[Editor: This article was published in Tharunka (Journal of the New South Wales Students’ Union) (Kensington, NSW), 5 June 1964.]
Our neglected culture
Do you belong to the nescient mass, guilty of neglecting your own culture or of regarding it as something inferior or even non-existent?
It seems that many people either do not know what Australian culture is or mistakenly feel that it must be inferior simply because it is Australian. Max Harris in an article on “The Reading Habits of Australians” (Hemisphere, Feb. 1963) says of past years, “It was the cultured thing to do to reject Australian works as completely beyond the pale.
“The bookseller who proffered an Australian book ran the risk of his customers’ scorn and contempt”. “Cultural cringe” is a popular phrase for what is regarded as our greatest national inferiority complex. After discovering our culture, Dr Usha Mahajani in “An Australian Interlude” (Hemisphere, July 1963) says, “It is a sad persistence of prejudice that Australia still seems to many Indians or, for that matter, to people in general a land of no return, for castaways and convicts, where kangaroos stalk a vast continent. Oh yes, Australians have a high standard of living and many of them are good sportsmen … but education and culture? No, these are thought to be exclusive heirlooms of India and Vincent Buckley gives the following in “For an Australian Identity” (Hemisphere, Jan. 1964), “The Englishman views himself as the eventual product of a given tradition, an established history, and a traditional value system. But the Australian is full of uncertainties. Is he a second-grade Englishman? A variant of other multi-racial societies like America? A member of a unique cultural group in process of slow formation, determined by a particularly unpredictable geographical environment? Or none of these — merely a distant component of the general European scene, distinguished only by physical remoteness? Such considerations of identity have produced our well known modern convention of Voyager poetry, from Slessor to Stewart. The question of identity confronts us in ‘The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ and in ‘One Day of the Year’. Identity is at the core of Martin Boyd’s early novels, and the problem arises again, in nihilistic form, in ‘Voss’, ‘The Tree of Man’ and ‘Riders in the Chariot’.”
Why is it that our artists, musicians, writers, etc. are recognised overseas before they are in Australia? Isn’t it time we took interest in our own culture and gave our own people more encouragement? Who directed and produced “The Sundowners” and “Sons of Matthew”, and who produced “Jedda”?
If we are to have a national character we must support our culture. If we copy other countries all the time then we can only be inferior to them.
The American culture is O.K., but let’s not become second-rate Americans. The bush-wacker may be an important figure in our culture but we are not hill-billies. The following type of thing from George Farwell in “Life in the Outback” (Hemisphere, Feb. 1963), makes one feel it’s time to wake up. “It was a travelling American I met once in the Kimberleys, the most lovely and picturesque corner of Northern Australia, who summed up their achievements most succinctly. ‘In the States’, he said, ‘they’re still talking about the famous Chisholm Trail. They’ve written books about it. But that trail was only five hundred miles long. The man who rode it did so only once, and a mighty long while ago. These drovers in Australia do it all the time!’”
Fortunately some present trends suggest we are becoming more aware. Most Australians have heard of Sidney Nolan, A. D. Hope, and Joan Sutherland, to name a few. Folk singing and surfing are taking on a national character but we still watch Westerns and our money is now being modernised from the Pound, (a name reminiscent of British colonialism) to the Dollar (not to be confused with the American currency).
It is nauseating to turn the Television set on to some second-rate variety show and find some prosaic American performer going through his act in a patronising or condescending fashion under the guise of an overseas top-rate artist. Surely we can give a promising Aussie a fair go instead.
If you are interested in forming an association for the recognition and promotion of Australian culture, please contact me either by telephone (JB-4115) in the evening, or by a note to Lloyd Hamilton, care of the School of Applied Geology.
Tharunka (Journal of the New South Wales Students’ Union) (Kensington, NSW), 5 June 1964, p. 8
[Editor: Changed “writers etc.” to “writers, etc.” (inserted a comma).]