[Editor: This article is highly critical of P. R. Stephensen and The Publicist, saying that their promotion of their brand of Australianism is carried out in such an abusive and spiteful manner that it is difficult to take their advocacy seriously.]
Publicist for Australia
Touring the past four or five months I have been in regular receipt of a peculiar Australian periodical which I consider is worthy of some unusual attention. Except that it is published by “The Publicist Bookshop,” Sydney, is entitled “The Publicist,” with a motto declaring that it is “loyal to Australia first,” and that it has, as one of its major contributors, Mr P. R. Stephensen, some of whose previous efforts on behalf of Australian culture have been chronicled in this column, I know nothing whatever about the paper and what, I suppose, may be called its connexions. Adopting the unusual, and scarcely popular, policy that, in order to prove that it is a good Australian paper, it is necessary to abuse all Australians for not being good Australians this paper has, rather remarkably, succeeded in maintaining itself where other efforts, with perhaps more to commend them, have failed.
* * * *
I have not yet, with all due respect to my friend Mr P. R. Stephenson, who seems to have inextricably identified himself with the “Publicist” and its cause, quite made up my mind whether this paper is the product of a fanatic for “Australia over all,” or the extravagant jest of a practical joker. That the hundred per cent brand of Australianism preached in its pages is of the pure fantastical is something which I may be permitted to demonstrate from the pages themselves. In the meantime I am slightly intrigued as to whether or not the John Benauster who appears to hold the position of editor to this remarkable journal is identical with the Mr P. R. Stephensen who contributes the brilliantly original monthly causerie, “The Bunyip Critic.” Certainly they speak, as it were, with the one voice ; but it may be a case of two great minds speaking as one. In any case, whether they be one or two persons, an individual personality or a kind of Siamese twins, I venture to hazard that they (or he) are managing, quite irrespective of what their other contributors may be doing, to get an extraordinary amount of fun out of their efforts to prove that every citizen, except themselves, in this widespread continent is completely out of step.
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Frankly, and when all is said and done, I am inclined to the opinion that it is all worthy of some nobler objective; not, let me add, that I hold that the preaching of a sound Australian outlook is by no means an ignoble objective, but, rather, that the two writers mentioned — and, in particular, Mr Stephensen, if he be only one out of the two — are proceeding about the task with such a studied air of deliberate perversity that I find it difficult to take their advocacy quite seriously. Mr Stephensen has already confessed, in the latter portion of his rather admirable piece of pioneer work, “The Foundations of Culture in Australia,” to a certain measure of disappointment, not to say disillusionment, at the inadequacy of the response which his efforts elicited ; if, as it appears to me, he is now engaged, chiefly in the amusing, but rather spiteful and unprofitable, task of hitting out right and left at those who have failed to properly appreciate him and his talents, I would venture to suggest, with the privilege of a friend and fellow-advocate, that he is making a mountain out of a molehill, and, to put it bluntly, doing good to neither his cause nor his reputation.
* * * *
Having had some years of experience as a publicist, in one way or another, I have had ample occasion to observe the philosophical unsoundness of the policy which seeks to demonstrate that, because the man in the street will not subscribe to some apparently admirable doctrine, it is evidence of pig-headedness, ignorance, or some form of perversity upon the part of the man in the street; more often I am inclined to believe it to be the fault of the advocate. After all the average “man with a message” who finds himself so preoccupied with his message that it becomes a fixed idea, to the exclusion of all other considerations, should be in a far better position to make good his own advocacy than is the man in the street to subscribe to it. For a doctrine which is immediately acceptable to all, there will arise no occasion for special pleading ; when this occasion does arise it is far more the business of the advocate of the cause to understand those people whose support he would win than it is their business to understand him.
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In relation to Mr Stephensen and his various attempts to convert Australians to his brand of Australianism, the position seems to be very much that Mr Stephensen understands exactly what the true Australian outlook should be, but he can find very few people who are prepared to agree with him. Nevertheless, all forgetful of the old maxim,
“The man convinced against his will,
Is of the same opinion still.”
Mr Stephensen seems determined to impose his views upon the Australian public. Rather than interpret and guide he chooses to impose, ready-made, a brand-new outlook upon all who will listen to him in the cause of Australianism. In this aim and desire I am afraid he is destined to fail, and I could wish that he hitch his wagon to a star which might be brought within more measurable distance not only of his own aspirations, but of those people whom he is so eager to lead in the way that they should go.
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Mr Stephensen, it appears, believes in the Bunyip. If he had not existed, he says, it would have been necessary to invent him. That is all very well, but scarcely enough to produce the “nail-my-colours-to-the-mast” attitude which Mr Stephensen is so prone to adopt in his “essays in Australianity.” “Although there are six times more Englishmen than Australians,” says Mr Stephenson’s Bunyip Critic, “I am ready to maintain, as a matter of patriotism, that one Australian in Australia is equal to six Englishmen in England. This calculation equalises our population with that of Britain, and finally removes the Australian numerical inferiority complex.” As in the case of the man who told Mr Jack Dempsey exactly what he thought of him — over the telephone — this is all very well while the six Englishmen remain in England, but is very likely to produce what is vulgarly called a brawl if Englishmen in just that proportion, should happen to land upon Australia’s shores. These, perhaps are not amongst the brightest passages to be found in the Bunyip’s utterances, but, as it seems to me, a creature who is guilty of such silliness, even for part of the time, can hardly be regarded as a sure source of wisdom — either Australian or otherwise.
The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.), Saturday 20 February 1937, page 6
1) “John Benauster” was an alias of W.J. Miles; it was the pseudonym under which he edited The Publicist magazine; P.R. Stephensen was his “literary adviser” and one of the magazine’s main writers. [See: Craig Munro. Inky Stephensen: Wild Man of Letters, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia (Qld.), 1992, pages 168, 170]
2) William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey (1895 – 1983), also known as “The Manassa Mauler”, was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1919 to 1926.
3) Although the author is highly critical here of P. R. Stephensen and his magazine, The Publicist, he had earlier given Stephensen’s Mercury magazine high praise, and subsequently praised a later issue of The Publicist.
[Editor: Corrected “journel” to “journal (whilst it could have been a foreign form of the word, a perusal of other articles by Pegasus show no other usages of this, but instead show the consistent use of the English spelling of “journal”); corrected “when all is, said and done” to “when all is said and done” (removed the comma).]
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