The real Australian [30 November 1907]

The real Australian.

Very few people in Australia are intimately acquainted with the men who have made the country. It is commonly supposed that the pioneers of Australia were thick, burly men — that they presented what may be regarded as an English front to the world. Now, as a matter of fact the pioneers of this continent were very ordinary but at the same time very hardy and venturous men. This aspect was well illustrated in the speeches that were made at the tree planting in the King’s Park last Saturday. The theme of the discussion was particularly inspiring. The speakers had the whole idea of an early Australia to go upon. There was the lonely desert, the great immeasurable atmosphere above and the boundless plain beneath. Sahara, nor any feature of the world can show quite the same characteristics. The features of Australian scenery are unusual, almost unique. Australian history is still more interesting, and it is doubtful whether or not the best points concerning the subject were lighted upon on Saturday last. It is pleasing to note that Mr. Bath had the good sense to say that the ethics of the Eureka Stockade movement were debatable, though he was quite right in adding the results were unquestionable. In speaking to the toast, Mr. Gregory, on the contrary, was wholesouled in his commendation of the Eureka Stockade movement, being perfectly correct in his analysis of the matter, in which he pointed out the true history of the great Ballarat incident which made Peter Lalor the most prominent man in Australia.

Generally the commemoration movement brings back to the minds of Australians their simple origin. The majority of the pioneers were not aristocrats. They were simply ordinary men out to win as much as was possible. The question of whether the celebration of Peter Lalor and his Eureka Stockade movement is wise is, of course, always a moot question. Mr. Bath perceived clearly enough that the movement controlled by Peter Lalor was one for freedom and liberty, yet at the same time it struck against authority. And even with the Labour Party the importance of authority is not forgotten. But the celebration of the origin and foundation of Australia is wider than either political or religious creeds. Probably nowhere in the great Commonwealth of politics is there a broader or deeper conception of political ethics than in Australasia. This development has been remarkable all along. Since the days of Higginbotham in Victoria — a truly great man — and of Fitzgerald in New Zealand, our stock of men has never failed — it is like the widow’s cruse, since it never runs dry.

But it is important to remember the things that were done for us in other days and the men who blazed the track of political reform. Take Fitzgerald and Ballance for examples. Remember Parkes of New South Wales, Kingston of South Australia, and Forrest of this country. These were statesmen. Especially of Higginbotham may it be said that he laid the foundations of democracy in Australia. For he was so simple and yet so adequate a man., Some of his sayings are household words now in the mouth of British democracy. For instance, when Higginbotham referred to the moneyed classes in Victoria as “the wealthy lower orders” he hit a point which tells in political criticism to this day. But Higginbotham did more than make phrases. He established facts and institutions. The great democratic fight of Australia, which is not quite finished yet, was between the Australian Governments and the Colonial Office. The point was emphasised only the other day at the Imperial Conference in London by Mr. Alfred Deakin, the Prime Minister of Australia. But the position was never more clearly or emphatically put than by Mr. Higginbotham, when in contemptuous terms he referred to the Colonial Office, or Downing-street, as “the man Rogers.” The phrase has become historic, and its origin is rather interesting. Higginbotham discovered that an official named Rogers was the real author behind the Throne of most of the documents that issued from the Colonial Office. Hence his scornful reference. But there is more than mere politics in the subject under review. There is history. And what Australia requires, if any country does, is an historical background. Captain Cook, referred to so frequently in the speeches, furnishes a part of it. He is the real Homeric hero of Australian history. It is such men, hardy, austere, unrelenting, never giving in to anything, that the Australians ought to emulate, and whose work they should commemorate. These are types which we would all do well to copy, for the great man is always worthy of imitation, especially if there be a national ideal to cultivate.

The West Australian (Perth, WA), Saturday 30 November 1907, pages 10-11

[Editor: Corrected “quitet right” to “quite right”.]

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