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Thirty Years in Australia By Ada Cambridge Characters: 15551

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The thirty years covered by this chronicle came to an end with the nineteenth century and the history of these colonies as such.

On the last day of 1900 I sat at my writing window to watch the drop of the time-ball that regulates all the Government clocks-the clocks which the morning papers had warned us to set our time-pieces by at 1 P.M., so as not to be a second out, if we could help it, when the midnight hour should strike. I cannot describe the state of tension we were in, the sense of fateful happenings that possessed us that day. The New Year and the New Century were coming to all peoples, but we could not think of them save as satellites of our New Commonwealth, arranged for the purpose of fitly inaugurating the New Nation. Australia believed herself on the threshold of the Golden Age. I myself openly boasted of my happiness-reviewing my peaceful family life, my little home circle, unbroken since 1876-when we began wishing happy new years to one another.

The same scene lies before me now. Hobson's Bay in the foreground-never professing to be picturesque, but to me as full of variety and charm as a good, homely human face-and the long line of city dividing it from the sky. In the sunset of a fine day-sunset taking place behind me-that thread of crowded life is glowing beautifully, isolated buildings, as they catch the direct gleam, standing out as distinctly as if they were not leagues away. And after dark it will shine a thick-set band of lights many miles in length. And then, later, a clear moon will flood the whole. All as it was twenty months and more ago, when our hearts were so confident and our hopes so high.

But Fate has dealt with our hearts and hopes in the usual way. The closing of this book synchronises with the ending of one of those lives integrally a part of mine-that of my eldest son, in the prime of his fine young manhood-which for me has altered the whole face of the world and of the future, but yesterday so smiling for us both. I took no account of the Ambushed Enemy when I said on that New Year's night that I was happy.

And as for the country that went mad with joy on the same occasion, how does it feel now? Where is the enthusiasm for Federation which then turned every head?

Federation, so far as we can see, has put back the Golden Age. The triumphant shout, "Advance, Australia!" has become a mockery in our ears. "Australia for the Australians!"-that ignoble aspiration, which even then meant "Australia for the Australians now in it"-less than two to the square mile-now means that Australia is not even for them. No, for the census returns of this state for 1891 gave us 446,195 young persons of what census people call the marrying age (15 to 35), of whom the excess of young men over young women was 17,047; and the census for 1901 shows 419,910, and the excess on the other side-16,742 more young women than young men. Where are those lost young men? And why have they gone from one of the gardens of the world, as Victoria should be, with its temperate climate and its consequent potential fertility? Most of them have gone since the new century came in, and the other states have to mourn similar losses within the same short space of time. There have been no gains. Immigration, even of the most desirable "White Australia" brand, is discouraged in all possible ways, in the supposed interests of the beneficiaries in possession-reapers of the sowings of far different men-with their "work" and "wages" which no longer correspond to the old meanings of those words. While as for our coloured brothers-including Britain's ally, Japan-they are not recognised as men at all. They are vermin, to be stamped out like rabbits.

One third of Australia lies within the tropic belt, where manual labour is incompatible with the white man's physique, and where no industry could afford him, at the price he puts upon himself. What matter? Let the Queensland sugar fields, and the seven millions sunk in them, revert to the desert waste they were before. Let the pearling industry go to foreigners, as it must go. Let the Northern Territory, an area equal to that of France, Germany, and Austria combined, with all its known potential wealth, lie waste and empty, while millions upon millions of our co-inheritors of the earth swarm upon little bits of land that do not give them room to turn round. What does it care, this dog in the manger? It will starve itself-it is starving itself-to keep the world out, to shut off competition with existing interests, to nip back growth at every point. Oh, that we had a Washington to lead our young nation in more righteous paths, to nobler ends! Had "Australia for the World" been the watchword of the Commonwealth, we might now be making a second great United States such as only the glorious First could rival. Instead of that a stationary population of less than four millions, from which the best elements are being rapidly drained away.

