Australian nationalism [letter to the editor, 23 June 1906]

[Editor: This letter to the editor was published in The Barrier Miner, 23 June 1906.]

Australian nationalism

To the Editor.

Sir, — Fifty or sixty years ago Charles Reade wrote “It’s Never Too Late to Mend,” and I think it was in that work that he told of a glorious future for Australia. All the best of all the nations, he said, would come and worship her, because she held those immense gold reserves which brought men of every trade, of every class, and of every nationality to her feet. To-day she still holds those reserves rather tightly — though, perhaps, they have lost their pristine glamor — but the nations have not fallen at her feet in adoration of a grand united and progressive people.

Charles Reade did not speak foolishly; but he did not know that before she reached the Promised Land Australia would have to rid herself of many barnacles — the George Reid, the Empire-builder who refuses to admit Australia’s right to consideration, the un-Australian press and politicians, and the horde of fraudulent parasites who live respectably under the euphonious name of importers, and who are abetted in their depredations on Australian trade by the George Reid and his satellites.

Charles Reade’s prophecy should in the natural course of events have been fulfilled, but nature was gagged and strangled. The George Reid grew into prominence quite accidentally, and for years he has gulled and re-gulled the public into belief in his old freetrade fallacy. Knowingly and with cupidity aforethought he tells them that a country that is too tired to manufacture its own products and lets the foreigner do the work, and then buys back the manufactured article, is a sensible country; and the country believes him.

Consequently, when after for over 60 years it has known the value of its mineral reserves and refuses to work them into a finished product it cannot rail at Charles Reade if it is not all that he predicted it would be. He did not know that the present generation of Australians would be tired, for the Australians of his day bid fair to do more than was ever before accomplished by the human. He did not know that the present generation of Australians would be gullible, unthinking machines, for the Australians of his time were strong-willed, sensible men, to whom the mountebank politician would not tell a “tale.” But, after all, the Australian of to-day is not natural. He is as good a man as the German or the American, or the Englishman, but he has for years been the mark of an anti-Australian press and anti-Australian politicians, until finally he has degenerated into a good subject for the mountebank telepathist — the man who can read the thoughts of a machine. Against these opposition forces a few have taken a stand, but their efforts have been futile against the campaign of “stinking fish,” lies, and misrepresentation which has been carried on. And there has been but the one inevitable result.

The Australian native-born, so long assaulted, has fallen beneath the assault, and to-day he stands a national anomaly, the first case in a new species of the genus homo — the species that is so christianly unselfish that it works for its neighbor rather than for itself. But he is an indifferent sort of an individual, and he does not mind if the foreigner gets all the benefit of Australian gold and silver and copper and all the other commodities which go to swell Australia’s “great natural resources.”

Charles Reade did not foresee all this; neither did his imagination create an A.N.A., with all its illogical exclusiveness. It stands, it says, for Australian nationalism, but its very name proclaims it a fraud. Australian Natives! Have they piloted Australia as far as it has gone on the road of nationalism? Do they think that only the native-born can make good Australians, and that the battlers of other countries who have their homes here and give their abilities to Australia, do nothing towards the realisation of the ideal “Australian Nation?” This A.N.A. appears to me to do nothing but promulgate the foolish idea that a man can claim honor for being born in Australia. Is he a better man than if he were born in Greenland?

The idea that being an Australian born enhances a man’s abilities is not nationalism — it is supercilious bombast; and that has never yet assisted a country to the attainment of the goal of progress. Every Australian citizen should have an equal interest in Australia’s destiny, and if this A.N.A. really stands for Australian nationalism it should open its arms to every man who is honestly desirous of serving Australia. But, after all, it is insignificant, and there are greater incubuses bearing Australia beneath Mother Earth.

There is something radically wrong with our school system — the system whereby the school children are taught to regard Australia as a poor, backboneless institution, depending on the support of a strong and loving mother to save it from eternal perdition. This is criminal. The British Empire may be great and glorious, but it will never become greater and more glorious if the people of its integral parts are taught to regard themselves as necessary evils; neither will the integral parts develop into assets. When Australian children are continually taught that without England they would be become paupers and weaklings and a barnacle on this fair country it is only natural that they should remark, ‘Well, we must be wasters,’ and when they assure themselves they are ‘wasters’ they become young Catos, and laconically cry “Cui Bono?” when asked to stir themselves for the good of Australia. In history they are taught all England has done, but the labors of the Australian pioneers — the men who protested against the contamination of their country by the convicts of England and the heroes of the Eureka Stockade are left severely alone.

Why is this? The reverberation yells Why? Why? Why? There is no tenable Why, and there never is for any of the ills that the Australian flesh is heir to. And when Australian history is taught the children will be told that Richard Seddon was a man whom they should remember and revere, because he was an “Empire-builder” — not because he made New Zealand the most progressive colony on God’s earth, not because of his humanity, not because his love for the people was undiluted with baser and more sordid sentiments. No, not because of all this, but because he went Imperialistically mad a few years ago and sent New Zealanders to wipe out the liberty-loving Boers in South Africa. And when these children go out into the world they see “Empire’” emblazoned in glittering letters on every doorpost, their eyes dilate with self-satisfied pleasure at the mention of England’s greatness, and their faces light up with a heavenly smirk at the thought that they are even an unimportant part of such a mighty Empire.

