenly turned and showed the scaly back of the reptile and the horrible jaws..."

Henry Lawson had fought this "system" of "two faced democracy" in its infancy; 1990s Australia lives under it in its fullest maturity. As we seek our road to National Independence against a new internationalist business elite, we return to Lawson for essential inspiration.



Lawson's nationalism: A Bibliography of Verse and Prose

For those seeking a deeper appreciation of Australian Nationalism, we have provided a selective 'bibliography' of Lawson's poetry and prose under explanative subject headings. Lawson's concerns and his general perspectives thus place his theory of the state into sharp relief; Lawson's political program dictated his view of the state.

1) Eureka Stockade and the Southern Cross Flag

Lawson understood the deep historical and cultural significance of the Eureka Stockade Rebellion (1854) and its revolutionary patriotic emblem of the Southern Cross. It was the banner for an era of crisis and change.

(a) Eureka - a Fragment (1887)
(b) Flag of the Southern Cross (1887)
(c) The Fight at Eureka Stockade (1890)
(d) Australia's Forgotten Flag (1911).

2) Australia's Danger from Asia

Lawson appreciated that European Australia would in the future be under threat - military and economic - from Asia. His defence of European-Australian cultural identity and freedom was uncompromising; a major aspect of the national identity would come to defined in this struggle.

(a) Star of Australia (1895).
(b) In the Storm that is Yet to Come (1904).
(c) Nemesis (1904).
(d) The Vanguard (1905).
(e) For Australia (1905).
(f) Australia's Peril: The Warning (1905).
(g) To Be Amused (1905).
(h) The Song of Australia (1908).

3) Lawson's Patriotic Faith in the Australian promise

Lawson wrote at enormous length of the character of the land, its people, of the quality of Nationalism and of its vast potential to realise a great new Independent National Society. The following works are a few expressions of this faith.

(a) The Roaring Days (1889).
(b) Australian Loyalty (1887).
(c) As Ireland Wore the Green (1891).
(d) In the Days When the World Was Wide (1894).
(e) The Men Who Made Australia (1901).
(f) Waratah and Wattle.

4) An Australian Republic

Lawson was aware that to achieve independence, identity and a just social order, a Republic was the only state form possible for Australia; the Republic would grow from the cultural revolution and upheaval necessary to effect such dramatic change.

(a) A Song of the Republic (1887).
(b) The Statue of Our Queen (1890).
(c) The English Queen (1892).

5) A New People's Social Order

Lawson stood on the side of the ordinary Australian workers, farmers and productive middle classes; he recognised that young, wealthy, Australia endured shocking injustices. It was subject to a capitalist industrial and banking class with international connections; a revolution would overturn the economic order and a mixed state, private and co-operative economic system would supercede capitalism.

(a) Faces in the Street (1888).
(b) Army in the Rear (1888).
(c) Freedom on the Wallaby (1891).
(d) The Rebel (1891).
(e) The Old Rebel Flag in the Rear (1892).

6) The Internationalist Class State - the National State

Lawson possessed a talent for analysis. Before reviewing Lawson's analysis of Australian State power and his prescription for change, the reader can be referred to:-

(a) Nationality in Colonisation (1890).
(b) The Patriotic League (1891).
(c) Cromwell (1910).
(d) The House of Fossils (1892).
(e) A Leader of the Future (1893).
(f) The 'Lay'Em Out Brigade' (1892).
(g) The King of Our Republic (1910).

It is these works in which this article is chiefly interested. The Australian Nationalist ideology is nought if it does not aspire to state power, analyse and criticise that which is the "Australian" State and have a blueprint for a new Australian National State.



Lawson's Analysis of the "State" in Australia

Lawson did not have that "reverence" for the State common amongst 19th century Europeans. Quite the contrary: "the State" in Australia (and this included the government of the six colonies and the "Federal" construct of 1901) was the British Imperial State; it was this State through its local proxies which denied Australian independence and identity and which exploited the country economically, excluding the people from the full fruits of labour (what has changed?). The local capitalist class has always been international; firstly it was "imperial", and today it is "Asian", in sympathy. The State as founded in Australia as an "imperial" entity was Lawson's immediate enemy.

