Written by Will J. Sowden, 1893
Australia has lately suffered many things from globe-trotters.
The general object of these visitors appears to be to prove that the new race of native-born Australians, whose uprising has lately broadened the possibilities of ethnological study, are not promising to achieve the record which might reasonably be expected from the grandsons and granddaughters of John Bull and his wife.
Although from the Australian standpoint the superficial criticisms which we have had to endure are entirely unwarranted, it is well that native-born Australians should be criticised occasionally, because they are usually too self conscious and super-sensitive to blame. This helps to explain why recent articles by Mr. D. Christie Murray (whom we know) in the Contemporary, and certain sketches in another magazine by Mr. Francis Adams (whom we know not), have caused in Australia. some sensation—much wagging of tongue, and much scratching of pen.
The two contributions have, however, been read with widely different feelings. What Mr. Adams calls his ideas are so ludicrously extravagant that one can only laugh at them as at a burlesque. Those alleged ideas, whose alias is absurdity, have been read here in the same way as we read a romance by Jules Verne (who once wrote an equally a fanciful book on Australia). Verne’s scientific speculations bear about the same relationship to ascertained scientific facts that Mr. Adams’s sketches hold to the realities of Australian life. Australians, therefore, do not consider it worth while to treat Mr. Adams seriously. They rather estimate him as an hysterical gentleman, with highly tense nerves, who requires a gentle aperient.
A different feeling is aroused by Mr. Murray. He apparently tried to make some use of his unfortunately very limited opportunities for observation, and Australians who met him, and were charmed by the bonhomie courtesy of the man whose literary work had long before entertained and instructed them, never suggested that the numerous errors of his articles were anything else than misconceptions almost entirely excusable in the circumstances.
A gentleman who should visit London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Cardiff would not be overloaded with knowledge enabling him to write a minute analysis of the social and political conditions of Great Britain. Although Australians would accept with becoming respect Mr. Murray’s opinions upon literature and pictorial and dramatic art, it appeared clearly evident whilst he was here that he knew little or nothing of social problems. Nevertheless, he had apparently an open mind, this honestly wished to get information: the rather melancholy result is probably chiefly his misfortune. It indicates that he has been “stuffed” by those mischievous fellows whose mission in life seems to he to lie in wait at the chief hotels and load up tourists with original information which, when it is discharged abroad, is very surprising news to Australians.
The Australian who plays practical jokes upon the credulous globe-trotter should be arraigned as a traitor, An Edinburgh Reviewer (Sydney Smith) nearly 100 years ago said that the Australian kangaroo covered a mile in five hops. The Australian kangaroo of to-day covers about 50 yards in five hops; and unless the more recent marsupial, like the London society young man of modern times, has degenerated in his hopping capacity, the Edinburgh Reviewer must have been wrong.
Sydney Smith, however, had more excuse than later critics for his misunderstandings: information about Australia was not then so easily obtainable. Upon the whole, Australia may well pray to be saved, not only from imported convicts, rabbits, stoats, weasels, sparrows, thistles, and snails, but also from the visitations of globe-trotters, especially globetrotters with a high and mighty tone, who peer at us from a pedestal when here, and patronise us loftily in their books after they have left us.
Not often is Australia discussed in the English press from the Australian standpoint, because it has been difficult for an Australian to get a hearing in the literature of the Old World. I do not claim to speak in any representative capacity, but, although I am not a blackfellow, I was born in Australia, bred in Australia, and educated in Australia. I have travelled extensively throughout Australasia, and have witnessed Australian life in all its aspects. I have been, and am still, honoured with high official position in the Australian Natives’ Association (the only distinctively national institution in the colonies), and, therefore, I ought to know something of Australian realities and of Australian aspirations.