Section 2 [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.]

§ 2

We are not Americans

There is a parallel, but not a close similarity, between Australia and America. In both countries a continental wilderness, sparsely populated with Aborigines, has been subdued and colonised, within recent historical times, by invaders from overseas. Here the parallel ends. Both countries have been “pioneered,” but Australia is quite dissimilar from America in social and historical construction. Australia has no large minorities — of Negroes, Jews, Italians, mixed Europeans — no historical Spanish, French, or Puritan influences: all mighty facts in America. We are in extraction solidly and stolidly pure British of the nineteenth century, homogeneously British, ninety per cent. British. The ten per cent. minority comprises Germans and Danes, who become assimilated immediately, with a sprinkling of Latins and “sundries,” who become assimilated in one generation. The only big minority is our twenty-five per cent. Irish, who (whether they admit it or not) come from one of the two major British Islands.

We have none of America’s historical background of Elizabethan piracy and buccaneering, Spanish conquistadores, black slavery, French revolutionary ferment and Rights of Man philosophy; no Pilgrim Fathers or Mormon sects or Civil War traditions of “liberty” and emancipation — no “history” of the obvious or picturesque kind. America, the great melting pot, is often as incomprehensible to us as it is to any other homogeneous people observing it from afar. It is nonsense to say that Australia is becoming “Americanised,” as despondent English people often do say, observing our departures from the parent type. Australia is merely becoming Australianised.

Our background, such as it is, is operating upon us subtly to produce a new variety of the human species.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 13-14

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