An observer looks at Australia with results both amusing and enlightening
Our Cousins ‘Down Under’
An observer looks at Australia with results both amusing and enlightening
IT IS a stale truism that people in different parts of the British Empire know very little about each other. The stay-at-home Briton is woefully ignorant about life and conditions in the overseas dominions; he pictures us living in log cabins, eating meat with our fingers as forks, wearing broad-brimmed hats, smoking vile tobacco and carrying six-chambered revolvers. Once in London I referred to a typewriter I had bought in Melbourne, and a friend exclaimed:
“What, can you get typewriters out there?”
In the same way, Australians know little about Canada; they imagine we live in a land of perpetual snow, that we sit, swathed in thick fur, on icebergs, or are buried under snow drifts, or fish through holes cut in the ice on the lakes. They suspect that all our politicians are honors graduates of Tammany Hall, that our population is all non-British, that we are under the thumb of United States, and that we want to cut adrift from the British Empire.
Before we laugh at such grotesque misconceptions, let us ask ourselves whether we are any better informed about conditions in the Antipodes. We have heard about kangaroos, droughts, bush fires, tennis players, strikes and—butter. Some of us met the Anzacs overseas during the war, and formed our own varied opinions about them. But our stock of knowledge soon runs dry. Yet, if the British Commonwealth of Nations is to survive and play its proper part in standing solidly for world peace and fair play, it is well that each nation in the Commonwealth should know and understand as well as possible the life, conditions, outlook and ideals of its fellow nations. Let me, therefore, describe some of those features in which Australia is like Canada, and some of those in which the two dominions differ.
We may leave aside those external manifestations of civilization which are to be found the world over, alike in Melbourne, Montreal, Manchester,
Milan, Manila, Minneapolis, and possibly Moscow. There is probably no town of 10,000 people anywhere in the world in which one cannot get the needed size of camera films; the coolie of Shanghai or Singapore may be as hardened a movie fan as the citizen of Toronto, Turin, or Tasmania; the native in Fiji or Ceylon knows all about flivvers—and has probably heard some of the stories about them; crossworditis spread over the whole English-speaking world like a bush fire, in late 1924, and the halfcaste belle of the Pacific islands vies with her fair sister of other lands in accepting the invitation to preserve her complexion. North America has become the
material and mental workshop of the world, and its products are standardizing mankind in externals.
Yes, We All Have a Future
AT FOUR important points Canada and Australia are alike. Both have had, as their central problem, the task of settling a vast new country with a European population; both have been concerned, therefore, with matters of exploration, the alienation and settlement of land, transportation, migration, pests, the search for minerals, marketing large supplies of staple exports in distant markets, and more recently with efforts to build up manufactures. The story is predominantly an economic one, but while Canadian history has its small quota of wars and battles, the Australian people have never had a single real armed conflict on their soil.
Secondly, both dominions accepted, or had imposed on them, the British system of parliamentary government. Both have pinned their faith to democracy, to discussion, to the cabinet system, instead of to the presidential system of the United States or to the autocracy, assassination, and atrocity which have been the normal methods of running a state in some parts of Eastern Europe. There are differences in detail between Canadian and Australian politics. In Australia, all the provinces except one have two houses of parliament, the Federal Senate is an elected body, the provincial governments have
wider powers than in Canada, and the provincial governors are ‘imported’ from London. But in other things, such as the use of royal commissions, the possession of a federal capital, the printing of Hansard, talk of secession by the smaller provinces, and the love of long parliamentary recesses, the two countries are much alike.
Again, in both dominions one finds a spirit of optimism, based on an unbounded confidence in the country and its potentialities. ‘The future is ours,’ cries every new country; ‘The twentieth century is Canada’s century, said Sir Wilfred Laurier; ‘God’s Own Country,’ answers the New Zealander when you ask him where he lives; ‘the workingman’s paradise,’ says the Australian when you put the same question to him, and Canadian journalists who visited the Antipodes recently were amazed at the strength of the Australian belief in the great destiny of the island continent. Canadians and Australians alike will tell you that some day their country will house 100,000,000 people, and an Australian writer the other day condescendingly informed British readers that it was perhaps ‘no extravagant dream to visualize Australia as being at some future day the centre of power of the British Empire’. My readers could doubtless match this assertion with many an equally confident prophecy from Canadian lips.
