Section 26 [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.]

§ 26

Children of the abyss

In this year of continuing calamity, 1935, if we are to take stock of realities, the reality is that there are already hundreds of thousands of young Australian men and women, now become adults, who were not even born in August, 1914; who, consequently, know nothing at first hand about the peace, prosperity, spirit of optimism, and general certainty of life as it used to be lived in the naive first decade of the century.

These are the young people brought up in the fixed idea that the earth is a lunatic asylum. They know nothing about the good old steady-going days and ways of the horse epoch — they are born in the age of autos, ’planes, radio; and rumours of wars. Their education, after their school days, is partly from technical journals and partly from the bizarre cacophonies of cinema, wireless, and the disgusting stunt press. The very ideas of permanent salaried employment, steady promotion, married life, home and family of their own, seem chimaeras to these new-age young men and women, who are the chronic unemployed of the Great War’s Aftermath. They are the untrained citizens in whom hope has been crushed; for whom (as they view matters) Industry and their nation have no apparent use. In their own bewildered view of themselves they are misfits and failures — and life is something irrational and utterly beyond the possibility of control by their Will.

Every year from now on there will be at least 100,000 Australian-born men and women coming of age and entitled to vote: and not one of these adult men and women, voters, will know anything at first hand about pre-war normality; and still less will they know of the insouciance of the ’nineties of last century. These sad young people are the Children of the Abyss, born since 1914, in the years of calamity and in the Aftermath.

And every year, as the sad young people become citizens and adults, the Old Hands, “from natural causes” are dwindling in numbers in the community; and thus the proportion of citizens who can even remember what things were like “before the War” becomes inexorably smaller each year.

There is still a tendency amongst the middle-aged and the old to regard those fine idyllic days before the War as being “normal,” but such reasoning is the result of a paucity of thought. To the Children of the Abyss, it is the Abyss that is normal.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 93-94

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