Australia’s nationality: A critical “stranger” [14 May 1923]

[Editor: The Rev. T. O’Loughlin advocates for the development of Australia’s sense of nationality; opposing the hold of Scottish, Irish, English and American cultural influences upon Australia.]

Australia’s nationality.

A critical “stranger.”

The Rev. T. O’Loughlin, M.S.H., delivered an eloquent and stirring address to the Christian Brothers’ Old Collegians’ Association on Sunday morning. One portion of it dealt with the impressions of Australia created in the minds of distinguished visitors, and the reverend gentleman pictured a stranger — say an American or a Frenchman — who might come to spend 12 months here having an exalted view of the Australians’ sense of nationality.

That period would appear to him a comedy, and yet he would realize the pathetic tragedy underlying it all. New Year’s Day was the first act in the comedy. There was no need of a Harry Lauder to convey the dramatic atmosphere of kilt and bagpipe. Their stranger suddenly felt himself transplanted to Edinburgh or Glasgow, and wiped his eyes in amazement when the curtain closed on the scene and he realized he was still in Australia.

The second phase of his little comedy opened, and he found himself in “Casey’s paddock,” with John O’Brien for the celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day. All that, together with the numerous Celtic organizations flourishing everywhere throughout the country, and the frequent Celtic displays in honour of envoys, and delegates from overseas, brought home to him more and more forcibly the words spoken by a great prelate of Australia, that the Australians were more Irish than the Irish themselves.

The third act opened with fine spectacular effect. Their stranger was seated in a hall the walls of which were hidden by Union Jacks, with here and there an Australian ensign added, no doubt to lend variety of colour; around him were tables decorated with red and white roses; and a little flag of white, with a red cross quartering it, was set in the place of each guest at that distinguished festival. It was only on the morning after, when he was once again in full possession of his faculties, and his ears no longer throbbed with the noise of Imperialist speeches, that he realized that he was not in Downing street or Westminster, but in the Grand Central Hotel in Adelaide, a guest at the annual banquet of the Royal Society of St. George. That act would be further developed for him by the actors in the celebrations of Empire Day.

The Stranger Disappointed.

And so the year advanced, and, at intervals, each of the three plots made its re-appearance on the stage. Each had its own following, its own group of supporters, and accordingly their stranger from abroad was treated from time to time to occasional spirited outbursts among the audience. Cries of “Imperialists,” “rebels,” “jingoists,” “Sinn Feiners,” “flag-flappers” mingled promiscuously, and racial prejudices were stirred up and sustained with equal vehemence.

Now the 12 months drew to a close, and the stranger summed up his impressions. He had studied mass psychology, and he knew the value of public demonstrations such as those when it was a question of building up national sentiment, and he was disappointed when he found that the great public demonstrations in Australia were not calculated primarily to foster Australian sentiment.

She had her Wattle Day, it was true, her A.N.A. Day, even her Anzac Day; but the healthy Australian spirit which should animate those displays was artfully directed by public speakers, playing on the feelings of the crowd, into Imperialistic channels.

Australian Literature.

He turned to Australian literature, and he found that it was hampered in its growth by lack of appreciation on the part of an Americanized reading public.

He listened in vain for the songs of its people. He knew that a rich tradition of national melody was the surest indication of a people deeply interested in their native land, and he was disappointed when he found that the foundations of that tradition were not yet laid, and that, although in Australia, associations were formed to popularize the songs of other countries, to-day Australians could hardly tell him what an Australian song was.

They would agree with him that their stranger from overseas — their Frenchman, their American — in that 12 months’ stay had surely seen enough to make him change his grand opinion of them as a people, and to throw to the winds his exalted idea of Australia’s sense of nationality.

The National Soul.

He (the lecturer) said they had them selves to blame. If they were to take their place in the world as a nation they must preserve their personality — they must think their own thoughts, not other people’s, where God had left them free to think them, direct their own lives, speak their own ideas, so far as they could do so without infringing on the rights of others.

“This, above all — to thine own self be true” was Shakespeare’s summing up of the first and foremost duty of every one. If it was true of the individual it was true of the nation, which had a sacred obligation to maintain its individuality.

It was wholesome to have a humble opinion of themselves, to realize that they were small in importance, infinitesimal, if they liked, in comparison with the great nations which had centuries of history behind them; but nothing would justify them if they lost their self-esteem, or sacrificed their self-respect, or, Judas-like, betrayed, for the sake of alien or selfish interests, their national soul.

The Register (Adelaide, SA) Monday 14 May 1923, page 12

[Editor’s notes]
MSH = Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic religious order

racial prejudices = the reference to “racial prejudices” would be referring to the national differences between the English race, German race, Russian race, etc., as “race” was a common phrase used at that time to refer to peoples of different nations

[Editor: Corrected “Colleggians” to “Collegians”.]

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