Section 30 [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.]

§ 30

Cultural manna

Formal education, as dispensed in class-rooms by pedagogues, furnishes ultimately, no doubt, but a small part of the individual’s mental outlook and cultural equipment. Class-room instruction is important in its way, because it lays a groundwork in the mind, but the real education of a person begins after leaving school. The real education of the citizen to-day is obtained from books, from the newspapers, from the cinema, and from the wireless broadcasting stations. An adult learns more voraciously and unconsciously than a child.

In all these informal sources of real or adult education, no less than in the formal school and university pedagogy, Australian sentiment is crushed back into second place, or into no place at all. Whether in school or out of school, the paradox is that the Australian idea, in Australia, is relegated by the people’s educators to the far background, or else never comes into the picture.

Why, why, why? When we can answer this insistent question, we shall have travelled some considerable distance along the road to Australian self-respect; and we shall be approaching the means of a resurgence of that creative spirit in Australia which flared up in the ’nineties and then died down to a smoulder, near extinction.

I am inclined to think that the predominance in Australia of overseas culture-propaganda is a result primarily of superior mechanics of marketing and superior salesmanship by the culture-importers and distributors.

If, in Australian bookshops far and wide throughout the Commonwealth, nine hundred and ninety-nine books and magazines of a thousand on show are English and American; if, in the cinema-theatres of every Australian city, suburb, town, township and hamlet, practically all the films shown are American and English; if, on the wireless stations cluttering every millimetre of the Australian ether, gramophone records of English and American origin are broadcast and rebroadcast ad nauseam; if, in the columns of the Australian press, a priority is given not only to “features” but also to news from overseas — in all these disseminations of overseas culture (and the cumulative effect of them is paralysing to the Australian idea), I detect nothing more sinister than a superior salesmanship, a superior marketing and distributing technique, on the part of the vendor of the ubiquitous overseas culture-stuff.

Education, both formal and informal, is therefore, for one reason and another, taken out of the area of Australian patriotic sentiment and control. It is the cumulative effect of the insistent and ubiquitous foreign adult-education media plus the un-Australian groundwork laid in our class-rooms, which has wrecked the spirit of the Australianism that set sail in the bright ’eighties and ’nineties.

Until we can restore some measure of respect for the Australian ideal, some of the lost prestige of Australian creativeness, we must as a nation continue to be culturally passive — recipients of culture-manna from Elsewhere.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 104-106

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