A Neglected History

An essay by Henry Lawson

If this is Australia, and not a mere outlying suburb of England: if we really are the nucleus of a nation and not a mere handful of expatriated people dependent on an English Colonial Secretary for guidance and tuition, it behoves us to educate our children to a knowledge of the country they call their own.It is a matter of public shame that while we have now commemorated our hundredth anniversary, not one in every ten children attending Public schools throughout the colonies is acquainted with a single historical fact about Australia.

The children are taught more of the meanest state in Europe than of the country they are born and bred in, despite the singularity of its characteristics, the interest of its history, the rapidity of its advance, and the stupendous promise of its future.

They can conjure with the name of Captain Cook; they are aware that he sailed into Botany Bay, and they have some indistinct theories regarding him, but of the men who in the past fought for the freedom of our constitution as it is, they scarcely know the names.

It is of course desirable that they should be familiar with the features of European history, but that they should at the same time be so grossly unacquainted with their native land is an obvious anomaly.

Select almost any Australian schoolboy from one of the higher classes and you will find that he can glibly recite the names of the English sovereigns from the Conqueror to Victoria, with the dates of their ascension. He can then give you their relationship to each other, and the principal events and noteworthy persons of each reign, with a rapidity that runs clear away from elocution and transmutes the English language into a kind of lightning gibberish. If you ask for geographical information he can quote, without drawing breath, the rivers, mountains and towns in Europe, and can then run through the counties and towns of England, repeating such names as Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, etc., with a great relish. But if you ask him what town in Australia was formerly called Bendigo, or where Port Phillip settlement was, he becomes bashfully silent, and if you follow this by inquiries as to the Black War in Tasmania, or ask him the causes which led to the Fight of Vinegar Hill, he will come to the conclusion that you are “greening” him, and will leave with an injured air.

Of the gradual separation of one colony from another, of the differences still existing in their constitutions, and of the men and influences which have made them what they are he knows nothing. His knowledge of the natural history and geographical features of Australasia he picks up chiefly from the talk of his associates, and the information he casually encounters in the newspapers.

It is quite time that our children were taught a little more about their country, for shame’s sake. Are they always to be “Colonials” and not “Australians”?

It may be urged that the early history of Australia is for the most part better left unknown; but for that reason are all the bright spots, the clean pages, the good deeds, and the noble names, to be left unremembered too?

There is apparently quite another reason why Australian history may not claim a place in the school’s curriculum. It is considered necessary that a loyal spirit should be instilled into the minds of the rising generation: an attachment to a mother land which they have never seen: a “home” which should remain always dearer to them than the place of their birth and childhood. This object might be considerably retarded if the children learned how the mother land cradled and nursed the nation they belonged to, and the measure of gratitude and respect they owe her for her tender guardianship: if they knew how the present Australian aristocracy (so loyal and sceptre loving) arose, and whence they came; how the Old New South Wales convict slaveholders and tyrants tried to drag Victoria into the sewer while she made efforts for liberty; how the same worthies tried to divert a convict stream into the northern settlement (now Queensland) that they might reap the benefit of convict labour; if the noble efforts of Lang resulted in the freedom of the mother colony, and lastly how Australian honour and interests were sold right and left for mammon.

If all these things, and much more that might and would become apparent, were taught, Australian school children might develop a spirit totally at variance with the wishes of Australian Groveldom.

They might form a low admiration for the thirty digger patriots, who on that eventful December morning in 1854 died in the Eureka Stockade to gain a juster government for their country and to baulk the first “try on” of what was no less than convict government in a free colony. They might also learn to love the blue flag with the white cross, that bonny “Flag of the Southern Cross”, which only rose once, but rose to mark the brightest spot in Australian history, and to give a severe check to that high-handed government which is only now gaining ground again.

They might acquire a preference for some national and patriotic song of their own homes and their own appointed rulers, rather than to stand in a row and squeal, in obedience to custom and command, “God Save our Gracious Queen”.

In their present state of blissful compulsory ignorance they cannot perceive the foolishness of singing praises of the graciousness of their condescending magnate, a ruler at the further end of the world who, knowing as little of them and their lives and aspirations as they know of her, is nevertheless their sovereign and potentate, and who is sometimes benevolent enough to send them a brief cable message judiciously filtered through her own appointed underling and deputy.

When the school children of Australia are told more truths about their own country, and fewer lies about the virtues of Royalty, the day will be near when we can place our own national flag in one of the proudest places among the ensigns of the world.

Nativist Herald