The Foundations Of Culture In Australia:
An Essay Towards National Self-Respect. Part Three.


P.R. Stephensen


Third Instalment

January, 1936

 

§ 40

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.

 

§ 41

"EQUAL STATUS"

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.

 

§ 42

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?

 

§ 43

"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.

 

§ 44

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.

 

§ 45

BLOODSTAINED EUROPE

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?

 

§ 46

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.

 

§ 47

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.

 

§ 48

CHAUVINISM AND CULTURE

Once again, I feel that it is necessary to apologise, at least to my more civilised readers, fro 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.

 

§ 49

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.

 

§ 50

NOBLESSE OBLIGE

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.

 

§ 51

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.

 

§ 52

THE BONE-POINTERS

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.

 

§ 53

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!"

 

§ 54

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.

 

§ 54

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. . . .



The Percy Stephensen Collection