Finally, in both countries there is to-day a conscious and earnest endeavor to build up a distinctive culture. It is good to produce wheat or wool, but man does not live by these things alone, and there are many in our midst who wish to see Canada and Australia add their characteristic contributions to the world’s music, art, letters, or drama. In the realm of oil and water color Canada has found inspiration, in the vivid hues of fall and winter, for a strong school of virile painters ; Australia has done its best work in poetry and black and white art, whether that of the etcher or the cartoonist. And although we have not yet become, as a public, sufficiently awake to recognize the talent that is in our midst, our young folk seem well able to hold their own when they step on to the bigger and more discriminating stage of art and letters in the old world.
Our Meat, Their Poison
OUCH are the similarities, but in each ^ of them there are differences, due to climate, the physiography of the country, history, and the character of the people. We speak the same language, but our pronunciations are different; that of Australia is a compromise be-
Continued on page 72
Continued from page 11
tween Cambridge and Cockney, that of Canada—well it isn’t. In Australia a street car is a tram, a sidewalk is a footpath, gasoline is benzine or petrol, and candies are lollies. Nay we even have different meanings for the same word. If an Australian wished to compliment a man on having accomplished a difficult, laborious piece of work he would call him a fine grafter; but such a description would not be a compliment to a Canadian. On the other hand if a Canadian railroad agent asked an Australian if he could have the pleasure of arranging for his transportation, the Antipodean would stare and swing a denched fist, for transportation was the name applied to the old practice of preventing overcrowding of British jails by shipping petty thieves, Scotch Radicals, English trade unionists, and Irish Home Rulers out to Botany Bay.
The differences go deeper than pronunciation and meaning. Three contrasts in particular would arrest the attention of any Canadian who studied Australian conditions. The Canadian would feel at home in the big continent, 3,000,000 square miles in area, sparsely peopled, except on the eastern fringe, by a population about two-thirds the size of that of Canada. But he would feel that he had come to a terribly isolated land, one almost on the edge of the map, one far away from any other big centre of population or influence. If he went from Vancouver, he would be sailing for twentytwo days before he reached Sydney; if he slipped over to England and took a boat going via Suez it would take him thirty days to get from Tilbury to the Australian coast, while if he went round South Africa the journey would be at least ten days longer still. Alongside such lengthy journeys the trip from Montreal to Liverpool seems little more than a cruise on Lake Ontario.
That isolation is at once an advantage and a disadvantage. The discovery of the continent by Europeans came late, and the length of the journey discouraged emigration to Australian ports, while on the other hand it placed the producer at a handicap in marketing his wares in fardistant Europe. Folk would not make a
10,000 mile journey in the old sailing ships if they could find a home in North America, only 3,000 miles away. The modern emigrant steamship has eliminated some of the discomforts of travel, but, even to-day, Canada is at a big advantage when the British emigrant comes to decide the land of his new home.
Isolation has also given Australia a wonderful chance of working out its own destiny, free from the influence of any near neighbor. Canadians wish to create a civilization of their own, but at every turn they feel the pull exerted by their neighbors on the south or by Europe. Our I currency, our general mode of life, our
periodical and general literature, our advertisements, our land policy in settling the prairies, our taxation systems, our press and cable service, our universities, our labor unions, the ownership and technique of our manufactures, even the recipes for our salads and cocktails, all testify to the presence of a strong neighbor next door. Try to imagine the Atlantic washing our southern border, and the United States wiped off the map; try to visualize the effect of that on every aspect of Canadian life. Then you will begin to understand something of what Australia’s isolation means to her.
