Australianism [14 November 1842]

[Editor: This article attacks what it sees as the “bigotry” of Australianism. Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 November 1842.]


The love of country is a passion inherent in the breast of man, whether civilised or savage, whether born in the luxurious regions of the tropics, or amid the frosts and snows of the most inhospitable of arctic climes. The place, the society, the institutions, the customs, which first occupied our infant thoughts, and interested our budding affections, and formed our habits and our tastes, however distant the land in which our after years may be passed, or however lengthened the period of our expatriation, can never be erased from the tablet of the heart. For the existence of this passion we are not accountable: it is part of our nature, as closely interwoven into the human system as hope and fear, joy and sorrow, hunger and thirst; but for its government we are not less responsible than for that of any other of our passions. It is good or evil in proportion as we encourage it to be generous or permit it to be contracted. If subordinated to that universal love of the species which forms the cardinal virtue of Christian ethics, the love of country is an ennobling virtue: for it carries man beyond himself, and teaches him to sympathise with the great family of the earth. But if in loving our country we shut out from our affections all other portions of the world’s household, the passion becomes nothing but a modification of inordinate selfishness: we love our country merely because it coincides with our own tastes and predilections, and ministers to our individual enjoyments; whilst other countries, because the selfish principle derives from them no perceptible advantage, are regarded with indifference or dislike.

But the passion may be narrowed down to a rigorous selfishness by contracting the view of what is meant by country. A British subject professing to love his country may comprehend within the circle to which he attaches the name, on the one hand, millions of square miles, and millions of his fellow-creatures, or, on the other, the boundaries of some little locality, and a population of a few hundreds of souls. By his country he may mean the whole length and breadth of his sovereign’s dominions; or that part of her dominions comprised within the three kingdoms; or that one of the three kingdoms in which he happened to have been born; or his native county; or his native village. In glorying in his country, he may mean that he glories in England as distinguished from Scotland and Ireland; or that he glories in Yorkshire as distinguished from all other counties; or that he glories in the West Riding as distinguished from the North and East; or that he glories in having been born and bred in Ripon rather than in Sheffield.

It is obvious, therefore, that when we speak of love of country, we may be designating a very comprehensive or a very contracted affection. An Englishman who loves the English, to the exclusion of the Irish and the Scotch — or an Irishman or a Scotchman who loves his own section of the empire with the like exclusiveness — is a narrow-minded, selfish man, to whom the virtue of true patriotism is an utter stranger. On the other hand, the Englishman, the Scotchman, or the Irishman, who, while naturally attached to his native section, glories pre-eminently in his rights, privileges, and advantages, as a BRITISH SUBJECT, and extends the warm hand of national brotherhood to all who owe allegiance to the British throne, is a lover of his country, — a patriot, — in the largest, noblest sense of the term. In his eyes national bigotry is hateful, whether developed in the shape of Englishism, Scottishism, or Irishism.

There is some danger of a species of national bigotry springing up in the Australias; and we can assign to it no more descriptive name than the one placed at the head of this article — AUSTRALIANISM. That our native youth should love the land of their birth above all other lands, is perfectly natural; that they should love it with a stricter exclusiveness because they have no opportunity of comparing it with other lands, is also natural; but that they should bind up their national sympathies within the limits of their own soil, and permit their national predilections to be poisoned by feelings of envy, jealousy, or mistrust towards all other classes of their fellow-subjects, is not only perfectly unnatural, but most unjust, absurd, and monstrous. Australianism of this sort would be even worse than any nationality which can divide English, Scotch, and Irish; for the Australians are even more closely allied by the ties of blood to native Britons, than the three kingdoms are to each other. The Australians are the sons, the brothers, the husbands, the wives, of Britons born; and, moreover, the British parents, brothers, wives, and husbands, are themselves Australians — though not by birth, by adoption. We are therefore all united by civil ties, as well as by those of consanguinity. We have not only one ancestry, one language, one complexion, one Sovereign — but one country, one home. In Australia, whether by birth or by choice matters not, the lot of all of us is cast. In her prosperity we have an equal interest. We all subsist upon the fruits of her soil — we are all concerned in the freedom of her institutions, in the equity of her laws, in the wisdom and justice of her government.

The offensive Australianism alluded to, first showed itself about six years ago. An attempt was then made to get up a dinner in commemoration of the establishment of the colony, from which all persons not Australian by birth were to be rigorously excluded. This, to say the least, unamiable combination was at the time strongly denounced by the press, and by all right-minded colonists; and we have much pleasure in acknowledging, that by the part he took on that occasion, Mr. W. C. WENTWORTH won general admiration. Himself a native — and confessedly one of the most talented of his countrymen — he was invited not only to attend the proposed banquet, but to occupy its chair. The letter in which he conveyed his reply was published in the newspapers of the day; and though we cannot lay our hands upon a copy, we well remember that it was to the effect, that having all his life been opposed to exclusive principles, he could on no account compromise his consistency by taking part in the exclusive celebration to which he had been invited. This was noble and manly, and we commended the example thus set by this son of Australia, to the imitation of all his countrymen.

The bigotry of Australianism then received a blow from which we had hoped it never would recover; but after remaining stunned nearly six years, it has recently revived, and again held up its odious head. It has intruded into our City Council, and endeavoured to control the administration of municipal patronage by its own narrow and exclusive rules. To bestow office upon a candidate because he is an Australian, and to deny it to another because he is not an Australian, is a rule of action which cannot be too strongly reprobated. In the eye of reason, the distinction is without a difference. We are all British subjects, — and, for national qualification, that is enough. The only point to which the dispensers of City patronage can he justified, either by law or common sense, in directing their attention, is that of personal qualification for the discharge of duty. If the candidate be competent to the faithful and efficient performance of his work, and possess a good moral character, to reject him on the ground of his not being a native of the colony, would be at once an absurdity, an injustice, a civic crime — AUSTRALIANISM of the deepest die and the foulest odour.

Wherever, whensoever, or by whomsoever this novel species of nationality may be exhibited, we trust it will be scouted by all true Britons, whether born in England, Ireland, Scotland, or Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), Monday 14 November 1842, page 2

Speak Your Mind