DROUIN Australia Day address, 2018 Becoming Australian: how an Anglo-Irish local boy learned to love Australia- Rev. Dr. Jim Connelly
I’ve always thought of myself as the quintessential Australian citizen. Fourth generation Irish Australian on my father’s side. Second generation English Australian on my mother’s side. Raised in Garfield. Went to Warragul High School. They talk about Sydney or the bush. Well, I’ve lived in both. But I’ve lived in Gippsland for fifty-five years altogether. Genuine, dinky-di Aussie … or so you’d think. In my person, a real Australian. But is that the real Australian – now? … or will it be in the future? I’ll come back to that in a little while.
We grew up with a warm glow inside about being Australian. Where did that come from? Many of our fathers and uncles had been away at the First World War. We basked in the glory our troops won for us there. Hadn’t they matched it on the field of battle with those hardened old nations of Europe? We lived through at least the later years of the Great Depression. We were thrown on our own resources, and battled through. We could tough it out! The Second World War brought more challenges, and, ultimately, victory. We were winners! And at school we were able to feel we were helping to win the war by bringing our sixpences to buy war savings certificates (Explain). And we stitched camouflage nets out of string on Friday afternoons so that the Japanese planes couldn’t see our tanks and anti-aircraft guns. Then the long years of prosperity. Half a century, almost. Australia was a good place to be in and belong to. No wonder we had a warm glow about being Australian!
But this feeling for our country was not just absorbed. It was driven into us when we were young. Let me give you two illustrations. 1. Saluting the flag: (Explain Monday mornings at Garfield). The oath of loyalty: ‘I promise to love God and my country, to serve the King, honour the flag, and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers, and the laws’ 2. The School Readers: Grade 4. ‘Mr and Mrs Platypus and family’ (Constance Tisdall, Walhalla, St Anne’s, Sale), ‘A Brave Australian Girl’ (Grace Bussell); ‘Where the wattle blooms’ (Marion Knowles, Woods Point); ‘Lost in the Bush’ (near Horsham) Grade 6. ‘My Country’ (Dorothea McKellar) [“I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains” ‘Bell-Birds’ (Henry Kendall) [“By channels of coolness the echoes are calling”] … + ‘For England’ (J.D Burns) [“The bugles of England were blowing o’er the sea, as they had called a thousand years, calling now to me”] (Burns a Melbourne boy; killed at Gallipoli), ‘Anzac Day’ (Capel Boake) [“O sacred land, Gallipoli/home of our sacred dead/how friendly is the springing grass/that shields each narrow bed”] ‘The English flag’ (Rudyard Kipling) [“Never was isle so little, never was sea so lone/But over the foam and the palm trees, an English flag was flown”]
The two great themes that were being driven in to us as children were THE BUSH and THE EMPIRE and NATION. And every child was learning these things. Every child at every State school in the land was reading and absorbing these qualities. I don’t wish to denigrate these matters. It’s easy – and perhaps fashionable – to sneer at such persuasion. Some would call it manipulation. But, for me, it was simply the spirit of the age. I grew up with a warm feeling for the bush and bush things … and with a great sense of loyalty to my country. I was united with other young Australians because of our common inheritance of these values. Australia was close-knit and united. There were things that divided the nation – political and economic divisions – but they lay beneath the warm blanket of our cosy and common Australianness.
Warragul High School: There was much less emphasis on war and nation at High School. The war ended one day, and the students were let loose to cavort in the streets of the town. We had dug slit trenches by then, and after the war had ended a cadet corps was established for the boys. No Drouin High School, no Trafalgar High School, no Neerim South High School, no Marist-Sion, no Chairo, no St Paul’s. No other secondary schools; just a Catholic girls’ school … and Warragul High School. 132 started with me in Form 1; 12 finished with me in Form 6 (now it would be more like the other way around). We are a much better educated society than I grew up in – and better informed. Buses brought children from Noojee to Mountain View and Tynong and Trafalgar (Number 4 bus from Garfield passed this place every day). I’ve got a list of every student who attended the school from 1911 to 1986. The 1949 names (198 of them) are almost 100% Anglo-Saxon. How different it would be today!
When I was young, society was so predictable. If you knocked on the door of a typical rural home, you would pretty much know what to expect – father working locally, on the land or to do with the land, mother a home-maker, children at state schools and expecting to largely follow their parents’ footsteps. Nowadays, you knock on a door round here, and they’ll tell you about their daughter studying at Caltech in the USA, or their niece working in Botswana, or their son just taking up a position with a big IT firm in Germany. What openings and possibilities there for young people today. We have a far richer, deeper, more cultivated community than we have ever known in this country.
