Section 4 [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.]

§ 4

Colony or nation

What then of culture in Australia? Here is not a mere vicinity, but a whole continent, unique in its natural features, and unique in the fact of its continental homogeneity of race and language. Australia is the only continent on the earth inhabited by one race, under one government, speaking one language. The population at present is not much greater than was that of Britain in Shakespeare’s time, but by the end of the twentieth century we may expect that the population will expand to at least twenty millions, remaining of European parent-stock, but with locally-developed characteristics, and with a locally-created culture. Australia will then become indubitably recognised as a nation, and will lose all trace of colonial status.

As a colony, we exported raw material and imported manufactured goods and loans. The trade traffic was two-ways. We imported also the imponderables, culture, by a system of one-way traffic. As a nation we shall continue to import culture, but we shall export it also, as our contribution to world-ideas — there will then be a two-ways traffic in the imponderables.

At this present time (1935) we are no longer a colony pure and simple, nor yet are we a Nation fully-fledged. We are something betwixt and between a colony and a nation, something vaguely called a “Dominion,” or a “Commonwealth” with “Dominion status.” We are loosely tied to other Dominions in the British Empire by law, strongly tied by sentiment and an idea of mutual protection. Inasmuch as we are politically autonomous, we have entered into virtual alliances (political, military, commercial, and sentimental) with other Dominions or Colonies in the Empire, including Canada, the Irish Free State, South Africa, New Zealand, Great Britain, and Jamaica. Where it will all lead to we do not know; but the virtual alliance gives us a sense of security in international affairs for the time being. The political and legal ties that bind us to the other “Dominions” are loose enough, but the sentimental and financial tie is strong, particularly with the “Dominion” called Great Britain. And the cultural tie is strong.

Is it sedition or blasphemy to the idea of the British Empire to suggest that each Dominion in this loose alliance will tend to become autonomous politically, commercially, and culturally? A military alliance between the various component “nations” of the Empire may perhaps survive long after the other ties have, in fact, been weakened — though this would be contrary to the lessons of history. Such a prognostication has nothing to do with aesthetics. What matters for present purposes is that Australia has nowadays an acknowledged right to become one of the nations of the world. Australian nationalism, with or without the idea of the British Empire, has a right to exist; and there can be no nation without a national place-idea; a national culture.



Source:
P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 18-19

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