For these four millions we have fourteen Houses of Parliament, with over fifty ministers and little under a thousand members. They are housed magnificently-in this State, at anyrate-regardless of expense; they have billiard-rooms, and bowling and tennis grounds, and every club luxury, the "keep" of the Victorian establishment alone (the parliamentary bill for the year) running to £141,549. Each pair of State Houses can pledge the credit of its section of the country as it likes (what our public debt amounts to everybody knows); the Federal Houses can pledge the credit of the whole. And what is there to control them? "The State servants," says the Argus, "already constitute almost a clear majority of the names on the electors' rolls." Government "promises soon to become the sole employer of labour in the community." The octopus of political rule holds the private citizen-"pursued with regulations and prohibitions in his uprising and his down-sitting," so that "there will soon be absolutely no room left" for him-helpless in its grasp.

And who are they that work this Juggernaut of an engine, that run this overgrown business of state? To quote again the authority above-mentioned, not seldom "men who, in private life, would hardly be trusted to run an apple stall."

There was a Times correspondent with the royal party that recently visited us, and he published his impression that "political corruption" was amongst our little failings that he had noticed. That was an observant man, worthy of his post. Here nobody had an idea of such a thing, and the outcry that ensued upon the cabled report of his report, the indignant protest of injured innocence, was almost unanimous throughout the land. Every newspaper repudiated the foul aspersion, and in good faith-because, as a fact, the parliamentary candidate does not bribe and corrupt within the meaning of the act as traditionally understood; he does not buy the individual's vote with coin from his pocket or a pot of beer. But what he does-which probably never strikes him as political corruption, although recognised as that by the Times correspondent-is to buy en bloc the party which gives him his comfortable place and perquisites-his trade and living, in fact; and that party will be paid in full or know the reason why. They support each other-both at the expense of the general community. There is a printed rule of a Political Labour League which says that "before any person can be accepted as a candidate for the Federal or State Parliament" he shall "place in the hands of the executive of the league an agreement that in the event of his acting contrary to the policy of the combined Labour Organisation," and of their consequently "passing a vote of no-confidence in him, he will resign his seat." Fur

thermore, he is to "place his resignation (undated) in the hands of the executive, together with a document authorising the executive to fill in the date subsequent to the day on which the vote is taken." Parliament would not be what it is if there were not plenty of men willing to subscribe to such contracts as these-to sell their votes in the House beforehand, in order to get there. We all know that they do so sell them. We see the price paid when such legislation as the Minimum Wage Act is concocted, that pitiable outrage upon the natural, the moral, and the economic law which is visibly recoiling upon the heads of those it was framed to benefit, killing their goose of the golden eggs as well as ours.

It was to the Commonwealth Government that we looked for relief and redress-that was the meaning of our wild jubilation when the union of the states was consummated. Alas! Could we have foreknown the history of its first couple of years, there would have been no federation in our time. Could we be unfederated to-morrow, the status quo ante would be restored the day after, beyond the shadow of a doubt. For the Federal politician is but the State politician writ large. His wider sphere of action means but greater opportunities for the exercise of those political vices which are so ingrained in him as to have become his second nature. The first act of the Federal Ministry was one of sordid personal greed; every following act seems to have been worse. Federation, so far, has but riveted our chains at home and darkened our character abroad-and I do not know which we feel most keenly, the latter, I think. For when six voices spoke for us there was a chance that some of them would do us justice; when the one voice that speaks for all betrays and disgraces us, we have to take the loss and odium silently and seem to acquiesce.

However, the country itself is still, potentially, as fine a country as the world contains-a huge manger, with provision for the sustenance of myriads of happy homes-and it cannot always remain the personal possession of a ring of unpatriotic self-seekers which may more appropriately be likened to a vampire than to a dog. It was meant to be a great country, and some day the hands that know how to make it so will get hold of it, perhaps sooner than we think-possibly before these pages see the light. I close my chronicle on the 18th of September, 1902, at a moment when the political sky in this State is brightened by a ray of hope such as it has not known for many a day, and which may signify the approach of a new era, not for us only but for the Commonwealth at large.

