Who Are the Australians?

By Bolton, Geoffrey | UNESCO Courier, December 1988 | Go to article overview

Who Are the Australians?


Bolton, Geoffrey, UNESCO Courier


An Australian historian looks at his country's development in the 200 years since European settlement

AUSTRALIA has always seemed a bit of a paradox in the eyes of the rest of the world. Medieval navigators talked of a Great South Land of gold and monsters. Jonathan Swift situated his imaginary land of Lilliput off Australia's southwest coast. After European settlement began In 1788, reports still spoke of a land where the trees shed their bark but not their leaves, and where Christmas was celebrated in a heatwave. It was the home of the pouched kangaroo, and the furry platypus which laid eggs, and the swagman with corks around the brim of his hat to discourage the everpresent flies. A rich country to be sure, productive of minerals and wool, brave soldiers and impressive sporting personalities, but in the last resort, perhaps, not a nation to be taken quite seriously. Overseas critics, particularly English critics, too often look for traces of colonial immaturity. Australians, they say, are nice enough people but they lack culture and sophistication. They are, in a word, provincial.

Australians are also more aware than most peoples of the shaping influence of the environment. The Aborigines, who inhabited Australia for at least 40,000 years before the coming of white domination, adapted skilfully to their surroundings. They lacked cereals, and remained a hunting and gathering society which did not disrupt the ecological balance. By 1788 there were perhaps 750,000 of them, one for every ten square kilometres of the continent. Captain James Cook, navigating the east coast before claiming the land for Britain, thought them "far more happier than we Europeans ... The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life". But the white newcomers were not prepared to learn from Aboriginal culture, and the Aborigines succumbed to disease and dispossession.

Various strategic and commercial motives have been suggested for the British settlement of Australia. It was a unique expertment. Australia must be the only significant nation in the world to have been founded as a prison. Between 1788 and 1868 about 160,000 convicts, largely male, were sentenced by British courts to transportation to Australia. English writers commented on the "thief colony" with amused fascination. "They don't thieve all day long, do they?' the essayist Charles Lamb asked a friend who was visiting Sydney in 1817. It is impossible that vice should not become more intense in such society," shuddered the Reverend Sydney Smith.

The first generation of Australians saw it differently. Some compared New South Wales with ancient Rome, which according to the standard histories of the day was founded by a band of outlaws under Romulus and Remus. Others proclaimed the superiority of the Australian colonies over the United States of America. Thefirst Presbyterian minister, John Dunmore Lang, wrote: "as a penal settlement the history of New South Wales is unquestionably much more interesting to the general reader than that of any other colonies of the Empire. That colony has been the scene of an expertment in the capabilities of man." Australia was a test of the capacity of human material to respond to improved environment and economic opportunity.

By the 1830s, Australia was becoming one of the world's major wool producers. In 1851 the discovery of gold in New South Wales and Victoria brought half a million immigrants within a few years, so that exconvicts became an ageing minority among the newcomers and the native-born. There were important regional differences in the pattern of settlement. New South Wales was always regarded as retaining the rough-andready politics of its Georgian origins. Victoria, where the gold rushes had the greatest impact, was seen as dominated by Scots investors and respectable but radical Chartists.' Both had a substantial IrishCatholic element, perhaps 25 per cent of the population, whose Catholicism and strong sense of national identity ensured that Australia could never grow into a second England. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Who Are the Australians?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.