More British Than We
'T'HE second big contrast is found in the composition of the population of the two dominions. The last census showed that over a quarter of the Canadian population was of French descent, over half of British origin, and the rest—about
1.500.000 in all—was made up of Austrians, Dutch, Germans, Jews, Russians, Scandinavians, with sprinklings from most other European countries, and
56.000 Orientals. Canada has become a modified melting pot. The last Australian census showed that ninety-seven and a half per cent, of the people were born in Australasia or the British Isles, and over ninety-nine were of European race. The stream of emigration to Australia has flowed almost solely from British ports; the trickle of continental Europeans has always been insignificant, while the White Australia Policy has barred the door against the entrance of colored races for over a generation.
Hence Australia is not merely white, but also British. That fact simplifies life amazingly at points where North American life is complicated and full of problems. For with a homogeneous people there is no language difficulty—I doubt if there is ever an interpreter on an emigrant ship; the political and social traditions of the people are all the same, and it is not necessary to teach newcomers the rudiments of democratic life; the task of the teacher is simplified, the loyalty of the nation is undivided, and prime ministers do not need to be able to speak two languages. There are times when one wishes that the Australian population was a little more mixed; the Germans who went to Australia at various times last century proved to be the best of settlers, and Australia benefited by their industry and their love of music; Italians seem to flourish better than Anglo-Saxons in the tropical regions, and it may be necessary to rely chiefly on people from the Mediterranean area to conquer the hot far North; while the cry for men who will be content to live and work on the land cannot to a great extent be met from Great Britain. So Australia is watching with keen interest the eventual product 1 of the mixture of peoples on our
Thirdly, the political and economic outlook of Australia is tinged with a radicalism that has made the continent the home of interesting and far-reaching experiments. In the old penal days the government had to do things because there was no private enterprise available; later, the state had to build railway lines because no one else would; and the habit of letting the state do things which elsewhere would be regarded as jobs for private individuals or voluntary groups has become deeply ingrained. Then again, among those who went, or were sent, to Australia in the early days, there were men who were rebels against the existing political and social order of Europe; Chartists, trade unionists, co-operators, socialists, home rulers, republicans, all went, believing that in their new home they would be able to build a commonwealth free from the injustices and tyrannies of old Europe.
When the labor unions turned to capture political power after 1890, a Labor Party was born which was destined to dominate the political life of the continent. This party rested on no profound philosophy or body of doctrines such as was held by the German Social Democrat or the modern Communist. Its policy was described by a French observer as ‘socialism without doctrines’, but if there was little doctrine there was less socialism. The new party stood for the full development of democratic government, for free education from the Kindergarten to the university, for the establishment of a high standard of living, for the eight-hour day, for strict regulation of working conditions in factory and mine, and for the regulation of wages by the state in order to preserve industrial peace and guarantee to every worker a decent living wage. All this involved comprehensive state action, and there was no objection to the state passing from the regulation of private enterprise to the undertaking of public enterprises if by such action the public could get a better service or the depredations of monopolies and trusts be held in check.
The planks of this political platform no longer seem to be painted a deep red, for they are part of the general stock of politics in most countries. Australian Liberals accept the doctrine of state regulation and enterprise almost as completely as their opponents, the principle of the living wage has been adopted in many lands, and the belief that the community may wish, or be compelled, to run its own public utilities, is no longer a revolutionary creed.
Australia and the British Navy
FINALLY, a word about Australia’s attitude to the British Commonwealth of Nations. Like Canada, Australia guards and fosters her right to self-government, and resents any action which suggests that in any way she is tied to the coat tails of the British Cabinet. She suspects that British people do not really endorse her White Australia Policy, feels that she must have her own navy, and sometimes does not approve of British policy in foreign affairs. But alongside this definite fostering of a national spirit and independence, there is the recognition that in the last resort Australia’s very existence as a nation rests on the protection of Great Britain and the British navy. Sink that navy, and Australia’s doom would be sealed. She would put up a brave fight and make an invader pay dearly; but with her sea routes closed, with her broken railway gauges, with her inadequate industrial equipment, and with her six million people defending a coastline of 11,000 miles, the final decision would not long be in doubt. Hence Australia is vitally interested in the problem of imperial defence, in the Singapore Base and in the fruits of the Washington Conference. For Canada, defence problems may seem unimportant and unreal; for Australia they may spell the difference between national life and death.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.