The colonial position of Lawson's Australia demanded a paradoxical Nationalism:

- an anti-authoritarian people's struggle to disintegrate the Old State and its injustices -

The was the first step, but to carry out the protection of the Nation from external dangers and to achieve its modernisation: (Australian Engineers)

- a strong but popular State would be the instrument for the conquest of freedom, wealth, independence and identity. (The King of our Republic: Cromwell)

Lawson wrote to the Imperial State in crisis:

The capitalist state was ruled by a fake democracy in a parliament:
"and tho' it shelters property and helps prop up the crown
I think it's time the toilers pulled the old museum down."

(House of Fossils 1892)

The Old State relied upon a false "patriotic" idea and would occasionally create "conservative" groups in its support:

"They took to gloss a base intrigue
A name that was demotic
They stole a name and formed a league
and called it patriotic
They've resurrected ancient lies
The world had most forgotten
The liars think the world will rise
To back a cause that's rotten."
(The patriotic League 1891)

Lawson glimpsed at the falsity of "patriotic" Federation leagues as forces which did not deliver independence; he would almost certainly have grasped the essence of New Guards and Old Guards in the 1930s as 'imperial Patriots' who guaranteed finance-industrial capital (and by applying his method we can reckon modern day "republicanism" as a con to achieve "integration with Asia"). Lawson's astuteness grew from his reliance on first principles - his vision "Australia for Australians". Lawson's method should be our own.



Lawson's programme for a New State

Lawson was of course not a political theorist; rather, he was the voice of an "Australian sentiment" who put to words the yearnings of the radical Nationalists of his day. His task was to articulate (i) what it meant to be Australian, (ii) the attack upon Australianism by the wealthy classes and (iii) the call to national resistance. Nonetheless Lawson left us a sketch for an Australian National State (which the modern Nationalists are called upon to elaborate). Lawson's works give us his programme:

Australia would be a Republic with 'equality' of duties and obligations. The State would rest upon a universally armed population. The State would rest (as a result of social revolution) upon the productive classes in a new organisation ( although Lawson does not tell us how this aspect of the National State would be organised). The president would possess executive power but would be no dictator. The State would play a development role and protect the cultural heritage. The State would thus be a development-culture motor led by a national elite; but it would recognise and cherish its popular base and its roots in the people. The State, nourished by its myth of pioneer sacrifice would value the family and the woman's worth.

It is by no means surprising that Nationalists in the 1990s recognise this 100 year old program as an echo of their own. Details may differ; spirit does not.



A National State

The new Australian Nationalism would dispose of the asianising liberal-capitalist State (or 'machine' of violence against our Australian People) and create a State, articulated to represent the whole Nation. Lawson's organic concept of the Nation is our perspective.

The Nation is a living entity composed of productive classes, natural institutions and 'directed' by a State issuing from the organic facts. Lawson however warned the Nationalists of yesteryear the Old State would resist the future. Lawson wrote:

"When first this rum old world began to suffer for its sins
The tyrant and the Rebel rose, and they, we know were twins
The Rebel was "more numerous" and he and greed were foes
And so to keep him in his place the hired assassin arose
Thus when the first foundation stone of Mammon-tower was laid
The wealthy idlers organised the 'Lay'Em Out brigade'"

(The Lay'Em Out Brigade 1892)

Our 1990s Australia with 'Left' gangs, political police, Human Rights Commissions, lying media and legislative penalties-against-patriotism tells us how the State has developed into a vast machine of manipulation and repression.

But Henry Lawson left us also that other guarantee of our National State - he was the first Australian to cherish the spirit of Audacity and rebellion born at Eureka Stockade, to put what it meant into words.

It is up to us to put the words into practice.


26/1/1996

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