Foreword [The Foundations of Culture in Australia, by P. R. Stephensen, 1936]

[Editor: This is the foreword from The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936) by P. R. Stephensen.]


This essay was written in three instalments: the first in June 1935, the second in July 1935, and the third in January 1936.

It was originally intended for serial publication, and the first instalment was so published in “The Australian Mercury” (July 1935). The second and third instalments are now printed for the first time, “The Australian Mercury” having suspended publication because no philanthropist could be found to nurse it financially.

Business in Business, and literature is a product which must be paid for. Until this fact is recognised, Australian literature will have to continue a struggle against heartbreaking difficulties.

In preparing this book now for the press, I note that the argument reflects a psychological development, not only in the author, but also, to an observable extent, in the Australian public. The threatened outbreak of war in Europe makes Australia’s isolation more apparent now than it was when I began writing this essay.

The first instalment represents a mood of exuberance based on a resurgence of Australian literature during the years 1933 and 1934, which I felt required a critical examination.

The second instalment was written with a consciousness that all cultural achievement in Australia is threatened by militarism and bureaucratic fascism. It was written during a phase of resistance to book censorship, to the banning of Egon Kisch, and to similar attempts to bludgeon thought.

The third instalment, written and published under the cloud of another imminent world war, which, if it occurs, will quite destroy European culture, takes the argument much farther than could have been foreseen or intended when the essay was begun.

External events, rather than abstract arguments, will cause Australians to become Australian-minded. We are being forced into national consciousness, almost against our wish.

P. R. S.

Box 1924KK,
General Post Office,
February, 1936.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 7-8

Editor’s notes:
Egon Kisch = Egon Erwin Kisch was a Czechoslovakian communist; in 1934 the Australian government banned him from entering Australia (the United Australia Party, led by Joseph Lyons, was in government at the time), however, the ban was overturned by the High Court (the ruling judge was H. V. Evatt, later leader of the federal Australian Labor Party)

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