Reprint: As Her Poets See Australia by H.W. Malloch


It is to our poets and writers we look largely to create and stimulate a national sentiment. Most of us are indifferently patriotic when times are normal, and when crises arise the poet or the writer with vision and imagination can fan the flame of patriotism to white heat. That, however, is only spasmodic, and frequently becomes merely a passing phase.

Those writers who, when times are tranquil, can pen words which inspire a people and deepen its sense of nationhood, are the ones who attain enduring fame and find a lasting place in the literature of their native land.

The lure of the homeland overseas has influenced many of our Australian poets to the exclusion of work aimed at stimulating an Australian national spirit. There are some, however, who have not. The attempt probably began with William Charles Wentworth, born at Norfolk Island way back in 1793, who published a poem, "Australasia," as early as 1823, in which he implored "Celestial poesy" to

   Descend thou also on my native land, 
   And on some mountain-summit take thy stand;
   Thence issuing soon a purer font be seen
   Than charmed Castalia or famed Hippocrene;
   And there a richer, nobler fane arise,
   Than on Parnassus met the adoring eyes.

In his forecast, "The Dominion of Australia," written in 1877, James Brunton Stephens touches a fine chord:      

   She is not yet; but he whose ear
   Thrills to that finer, atmosphere
      Where footfalls of appointed things,
      Reverberant of days to be
      Are heard in forecast echoings,
         Like wave-beats from a viewless sea --
   Hears in the voiceful tremors of the sky
   Auroral heralds whispering, "She is nigh."

There is a fine national sentiment
in every line of James Lister Cuthbertson. "Australia Federata," because Australia has gone, and is still going, through the trials and tribulations the poet considered essential for a national spirit:

   Australia! land of lonely lake
      And serpent-haunted fen;
   Land of the torrent and the fire and fire-sundered men:
   Thou art now as thou shalt be
      When the stern invaders come,
   In the hush before the hurricane,
      The dread before the drum.

      .   .   .   .   .

   A louder thunder shall be heard
      Than echoes on thy shore,
   When o'er the blackened basalt cliffe
      The foreign cannon roar --
   When the stand is made in the sheoaks' shade
      When heroes fall for thee,
   And the creeks in gloomy gullies run
      Dark crimson to the sea:

      .   .   .   .   .

   Then, only then - when after war
      Is peace with honour born,
   When from the bosom of the night
      Comes golden-sandalled morn,
   When laurelled victory is thine,
      And the day of battle done,
   Shall the heart of a mighty people stir,
      And Australia be as one.

Henry Lawson, in "The Star of Australasia," foresaw, as Cuthbertson did, the strengthening of the spirit of nationhood through war:

   We boast no more of our bloodless flag, that rose from a nation's slime;
   Better a shred of a deep-dyed rag from the storms of the olden time.
   From grander clouds in our "peaceful skies" than ever were there before
   I tell you the Star of the South shall rise - in the lurid clouds of war.

A fitting conclusion to so brief an outline from Australia's writers, who have contributed to the national spirit, will be found in the lines from "The Bush," of Bernard O'Dowd:

   All that we love in olden lands and lore
      Was signal of her coming long ago!
   Bacon foresaw her, Campanella, More,
      And Plato's eyes were with her star aglow!
   Who toiled for Truth, whate'er their countries were,
      Who fought for Liberty, they yearned for her!
   No corsair's gathering ground, nor tryst for schemers,
      No chapman Carthage to a huckster Tyre,
   She is the Eldorado of old dreamers,
      The Sleeping Beauty of the World's dawn!

First published in The Argus, 14 October 1944

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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