The Australian Commonwealth: A Picture of the Community, 1901-1955

The Australian Commonwealth: A Picture of the Community, 1901-1955

The Australian Commonwealth: A Picture of the Community, 1901-1955

The Australian Commonwealth: A Picture of the Community, 1901-1955

Excerpt

Australia is a controversial subject, like any other worth considering. Notable observers and critics, both local and visiting, have pronounced many different judgments. Some of these, whether profound or apparently trivial, make a springboard for a leap into the land and amongst its people; and they serve to remind writer and reader, here, of the reserve that sensible people ought to use, in advancing their own and dissenting from other interpretations.

Take first the notorious error of Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833- 70), the poet who was educated in England, spent sixteen and a half years in Australia, as bush policeman, horse breaker, parliamentarian and steeplechase rider, and shot himself before his thirty-seventh birthday. Gordon knew the Bush, wrote a great deal of verse about it, and yet wrote of the place as a land 'where bright blossoms are scentless, and songless bright birds' ('A Dedication'); it is true that some of them are. Shortly after Gordon's death the English novelist Anthony Trollope spent some time in Australia, noticing ( Australia and New Zealand , 1873) that 'the sounds from the birds' were different from those of English birds; he learned to like the kookaburra or laughing jackass, the only bird in the world to be forever laughing, and heard the bell bird and the magpie, 'the latter in some parts of Australia very continuously'. Odd that Gordon, in so many years, never heard a bird-song! But perhaps a partial failure of the senses is not out of the way for literary expatriates. So we findWilliam Cobbett, in A Year's Residence in the United States , observing of American fauna and flora that, 'generally speaking, they are birds without song, and flowers without smell'.

On another level of apperception, here is the Queensland poet, James Brunton Stephens (1835-1902) voicing in The Dominion of Australia the spirit of Australia:--

This is the only land beneath heaven's roof
Where never yet hath manhood bent the knee
To man: the one sole continent whose sod
The foot of regnant knighthood ne'er hath trod.
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