Some months ago a movement of revolt against the state of things was started by a few farmers, humble representatives of the uncorrupted manhood of the community; they met in their little country town and formed themselves into a league, which in a few months had branches in all the rural districts. The moral force generated was enough to put in a Government pledged (although no one believed its word) to the league's programme of Economy and Reform. Only the typical, the professional, politician jibed and jeered at the country bumpkins who thought to touch his long-established power and his State-filled pocket. "Is not this mine ass?" said he in effect, and, as soon as the Reform Government submitted its Reform proposals, voted against them with a light and fearless heart. But then an unexpected thing happened. That Government chanced to be in earnest. On that vote it not only resigned, but applied to the Governor for a dissolution-and got it. "People's Turn Now" says (in big capitals) a city daily, repeating the phrase with the same emphasis in every issue; and the fact does seem to have come home to them at last. On the first of October we shall see what we shall see. The Labour Party and the Civil Service are combining in defence of the old régime, and their numbers may be overwhelming; on the other side are the patriots, one and all, and at their backs the Press, never before united at such a time.

I ought to have mentioned sooner-what everyone who knows this country knows-how high and dignified is the moral and intellectual as well as (comparatively speaking) the literary standard of our representative journalism. It is beyond a doubt, and was never more so than at this moment, that the Press of Australia has a consistent respect for itself that is not found in some far greater nations. If there is a "gutter" belonging to it, it is so small and inoffensive that no whiff has reached my nose. With few exceptions (for which more or less can be said on the score of other good qualities), there is nothing in general circulation that is not almost austerely respectable. I have been told of an editor of high position who, if "darling" appears in a contributor's MS., crosses it out as an improper word, unfit for the family circle. We are so respectable as that. The Society Journal, vulgar spy and tale-bearer, cannot make a living here. In all the papers, more or less, "social columns" are available for those who wish to make public display of their frocks and entertainments, but the old-fashioned lover of domestic privacy may count on being left alone. As with some other of our national institutions, the founders of our Press system were gentlemen. A standard of good taste and high-mindedness was set in the beginning, and the tradition of it remains a living force. When Edward Wilson of the Argus bequeathed the charge of his interests in that paper to the friend who for thirty years conserved them so well-who for two-thirds of that time, until his death, was my friend also and told me the story-the last instructions of the dying man were: "Keep it gentlemanly, and never let them be mean." The rival "great daily," the Age, is a power in the State such as, I should think, no individual newspaper ever was in any land, and the literary beauty and philosophical significance of some of its Saturday leaders have reached a level that would have made them notable amongst men of letters anywhere. And his daily newspaper is as necessary as his meals to the average citizen, while the weekly that belongs to it, a wonderful compendium of miscellaneous matter, is drained to its last drop by the Sunday-resting Paterfamilias of the rural districts, whose only book it is, and whom I have seen poring over it luxuriously the live-long day.

The Press of a country leads it, but it follows also, if only for the reason that it has its living to earn. And our newspapers being what they are-capable of the almost incredible nobleness of sinking their life-long quarrels and party policies to stand shoulder to shoulder when the true welfare of their State demands it-is the best proof of its inherent soundness that any country could show. For the example of Victoria will be an inspiration to her sister colonies, which are all one people with her, and all in like case.

It is indeed a good country, even as it stands. I can say with truth and gratitude, homesickness notwithstanding, that nowhere could I have been better off. And I am as sure as I am of anything that sooner or later-this year or next year, or after my time-the day of emancipation and enlightenment will come, to inevitably make it as great as it is good.


Colston & Coy., Limited, Printers. Edinburgh

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Typographical errors corrected in text:

Page 26: Melbourue replaced with Melbourne

Page 46: "in any of then" replaced with "in any of them"

Page 291: "so warmed by he reflected" replaced with "so warmed by the reflected"

Note that the spelling of 'canons' on page 62 is retained as is since the writer of the quote does not have a good grasp of the English language.

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