Towards Australianism [14 May 1923]

“Toward Australianism.”

Cultivating the National Spirit.

The life of our young Australian nation will appear noble and beautiful in the eyes of all the world only when it reflects high national ideals which have their root in the mind and heart, aye, in the soul of every one of its people

These words occurred in the opening sentences of an address delivered by the Rev. T. O’Loughlin, M.S.H., to the members of the Christian Brothers’ Old Collegians Association, at their annual communion breakfast on Sunday morning. Father O’Loughlin entitled his address “Toward Australianism,” and he told his listeners that the beauty and glory of their loved Australian nation depended upon the qualities of mind and heart which were to be found in every individual man, woman, and child who claimed the right and the privilege to be called an Australian.

Next to love of God, he said, the highest and noblest ideal which could be set before a people was love of country. Those two loves were really one, for he alone could love God worthily who was prepared to sacrifice his life, if not in death, at least by toil and labour, for the welfare of his country. Patriotism might be abused, but it was a stubborn spiritual power in life, and was planted in the heart by God Himself.

The Work Ahead.

Their work now and in the future must be to plant, to guard, to foster those high ideals, to form and mould, the soul, and guide and direct the energies of the young Australian nation. It was God’s will that the children of a nation should devote their lives and best energies to the promotion of its welfare. That was the duty of every Catholic Australian, as well as of Australians generally. Priests and people alike, aided and encouraged and guided by their beloved bishops, must work for the common purpose of leading Australia to the feet of the King of Kings, and of upholding and cherishing within its bosom high national ideals, which would make it the object of his special predilection, the Sion of His choice, the “city seated on a hill,” the example of the older nations of Christendom.

“Ardour of the Blood.”

They had no doubt about their own claims to nationhood, nor had they ceased to be mindful of Australia’s right to take her place among the nations of the earth, but they might reasonably ask themselves what had they done to foster Australian national sentiment among the people. All the talk about “Australia first,” which
was forced upon them from public platforms, resolved itself into the merest flattery when it was not accompanied by deeds calculated to sow the germ of Australianism in the hearts of those who listened to it.

The chief duty of a people, both to itself and to the world, was reverence for its own soul, “the mystic centre of its being.” Were they sufficiently conscious of their own dignity? Had they fostered that reverence in themselves and had they inspired it in others? He was inclined to think that they had not: that there was something wanting in their attitude toward themselves; that Australians were too casual, too easy-going, to trouble themselves about any organized, sustained effort in the interests of nationality; too ready to repress within them that bubbling up of the spirit which R.L. Stevenson called by the fine phrase “the ardour of the blood”; too ready to lend their eloquence and use their energies for the furtherance of interest and the propagation of ideals, noble, no doubt, in themselves, but which, if not altogether foreign, were certainly outside the immediate interests of their own land.

Negative Force of Apathy.

The work of fostering Australianism in the past had not been without difficulty, and no doubt the slow response to the appeal of the “bubbling spirit in the blood” could be excused on account of the strength of those difficulties. But he would have them remember that the presence of racial differences and racial factions in their midst was not the only obstacle which they had to contend with in their efforts to establish a healthy national sentiment. There was another force at work, a negative force, whose influence was more subtle and more harmful, and more detrimental to the success of their labours.

He referred to the apathy and indifference of those who assumed an attitude of aloofness toward everything Australian. They did not care in the least whether Australia took her rightful place among the nations or whether she remained for all time a conglomeration of jarring elements, provided, of course, that she supplied them with a comfortable home to live in. Their attitude toward Australia was much the same as that of George Jean Nathan toward America, who wrote:— “The great problems of the world — social, political, economic, and theological — do not concern me in the slightest. . . . I was born in America, and America is to me, at the time of writing, the. most comfortable country to live in. That is why I am here, and not in France, or in England, or elsewhere.” They might admire the outspokenness of this American critic, but they did not agree with his cynicism, much less, with his sense of nationality.

To save its soul a nation must be prepared to sacrifice all else; the children of a nation must be ready to lose all for the nation’s honour. Australia had won her laurels by sacrifice; they must be maintained by sacrifice. Her salvation could be achieved only by loss, and that loss they must be ready to sustain; they must lose in a sense their individualism in order to find it in the broader individuality of their country.

The Appeal of Anzac

The memory of their Anzac celebrations was still with them. That day was dedicated and, he hoped, would forever be dedicated, to the memory of those brave and generous men who gave their lives in the interests of Australia, and proved to the world that they were imbued with that love of country which he had spoken of as one of the highest and noblest ideals of a people.

While Europe was ringing with the tramp of armed men and the plains of Belgium were burdened with the dead bodies of slaughtered soldiers, and the fields of France strewn with corpses and wet with human blood on the slopes of Gallipoli a young people, the youngest born of the nations of the earth, was enduring its baptism of blood, and setting with its own hand upon its own brow the diadem of nationhood. No matter what their views of the war might be, they, young Australians, should be callous and ungenerous — aye, hopelessly, callous and ungenerous — if they did not recognise the valour and extol the deeds of their own men of Gallipoli.

Let them go in imagination to the scene of their glory and triumph. Behold there, what would be known in the pages of history as “the graves of Gallipoli.” What was it they saw? Rich and gorgeous monuments, splendid tombs overlooking the Hellespont, one of the far-famed glories of classic antiquity. No, not there: such outward shows were more suitable display for nations caught in the lap of luxury and verging to decline; they did not harmonize with the simplicity and straightforwardness of the “digger” spirit, nor with the humble beginnings of a nation newly admitted among the peoples of the world. But what was it they saw? Innumerable little crosses dotting everywhere, as if dropped from the sky or set by angel hands, the hills and slopes and narrows of the roughest and gauntest coastline in the Aegean.

There, beneath those crosses, were young lives given for national ideals — young lives which cried out in death to their fellows in Australia, to him and to them, to bishop, priest, and laity alike, to foster Australian national ideals in the minds of those who lived after them, and to make their country, their own beloved Australia, the “city seated on the hill,” the model and the example of all the nations of the earth. That was the appeal that issued forth from those silent graves, and, this denied, their deaths had been in vain.

The Register (Adelaide, SA), Monday 14 May 1923, page 9

[Editor’s notes]
MSH = Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic religious order

racial prejudices = the reference to “racial prejudices” would be referring to the national differences between the English race, German race, Russian race, etc., as “race” was a common phrase used at that time to refer to peoples of different nations

[Editor: Corrected “maintanied by sacrifice” to “maintained by sacrifice”.]

Speak Your Mind