Section 54 [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.]

§ 54

A New Britannia

When the English finally conquered Scotland, in the reign of George the Second, they did so in order to find some land, on the bleak boggy hillsides of Ross and Cromarty, where sheep could be raised, to grow wool for Bradford. In so conquering Scotland, the English found it necessary to drive out the Highlanders; to depopulate the glens, in order to establish sheep-pastures. Sheep, it will be noted, replace people in the occupation of any territory. The whole of the Highlands was given over to sheep-culture, in order that the English woollen mills might have ample supplies of raw material. The Gaelic language and culture was suppressed, under this scheme of sheep-culture, even to the extent of the publication of an English decree that the wearing of the tartan and plaid was illegal! This was before John Macarthur drew the attention of the English to the fact that Australia was potentially the great sheep-country. In a century of sheep-culture since Macarthur’s day, Australians have sent a hundred million bales of wool to Bradford: and in the process the herbage of almost the entire continent has been nibbled away by that most destructive of all imported pests, the Merino.

Pastoralism does not, and cannot, maintain a large population. A few men, with Kelpie dogs, can manage a million sheep; and a few men, with machines, can shear them.

If Australia’s population has increased only slowly, it is because we are, and have been for a hundred years, a nation of shepherds. For the purposes of pastoralism, we have already a more than sufficient population. If our national destiny is to supply Bradford, in perpetuity, with wool, we need no more people: we merely need more sheep: until ultimately there will not be a blade of grass, or the root of a blade of grass, left on the surface of Australia from east coast to west. And thus, as a Second Sahara, Australia’s destiny, or the Bradford view of it, will have been fulfilled: and “fresh fields and pastures new” may be sought, for Bradford’s sheep, in some other place ready for devastation and depopulation.

But the Englishman’s view of Australia’s destiny, and the Australian patriot’s view, do not in this respect coincide. One must give way to the other: both cannot prevail. The industrialisation of Australia means that the population will substantially increase; and with that increase will come an increase of Australian national self-consciousness: in other words, a distinctive Australian culture. The industrialisation of Australia means that Australians will manufacture wool, and books, and almost every other civilised necessity, here. This is a view directly in conflict with the view of Australia as a solely primary producing country: the “narrow” Englishman’s view of the destiny of this portion of the Empire.

The development of Australian industry, and its accompanying growth of population, is the only means of holding Australia as a home for the white race.

And what a home! An entire continent, diversified from the snowy peaks of Kosciusko to the “sunlit plains extended” of the west; from the sub-arctic islands of Bass Strait to the palm-clad tropic islets of the Barrier Reef; a continent with enormous deposits of coal and iron, and with every mineral that industry requires; a continent capable of producing every kind of fruit and grain; with coastal waters that teem with fish — herring and pilchard in shoals greater than any that visit the cold North Sea: a continent capable of sustaining, at a high standard of living, a population of forty million yeomen and industrial workers, with ease.

A New Britannia in Another World!” — Dare we begin to envisage it, after so many years of misguided sycophancy to the “Old” Britannia? A New Britannia indeed, and cured of some of the vices, it is to be hoped, of the Old One: particularly of the desire to conquer, subjugate, and exploit coloured peoples, and to be mixed periodically in Europe’s brawls. This Island, Australia Felix, effectively occupied by the British race, would be easily defensible against all-comers: which Britain to-day is not. This Island is waiting for the British people to occupy it effectively: to cultivate it instead of merely destroying it with sheep. There is no other part of the British Empire so suited as the permanent domicile of the British Race . . .

A New Britannia in Another World! When the Angles, and Saxons, and Jutes left their ancestral domicile to cross the seas and settle in Britain, they had, at first, no doubt, a nostalgia for Jutland, or for Denmark, which it was not easy to lose. But they had the commonsense soon to lose that nostalgia and settle down in the new home. Now, after a thousand years, a new Home again offers itself to that same race, a Home infinitely superior to the damp little Island in the North Seas, with its worked-out mines and fields and forests: a land as virgin now as was England when the Angles took it and named it as their own. Is the challenge too great, is the idea too immense for the English of to-day to grasp it: that they should abandon their bleak little Island, and come hither en masse to a land flowing with more milk and honey than Canaan ever produced?

Is the idea so enormous that is should never be stated except by a madman, an idealist, a visionary, or that rare bird, an Australian patriot, who knows no loyalty greater than to this idea — that the British people could find no better stronghold and focus than in the Island Continent of Australia?

Visions of race-grandeur become dangerous only when they imply the extermination or subjugation of other races: our Ideal of White Australia implies no such murderous doctrine. We can be “expanding and swift henceforth,” not at the expense of other peoples; but by our own virtue, and under our own Australian initiative and dynamic; and in our own land.

P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia, W. J. Miles, Gordon (N.S.W.), 1936, pages 187-190

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