[Editor: This article by P. I. O’Leary was published in The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 6 April 1922.]
Popularising Australian literature and another matter.
The Australian Natives’ Association was on good ground when it recommended, as it did at its recent conference, that a greater interest should be taken by Australians in Australian literature. Indeed, it would have been far better if that body had devoted further time to consideration of the more cultural side of Australian life, instead of discussing, as it did, portentously and with an abundance of rhetorical commonplaces, so-called political phases of it. There are enough “politicians” inside and outside of Parliament talking in that heavy and uninspiring way already, and it would have been better had delegates at the Conference dropped the “corpulent respectabilities” of current political clichés and spoke, instead, of things which matter much more.
It is to bodies such as the Australian Natives’ Association that we should be able to look for guidance and a lead in matters affecting the higher side of our national life, and it is good to see the A.N.A., even in a small way, has taken up the matter of popularising Australian literature.
The proposal that lectures on the subject be established at the Melbourne University is long overdue. And the motion embodying it, which was moved by Mr. Howlett Ross, has much to commend it. That motion reads:—
“That the Board of Directors (of the A.N.A.) be instructed to take such steps as may be deemed necessary to secure the establishment of lectures in Australian literature at the Melbourne University, and that members be urged to give every support to Australian authors and playwrights.”
But it seems to us that many of the members of the University Council, with their flamboyant Imperialistic bias, and their want of touch with what is essentially Australian, would not be over-eager to agree to the proposal. If their actions on several other matters furnish any criterion, we rather think they would regard with disfavour such a resolution. They are little inclined to become enthusiastic over anything purely Australian, because they are largely Little Australian.
* * * * *
The other matter.
This brings us to another matter. It touches the advocacy by Mr. C. J. de Garis at the conference of a policy of publicity. Mr. de Garis is reported as expressing himself in these terms:
“Australia was slowly but surely being Americanised, because of the publicity which the United States was receiving here. Australians went to concerts to hear advertised the attractions of ‘Tennessee’ and ‘Dixie’ and other American places. They went to picture shows to see some rot from America. This sort of thing was insidious, but its effect was certain. It was quite possible that we had composers and authors equal to those in America. In discussing the question of advertising Australia, they had to begin at home. We talked Australia, but did we think Australia? Australians should support their own writers and artists; they had some of the finest writers and composers and the finest subjects and inspirations in the world.”
These remarks are in good taste; they are true, and it is to be hoped that they become effective. But we suggest that it would be wise on the part of those who voice them, and are possessed of the patriotic sentiments they embody, that they, when an opportunity presents itself, act upon such excellent beliefs. We are moved immediately to make this observation because we remember that Mr. de Garis himself was mainly responsible for a misrepresentation of the Australian people when he caused to be published in a novel written by a Mr. Russell, and called “Ashes of Achievement,” much that was calculated to make readers believe that a sane, decided and major Australian sentiment was something not only to be regretted, but to be heartily ashamed of. “In discussing the question of advertising Australia, that had to begin at home,” said Mr. de Garis. Though a commonplace, the statement is true. We do have to begin at home, and one of the ways to begin at home is to begin to learn what people actually stand for at home, so that we may be restrained, by knowing the truth, from libelling them and their country, both here and abroad.
— P. I. O’L.
The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 6 April 1922, p. 3
The quotes from Mr. Howlett Ross (of the Australian Natives’ Association) and Mr. C. J. de Garis have been placed within blockquotes, so as to distinguish them from the rest of the text.