Written two years after ‘Called to the Bar’, Harkness’s experimental serial novel on Australian themes, ‘Anglo-Australians: The Story of Their Lives’ explores pattens of migration from England to Australia and its physical, emotional and intellectual effects. Harkness had engaged with the complex nature of national identity in novels such as Captain Lobe (later In Darkest London), which acknowledges the richness of London’s international urban communities but also the jingoism of the person who “feels himself to be an Englishman, and able to kick the foreigner back to ‘his own dear native land’ if only Government would believe in “England for the English,” and give all foreigners ‘notice.’ (Law, In Darkest London 1893: 3–4)
In ‘Anglo-Australians’, Harkness considers the nebulous nature of this imperial identity, and characterises a consciousness that is attentive to the experiences of coloniser and colonised as necessarily ‘amphibious’. Furthermore, her use of collective nouns indicates an interest in the significance of shared experience — and specifically as it relates to the natural world.
The wide-reaching and pernicious effects of a specifically English imperial identity both at home and abroad would remerge in Harkness’s writing on India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
Source: Southern Cross, 9 March 1900, p. 6. Available via Trove.
ANGLO-AUSTRALIANS: THE STORY OF THEIR LIVES
BY JOHN LAW
(All rights reserved.)
I am thinking of the ordinary well-educated Englishmen and Englishwomen who come to Australia, not as visitors, but, owing to some forgotten chain of events in “England, mother of us all,” to stay here for years, perhaps for the term of their natural life. Such people quit England chiefly on account of their health, or owing to financial embarrassment. A few, no doubt, still leave their country for their country’s good, but the majority wish good-bye to sorrowing relations and friends, who watch the departing steamer with tearful eyes, and say, “He failed here, perhaps he will get on his feet again there”; or, “She may get better there, she must have died in this climate.”
After the steamer weighs anchor it is easy to distinguish between these people and the globe-trotters, pleasure-seekers, and Australians returning home, for their faces are paler, and their eyes sadder than those of the other passengers. A few talk in harsh voices, merely for the sake of talking; two or three slink like whipped dogs to their cabins. One and all have the national dislike to let strangers guess domestic secrets. The men turn their backs on Albion, and try the effects of whisky and soda on home-sickness; the women go abaft and gaze wistfully at the shadowy outline of dear old England, until it is lost in the sea.
I confess that these people do not help to make the voyage pleasant. The captain and the officers understand them, but their fellow-passengers find them very cold and distant. If they fail to meet with people outward bound for the same reasons as themselves they seldom talk much, and they take little notice of the crowd of strangers playing childish games and staring into one another’s faces. At Naples they post long letters home, and go to see Mount Vesuvius; afterwards the Southern Cross occupies their thoughts, for it makes a poignant division between the old world and new. As the stars of the Northern Hemisphere disappear, and new constellations take their places, the old folks at home grow dim, and Australia steps into the foreground.
Their impressions of Australia have been derived from Rolf Boldrewood’s novels, and Adam Lindsay Gordon’s poetry, and out of these incongruous materials they have made a mental picture of a country where warm-hearted people with open doors and open purses live amidst desolate bush, haggard gum trees, fierce hot winds and plains strew with the blanched bones of sheep and cattle. They do not realise that Boldrewood’s novels are partly historical, for they fancy that the new world is full-grown; they think of Australia as Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and war, who sprang from the brains of her father Jupiter. They forget that the seeds of suicide were in Gordon’s heart when he left England, and they do not know that his shadow throw a gloom still over native genius. Later on they ask, “Why should disappointed men like Gordon and Francis Adams have carried Weltschmerz into the land f the sun and golden wattle?” But by that time they have learnt that Anglo-Australians must adapt themselves to the genius loci, and ty to see the land of their adoption whole and sane, not in a nightmare of droughts and deluges, of mental storms and moral tempests.
Arriving in Australia, they go straight to the General Post Office. No one has yet written the history of their Mecca. There is only one sadder spot in an Australian city, and that is Reuter’s. If the latter place might divulge its secrets, what stories of treachery and despair would it not set before us! No ocean steamer arrives in Australia but someone goes to Reuter’s in distress. Men have been known to kneel there begging for money to cable home. Women offer jewels and watches there for the same purpose. Australians cannot gauge the bitterness of being robbed by people so far away, people known and trusted, who take advantage of the great distance, and such things are heard of every time an ocean steamer brings new people to Australia. I think if Australians noticed even the things that may be seen any mail day at the General Post Office of any capital in the new world, a more kindly feeing would spring up towards the people who linger on the steps, examine the weather charts, and finally go with set faces to the windows to ask for their letters. Only an Anglo-Australian can understand what it means to watch the mail being sorted, and see a black-edged letter thrown carelessly down with his own name on the envelope.
And it seems so strange to us to hear England talked of glibly as “Home” by Australians. There is no atmosphere about an Australian’s ideas of England, and a stereotyped England, however correctly imagined, strikes cold to our hearts. We resent the application of the most sacred word in the English language to an abstract idea, and think that the home of Australians should be Australia.
We bring no introductions, having come to stay, so Australians ask, “Who is he?” and hold aloof. He answers, “I am myself,” and Australians think him stuck up. We see nobodies from England, who come with introductions, made much of by Australians, in order (so it appears to us) that they may carry back a good impression to the old country. We know that their complacent misrepresentations of Australian idiosyncrasies as national character are accepted both here and in England: but we Anglo-Australians, who have discovered how much there is to learn and see here, are amphibious animals, animals snubbed and misrepresented because misunderstood. So we draw into our shells, and being outsiders, we see more of what is going on than do the Australians. We notice how rapidly things change here, so rapidly that books written only a few years ago no longer represent the country as it is at present. We like the friendly little children, and seeing them pass so quickly into adolescence, we wonder at what rate of speed Australia will develop when Federation brings all the colonies into focus, when Australia becomes one nation. And we ask ourselves, “Which will it be then, alliance or dependence?” Will Imperialists mould the Commonwealth, or will Federated Australia outgrow Imperial leading-strings, and one day have a flag of its own, an army, a fleet, a republic?
Gradually we come to love the country, if not the people in it. The people we fancy, lack a sense of natural beauty, they prefer the smaller things they have done for themselves to the great things Nature has done for them. We worship the constant sunshine, the royal blue sky, the lovely, if scentless, flowers, the gorgeous birds, butterflies, and insects. The big yellow moon, the stars that turn night into day, even the crepitating frogs win our hearts, while the grand scale on which Nature shows herself to us here, expands our intellect, [sic] England, dear little England, is very dreary and dark, is very like a bandbox. Our places there are filling up, our relations and friends are gaining new interests. Those thought act and counteract upon us; and just as English flowers transplanted here gradually change their form and color, so do we slowly become Australian.
Visitor: “And what does the little girl think she will be when she gets to be an old woman like her grandmamma?” Little Girl (tossing her head): “She isn’t going to be an old woman. She will be a new woman.”