What a change we’ve seen because of developing ways of communicating. We had a phone at home when I was a boy – a brown box on the wall. You turned a handle and the girl down at the Post Office would answer. “Number please,” she would say. If you wanted to ring overseas, you had to book the call beforehand. At Christmas you had to book weeks ahead. And when you got through you had only three minutes, then the switch girl would cut in and say “Are you extending?” The connection would be so bad you probably spent the first three minutes saying to each other, “Can you hear me?”Nowadays, you carry your phone in your pocket and you’re linked to anyone in the world – and to every piece of information you might need – in an instant.
Differences in place: I’ve come to appreciate that there are real differences in the spirit of different towns in Gippsland. I’ve lived in half a dozen places in Gippsland – Garfield, Traralgon, Neerim South, Maffra, Buln Buln East, and Warragul. They’ve each got their own feeling about them. Garfield has always been a railway town, constantly drawn between the City in one direction and the bigger towns further east in Gippsland. Traralgon is a busy place, very conscious of its neighbours, and keen to outdo them. Neerim South is very proud of what it has made of itself from its local and small-farming background. Maffra has many advantages in building community – off the railway line and the highway, a long way from Melbourne / the sugar beet industry and the Macalister Irrigation Area. There are differences in regions. Take East Gippsland as against us here in West Gippsland. East Gippsland – settled by squatters – large runs, sheep / money accumulated in a few hands. Fine public buildings and homes were erected. A more expansive public psyche resulted. West Gippsland – settled by small-holders hacking out a living from timber and potatoes and cows. The mentality that comes from that – perhaps of a certain closeness of mind – is still to be found – and to be resisted.
To go back to my earlier theme, there are local and regional differences in Gippsland and Victoria and all over Australia … but … throughout our history, we have been bound together by greater ties – our attachment to Britain, our pride of nation, the celebration of a bush ideology. # ….. In the light of all that, how do we stand today?
I was driving in Warragul the other day, and a young man sauntered across the road ahead of me. I didn’t take it in until after I had passed him that he was Asian. It made me think. You see people from China and Cambodia and Iran and South Sudan in the streets of Warragul and Drouin all the time now. We hardly notice it any more. These recent arrivals in our community are taking their place to our (perhaps sometimes grudging) acceptance. The old story is being repeated. Slowly to begin with, then in the second generation and the third, they become like us.
I get such pleasure when I see someone from say Asia on the television, and they speak in a strong Australian accent. And I look at the Australian test team, with Usman Khawaja batting at Number 3 … or the AFL, and see Lin Jong, Aliir Alir, Jose Romero, and Bachar Houli.
It’s the same in all the sports. These people are harbingers of the future. * ….. But we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of recent migrants to this country. For anybody to feel secure and contented in society, it seems to me we need two things. # a vertical thread of connection with our past and confidence in our future. # a horizontal thread of connection to friends and a sense of being part of the community we live in. Most of our recent arrivals – especially those from Africa – have neither of these advantages. They need our understanding and our friendship. We live in a diverse and vibrant society in Australia in 2018. Most of us have so many personal blessings, technologically and culturally. There are negative currents in the community, and we must work constantly to reaffirm the good and positive aspects of our land. I haven’t the least doubt that the growing diversity of our people will prove a boon in future years, and that those with foreign names will speak with strong Australian accents, and hold their country as dear to them as we who preceded them have done.
It’s been mentioned that I’m a bit of a scribbler, and I want to finish with a few lines of verse – a sonnet, actually. There’s a debate raging about how we should celebrate Australia Day, especially in the light of our indigenous heritage. I haven’t entered that debate this morning, but I have a thought to put to the people who are engaged in that debate.
A few days ago, I woke early. The eastern sky was just beginning to pale, and I heard the distant sound of a kookaburra chortling in the distance. It took my mind to the ancient Gippsland, the primeval days of long ago. A little later came the hoot of a train heading down the line. A different image was evoked – of these modern times. Later in the morning, and with Australia Day in my mind, I wrote these lines.
In the dusk pre-dawning of the new day’s birth,
the kookaburra sings his joy in private mirth.
The creatures of the forest hear with instinct mind;
the women of the tribe stir with their ancient kind.
And now there comes a note of different strain,
the probing whistle of the early train.
The world of great achievement now it brings;
the thrill of pride of place within me springs.
Are these two different worlds as white is to the black?
Do I enlist in one, to the other turn my back?
I have one answer only, one thing found
In life’s vast book of justice and of grace:
To seek forgiveness and in peace surround
each other is the one way forward for the human race..