All this Charles Reade could not foresee, because in his day love of country was considered inherent in every people. His England, perhaps, was not different to the England of to-day; but then Australia had not so much to give and there was no George Reid. From this Australian dependence, has sprung the bastard spirit which we call “loyalty,” the loyalty that is the cause of our having no industries, no defence, no anything that go to make a great and glorious nation. This bastard loyalty has bred the degenerating spirit of dependence that deters the attainment of all that a country-loving nation must in the natural course of events attain. But its people do not love Australia, because they have been taught to regard it as unworthy their love; and without this love it must inevitably fall.

Who will rescue it? Echo thunders Who? There is work for a great, strong man, who is willing to place on the forefront of his programme, “My country shall fulfil Charles Reade’s prophecy; ‘all nations shall worship her.’” To accomplish this work he must be a man out of a million — a man who is prepared to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous” George Reids, importers, jingoes, and other parasites who have their being in Australia’s stagnancy; a man who will stand undaunted, against all the opprobrium that disappointed filibusterers have at their command; a man who will not flinch when the people whom he is serving turn a cold back on him as being a “disloyal adventurer,” for he must remember that he is endeavoring to wipe out the growth of years. Such a man alone can make it possible for Australia to fulfil Reade’s prophecy. He will have to teach the people that Australia is worthy of their love; that they have their destiny in their own hands; and that self-reliance is the fundamental principle of national greatness. “And how is all this to be taught without England suffering a depreciation?” asks the “loyal” Australian. Frankly, I do not know. The people must be told that England is not the apple of the Creator’s eye and that her people are not paragons of all the virtues. If they can be told that without England suffering, well and good; if not, well and good, also. It is immaterial to Australia which way the boot pinches.

Australia is now nothing more than a strong, robust youth, bursting with the buoyant, vigorous ardor of adolescence, straining with all her (or his?) strength to break the motherly ties that tie her (or him?) to the influence which make her (or him?) dull and stagnant. Australia is in her youth, but youth is restrained by an unnatural and whining mother, who cries for doting affection when youth should be happy and devoid of care.

Australia is in youth in years, but her mind has been speciously tampered with, and instead of standing up and declaring herself strong and independent she retains the motherly apron strings which guided her baby hands. Australia is the child of a cruel, exacting, and mercenary mother, who will not see her child happy.

All this is anomalous, and the strong man who will deliver this child must of necessity trample on all the traditions which are alleged to have sustained the British race in its fight for all that it possesses. He must be a merciless, heartless scorner of all that we have been taught to regard as (nationally) holy; and to be all this he must needs be proof against the vilest contumely. The reformer’s work has always been an arduous one, full of heartbreaking opposition, but none was ever greater than that which lies before the man who will tear from the hearts of the Australian people that spurious loyalty which has placed another country before their own. He will need to be the greatest Australian of them all.

I am, etc.,

Loyal To Australia.

The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW), Saturday 23 June 1906, page 6

Editor’s notes:
Cato = Cato the Elder, a Roman statesman and author (“Cato” may also refer to one of Cato the Elder’s famous sons and grandsons, including Cato the Younger)

[Cato regarding “cui bono”] = Dr. Thomas Fuller, in The History of the Worthies of England, says “Cato, that great and grave philosopher, did commonly demand, when any new project was propounded unto him, “Cui bono?” what good will ensue, in case the same was effected?”
1) E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (new edition, vol. 1), London: Cassell, 1895, p.315 [the entry for “Cui bono?” cites Thomas Fuller’s The History of the Worthies of England]
2) Thomas Fuller, The History of the Worthies of England, London: J.G. W.L. and W.G., 1662, p.1

contumely = rude, harsh, or haughty language or treatment arising from arrogance or contempt; or, an arrogant, insolent, or rude act, remark or treatment

cui bono = (Latin) “to whose benefit?” (literally “as a benefit to whom?”), a phrase used in legal circles which refers to the idea that the perpetrator of an act is likely to be someone who stands to gain from the event

incubus = a demon or evil spirit said to descend upon people in their sleep, sometimes said to have sexual relations with women in their sleep (as distinct from a succubus, said to have sexual relations with men in their sleep); in a general sense, it refers to a nightmare, or to something that acts like a nightmare

mountebank = someone who sells quack medicines, usually in a boastful and flamboyant manner; in general terms, it refers to a charlatan or an unscrupulous pretender

Richard Seddon = Richard John Seddon (1845–1906), Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1893 to 1906

[Editor: Corrected “stinking “fish” to “stinking fish”; wasters,’” to wasters,’; “opprobium” to “opprobrium”; “posseses” to “possesses”.]

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