Section 13 [The Foundations of Culture in Australia, by P. R. Stephensen, 1936]

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

§ 13

A patriotic prophecy

Wentworth’s poem concludes with prophecies and hopes for the future of Australasia, a patriot’s prophecies and hopes, the intensely significant visions of an idealist.

He hopes that Australasians will never take part in wars of foreign conquest:

Of foreign rule ne’er may the ceaseless thirst
Pollute thy sons, and render thee accurst
Amid the nations . . .

. . .from thy peaceful plains
May Glory’s star ne’er charm thy restless swains;
Ne’er may the hope of plunder lure to roam
One Australasian from his happy home . . .

At a time when Europe was full of alarms, in the period when Napoleon had assumed the role of military terrorist which Hitler and Mussolini would assume to-day, Wentworth desired that his native land should learn from Europe mainly what to avoid:

Yet ne’er, my country, roll thy battle-car
With deadly axle through the ranks of war . . .
ne’er may crouch before
Invading legions sallying from thy shore,
A distant people, that shall not on thee
Have first disgorged his hostile chivalry.

In other words, Wentworth’s foreign policy for Australia, enunciated in the year 1823, was: Fight no enemies except those which may have the temerity to come here looking for fight!

The poet wishes Australasians to engage in all the arts of peace:

Be theirs the task to lay with lusty blow
The ancient giants of the forest low,
With frequent fires the cumbered plain to clear,
To tame the steed, and yoke the stubborn steer,
With cautious plough to rip the virgin earth
And watch her firstborn harvest from its birth . . .

Such be the labours of thy peaceful swains,
Thus may they till, and thus enrich thy plains;
Thus the full flow of population’s tide
Its swelling waters pour on every side . . .

So, Australasia, may thy exiled band
Spread their young myriads o’er thy lonely land
Till village spires and crowded cities rise
In thick succession to the traveller’s eyes.

He wishes Australasians also to encourage Science, Learning, Philosophy, a study of the Classics, and, of course. Poetry. He invokes the Goddess (who dwells, he informs us, on the Warragamba Mountains) to inspire some kindling soul —

To wake to life my country’s unknown lyre
That from creation’s date has slumb’ring lain . . .

He invokes this Goddess to grant that an Austral Milton, an Austral Shakespeare, an Austral Pindar might arise.

And then comes the stanza, every word of which is significant and stimulating to Australians, and probably somewhat provocative and annoying to Englishmen, the stanza which surely lost Wentworth the first prize, if he had been otherwise a close runner-up to Praed, the stanza which has led me here to quote both poems at such length, in order that I may quote it, the stanza which for breathtaking colonial impudence was the dizzy limit in 1823, and is still in 1935, with its assumption that the British Islands might some day decline in power, an astounding prophecy or hope of what might then be the future of Australia as a great and responsible nation —

And, oh, Britannia! shouldst thou cease to ride
Despotic Empress of old Ocean’s tide —
Should thy tamed lion — spent his former might —
No longer roar, the terror of the fight;
Should e’er arrive that dark, disastrous hour,
When, bowed by luxury, thou yield’st to power;
When thou, no longer freest of the free
To some proud victor bend’st the vanquished knee;
May all thy glories in another sphere
Relume, and shine more brightly still than here;
May this, thy last-born infant then arise,
To glad thy heart, and greet thy parent eyes;

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 50-52

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