Section 29 [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.]

§ 29

The anti-Australians

Vital Australian history, vital Australian lore, is not being taught, at present, to our Australian youth. We are employing pedagogues from overseas, outsiders, visitors from other tribes and nations, to teach their lore, their traditions, their legends, their interpretations (even of ourselves) to our young men and women! This process can have only one effect, an anti-Australian effect — no matter how intrinsically “noble” the teachings imported from those other places may seem. Consider, for example, some of the “youth movements,” such as “Toc H” or the Boy Scout Movements. As taught and practised in Australia, these “movements” certainly do not strengthen Australianism. They strengthen a puerile sentimentality about England and the Empire.

Consider, too, the cultural influence of the professional religious pedagogues who concern themselves, in “church” schools, with forming the ideas and characters of Australian boys and girls. All questions of sectarianism apart, the dear good vicars and curates and lordly bishops of the Anglican persuasion cannot but instil English sentimentality in their English-Australian schools; while the holy fathers and monsignori and reverend bishops of the Roman persuasion cannot but instil Italian or Irish sentimentality. Similarly, the dour Presbyterian elders tend to instil Scots sentimentality; for every man who is a teacher, whether in Holy Orders or not, carries with him into his instruction the flavour of his own nationality — and religion, no less than other forms of culture, is tinctured with Place.

Few pedagogues, if any, in Australia to-day, and certainly none amongst those who instruct the children of the wealthier (and hence more influential) people, are to be found instilling Australian sentiment, indigenous culture, Australian national lore and tradition and respect into the minds of Australian youth.

The culture of a human being is not, in its essential quality of growth from within, different from the culture of a plant. External culture cannot be plastered upon a cabbage or a boy as one spreads butter with a knife. Yet this is what our imported pedagogues attempt. Our youths are being instructed in the empty formulae of culture, of European culture, and are not being shown the relationships between their own lives and their Australian national traditions and pedigree.

The result of such a sheer divorce between culture and reality in Australian education is a false orientation of the Australian mind — a mental orientation towards Europe (or towards a fantasy of Europe). Thus, many or most young Australians are endowed with what amounts to a split personality — a mental hankering for Europe plastered upon the physical necessity of living in Australia.

It is unfortunate for Australian self-respect that our pedagogy should be thus so deeply tinctured with a culture antipodean to our own. Formal education, whether religious or secular, has failed to strike roots into the Australian soil, and continues to float in a nebulous region of cultural unreality.

The religious pedagogues are of necessity inspired from overseas and from heaven; no discernible religion has, as yet, originated in Australia — poor savages, we have merely thirsted for religion, as we have thirsted for culture, from other countries which are so fortunate as to have a surplus of both for export.

The purely secular education, also, has failed as yet to become grounded in Australian national realities. Secular education is directed ultimately by the universities, which, in their “Arts” faculties, are really nothing but colonial strongholds, or outposts, or weak imitations, of Oxford and Cambridge. Our Australian universities, insofar as they are not merely technical training colleges for “careers” in engineering, law, medicine, applied science, dentistry and similar utilitarian professions, are on their cultural side virtually nothing but teachers’ training colleges. Almost all Australian “Arts” graduates take up the self-denying profession of school-teaching as a “career,” and have sought the University Degree as a means of advancement (to slightly higher salaries) in that profession.

Then what, we may well ask, is being taught to these teachers? A vast respect for Oxford and Cambridge, a scant respect for Australia, if we are to judge from the published remarks of professors such as Cowling (quoted earlier in this essay). It will be recalled that Professor Cowling rhetorically declared as follows in the public press:

What scope is there for Australian biography? Little, I should say. . . . What scope is there for Australian books on travel? Little, I think. . . .

Little he should say, and little he thinks, indeed! Confound their impertinence, is this the kind of anti-Australian nonsense these professors are imported from England to teach to the teachers of our Australian youth?

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 101-104

Editor’s notes:
Toc H = a movement created to encourage Christian fellowship, founded in Belgium in December 1915; “Toc H” referred to the Talbot House building used by the organisation, named after Gilbert Talbot, a British soldier who was killed in July 1915 (“Toc” was the British army signallers’ code for the letter “T”)

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