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4-310 (Raw)

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author,male,The Bulletin,un addressee
Newspaper Article
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Newspapers & Broadsides
Clark, 1975
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Receding tourists, like receding tides, leave their jetsam upon our shores. Sometimes it is a mere tangle of weed and scum; sometimes a shell murmuring lessons learned in the deep ocean of truth. The flippant impressions of ANTHONY TROLLOPE and MAX O'RELL, writing chiefly to amuse, are the merest spume and froth of thought. The balanced judgment of FROUDE and the keen criticism of FRANCIS ADAMS may be disputed, but must be respected. [813] Of all our censors, ADAMS has incomparably the clearest vision and the surest touch. Miss SHAW is an admirable chronicler and a worthless commentator. Her grasp of facts and details is wonderfully strong, of opinions and principles invariably weak. ADAMS added splendid analysis to splendid synthesis; and even MARCUS CLARKE, with as many years spent in Australia as ADAMS spent months, has left us no such body of suggestive thought upon ourselves and our future as ADAMS left in his brilliant FORTNIGHTLY essays.
It is curious and instructive to compare the impressions of the writers who have wandered through Australia and sought the feeble glimmerings of national tendencies. TROLLOPE, in 1871, thought the Australian-born laborer superior to the immigrant. In other classes, he found the young native listless, unenergetic, vain, and boastful, coming too quickly to a weak maturity. "He rarely runs into bad vices. He does not drink, gamble, or go utterly to the dogs." But, if he does not fall, he cannot rise, and he is too content in mediocrity. Thirteen years later came FROUDE, learned, thoughtful, severe, aiming at truth; but always in leading-strings, fixed in preconceptions, and seeing only what he was shown. Still, he saw much, and his intellect enabled him to sift the real from the merely plausible, the vital from the unimportant. It is strange, considering the difference in the two men, how FROUDE'S judgment repeats TROLLOPE'S, whilst enlarging upon it: - Sydney colonists have no severe intellectual interests. They are courteous and polite [...] energetic [...] but only to conquer the enemies of material comfort, that their own lives may be bright and pleasant. [...] There were no persons that I met with who showed much concern about the deeper spiritual problems in the resolution of which alone man's life rises into greatness. [...] They have no national concerns and risks. [...] They will have good lawyers among them, good doctors, good men of science, engineers, merchants, manufacturers, as the Romans had in the decline of the Empire. But of the heroic type of man, of whom poets will sing and after ages be anxious to read, there will not be so many, when the generation is gone which was bred and born in the old world. [...] The rising Australians are "promising young men". If they mean to be more they must either be independent or must be citizens of Oceana.
This, though spoken directly of Sydney residents, has reference to the whole race of Australians, and particularly to the natives as FROUDE saw them. So also has this, spoken of the Victorians: - With so fair a climate and with life so easy, the Victorians cannot be sad, and it is pleasant to see a people who know so well how to enjoy themselves. But men and nations require in reserve a certain sternness, and if anything truly great is ever to come out of them, this lesson will in time be hammered into them.
The gist of FROUDE'S criticism is thus that life is too easy with us, that we lack the stimulus to be strong, and that our material prosperity tends to spiritual barrenness. [814]
Compare MAX O'RELL, up to date: - Of all the members of the great Anglo-Saxon family I think the Australian is destined to become the most easy-going, the most sociable, and, perhaps, the most cheerful. [...] You will not find in the Australian that dogged, obstinate perseverance, that bull-dog tenacity which has helped the English to do so many great things, and which still puts the Scotchman beyond competition in every enterprise which calls for privations, hard work and indomitable tenacity. [...] The Australian has quite a passion for amusement. There is no country in the world whose people flock in such numbers to theatres, concerts, exhibitions, all places of recreation; there are no people who take so many holidays, or enter with so much keenness into all national sports; there is no society that dines and dances quite so much as Australasian society.
Is there not a striking similarity in the thought which naturally rises to the lips of these three surveyors of Australian character, separated from each other by a decade of time, yet singularly unanimous in verdict? Now take ADAMS, who brought a more open mind to utilise greater opportunities of observation; though his judgment also was warped by sickness and fettered by prejudice: - The native Australians have too often the self-sufficiency that is gotten on self-confidence by ignorance. Lean and high-strung, with the alternations of languor and activity which the terrible changefulness of their climate gives them, they wear themselves out in all they do, mistaking the exercise of nervous energy for pleasure. They have in their underside the taint of cruelty. [...] More and more the characteristics of a careless, pleasure-loving race are developed as secularly educated Young Australia, the true religious Gallio, gets his way. [...] The average temper of Australians more and more shows itself either indifferent or hostile to the outer world. [...] The heathenism of the bush is intense. Everyone is at heart a pessimist.
ADAMS draws a broad line of demarcation between the residents of the coastal belt and those of the interior plateau, and looks to the latter for our best results. "Frankly," he says, "I find not only all that is genuinely characteristic in Australia and the Australians springing from this heart of the land, but, also, all that is noblest, kindliest, and best."
MARCUS CLARKE, whose famous judgment of the coming Australian would seem best of all were the dogma a little less doubtful and the wit a little less sparkling, divides the Australia of the future into temperate and tropical, ruled respectively by a republic and an aristocracy (being copied in this by Miss SHAW)
The Australians will be a fretful, clever, perverse, irritable race [...] selfish, self-reliant, prone to wander, caring little for home ties [...] freed from the highest burden of intellectual development (genius)... . The Australasian will be a squareheaded masterful man, with full temples, plenty of beard, a keen eye, a stern yet sensual mouth. His teeth will be hard, and his lungs good. He will suffer from liver disease, and become prematurely bald; average duration of life in the unmarried, fifty-nine; in the married, sixty-nine and a decimal. [...] In another hundred years the average Australasian will be a tall, coarse. strong-jawed, greedy, pushing, talented man, excelling in swimming and horsemanship. His religion will be a form of Presbyterianism; his national policy a democracy tempered by the rate of exchange. [815] His wife will be a thin, narrow woman, very fond of dress and idleness, caring little for her children, but without sufficient brain-power to sin with zest. In five hundred years, unless recruited from foreign nations, the breed will be wholly extinct; but in that five hundred years it will have changed the face of nature, and swallowed up all our contemporary civilisation.
The differences, as well as the harmonies, of these critical dicta give scope for endless debate, with Time as sole qualified arbiter. But speculation, in spite of uncertainty, will have always its value. It is in our power by politic government to alter many of the conditions of national life, and so to weaken, if we cannot withstand, the currents of deterioration in our national character. If observers and thinkers can but determine the nature and force of those currents, and statesmen can erect a barrier to their influence, the Republic of Australia will long live to amuse its children with the prophecy of MARCUS CLARKE.