Nationalism [8 August 1888]

[Editor: This article discusses what may be termed “British-Australian nationalism”. Published in The Morning Bulletin, 8 August 1888.]


To many observant of what is passing around us it will appear that there are now in Queensland two kinds of nationalism. There is that which has become the characteristic of the party now in power in the State, and the cardinal idea of which is the creation of the inhabitants of Australia into a large and homogeneous nation, such as the great American Republic. Then there is the nationalism which may be said to have found expression in, and to have been illustrated by, the concert given under the auspices of the Caledonian Society in the hall of the School of Arts last night.

The one nationalism aims at the creation of love of country and patriotism for the land we live in; the other at the maintenance and fostering of what may be regarded as hereditary feelings of the same kind towards a small portion of the British Empire.

When scrutinised narrowly it may be thought the former is somewhat antagonistic to the latter. Our Australian nationalism, in the opinion of many, aims at “cutting the painter,” and severing the political, civil, and sentimental connection between the old country and the new. In this, however, “things are not what they seem.” How far, soever, the principles of Australian nationalism may appear to lead in that direction, the practice of its professions clearly points in another.

Sir Thomas M’Ilwraith, the great leader and exponent of the designs of the Australian national party, is one of the most demonstrative of Scottish nationalists. He presides at Caledonian and Scottish meetings in the metropolis, and never shrinks, when occasion offers, from waxing eloquent — that is as far as a matter of fact a man of his temperament is capable of waxing eloquent — on the traditions, history, and literature, arts, and attractions of the “land of the mountain and the flood.” An old Scotch song says —

It is good to be honest and wise;
It is good to be earnest and true;
And it’s best to be off with the old love
Before you be on with the new.

We think it probable the Laird of Auchenflower will repel any attempt at double-dealing in this matter of nationalism, by maintaining that the new love is really the old one, arrayed in somewhat different attire, suited to the climate. What is it makes intelligent Scotsmen love their country and its national associations? Beauty, it is said, is only skin deep, and the remark may be applied to countries as well as women. Scottish immigrants may sing of the charms of their “ain dear land,” and enthuse, as the phrase goes, about “the fountains, the valleys, and mountains so famous in story, the birth-place of song;” but having taken up their residence in Australia, and made their pile in it, the beauties of the old land may tempt a visit, but not permanent residence. However much the head of the Australian National Party may expatiate on the beauties of “the Craigs o’ Kyle,” and of “the banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon;” and of auld Ayr, his native town,

“Wham ne’er a town surpasses.
For honest men and bonnie lasses”

he has not the slightest idea of taking up his abode in Scotland. While Scotsmen, like fond lovers, may rave about the beauty of the object of their admiration and affection, it is in the more substantial graces that satisfaction is to be found. Australia has no traditions, no history, no literature, nothing that gives individuality to a nation. Scotland stands out among the countries of Europe as the birthplace of freedom and the cradle land of song. Of the song we had splendid illustrations, rendered with rare taste and fine fervour, in the School of Arts last night.

The two great themes of Scottish song are love and freedom. Emigrants love their native land because its fountains sing of freedom still, as they dash down the dells. It would be strange if other subjects took prominence, because it is at once the strength and weakness of Scotsmen that they are warm and ardent in temperament — “they dearly lo’e the lassies, O;” and their aspirations after freedom in all its aspects are irrepressible. The history of Scotland from the time of Agricola’s invasion to the present day is a long record of the struggles of indomitable spirits longing to be free. Both poetic and prose literature is pervaded by breathing for independence —

“Ah, freedom is a noble thing :
It makes a man to have liking,”

exclaims an old rhymster often quoted; and what he really means, putting it in modern phraseology, is — that life is not worth living without freedom.

Even yet, Scotsmen, in their Home Rule movement, are essaying to attain to perfect independence in their civil and political institutions, so as to obtain for each individual in the community the greatest amount of personal liberty. Scottish nationalism is instinct with freedom. English and Irish nationalism, though each differing in its mode of expression, are alike in being permeated by the same vital principle.

It goes, without showing, we think, that the Australian nationalism desired by Sir Thomas McIlwraith is of a similar character. Stripped of much of its phraseology, and its meaning condensed, the essence of his programme is the utmost liberty of the individual, consistent with the good of the community. The various headings into which it is divided are but directions as to the methods by which this end may be gained.

Upon refining, the various kinds of nationalism it will be seen they are essentially the same. There is this difference, however, that Scottish nationalism dwells much on the past; Australian nationalism is merely prospecting the future. For both nationalisms there is plenty of room in our country ; and let us hope that the victories achieved by the one in the course of the last eighteen hundred years will be emulated by the other in the ages which are to come.

The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.), 8 August 1888, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
Agricola = a Roman general who conquered much of Wales and northern England, and whose invasion of Scotland took Roman forces to the far north

ain = (Scottish) own

Auchenflower = Sir Thomas McIlwraith’s estate in Queensland (located in the area of what is now the suburb of Auchenflower, west of Brisbane), named after McIlwraith’s home in Scotland; Auchenflower means “field of flowers” (“Auchen” is Gaelic for “field”)

auld = (Scottish) old

cutting the painter = to cut ties between two entities, to sever a connection; in the context of Australian politics, it is especially used in reference to the separation or independence of Australia from the United Kingdom; it is a reference to the rope called a “painter”, which is used to tie a ship’s boat to a ship (possibly derived from the French “peyntour”, a rope used to hold the anchor to a ship’s side)
The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Wordsworth, Ware (Hertfordshire), 2001, p.812
E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (new edition, vol. 2), Cassell, London, 1895, p.931

wham = (Scottish) whom

Wham ne’er a town surpasses. For honest men and bonnie lasses = lines from “Tam o’ Shanter” by the Scottish poet Robert Burns

[Editor: Corrected “maintainence” to “maintenance”; “fact man” to “fact a man”; “many rave” to “may rave”.]

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

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