BRITISH AUSTRALIAN COMMUNITY LITERARY PRIZE
This Award is for an 800 word essay on the theme of the positive influence of British Heritage and Culture in Australia. The prize is $1,000. The closing date is the 1st of April 2020 and the winner will be announced at Britfest 2020.
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1. The British Australian Community Literary Prize is open to all Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia.
2. The Prize will be awarded to an original, unpublished essay not exceeding 800 words, on the theme of the positive heritage of British culture in Australia.
3. Entries will not be under offer to any publication, or offered for publication, until the adjudication is finalized and the winner is notified.
4. The Prize will normally be awarded to a single winner, but up to three additional entries may be commended. The winner will be notified personally, and announced on the BAC website in early November. The essay will be published on this website and in any other relevant BAC publication.
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14. The judges reserve the right not to confer the Prize in any given year.
15. The value of the Prize will be AUS $1,000, until further notice.
The competition closes on the 1st of April and the results will be officially announced at Britfest 2020.
RESULTS OF PREVIOUS AWARDS
2012 winning entry “From Everything to Nothing” by Saxon Smith, South Australia With unstrained appreciation of the pervasiveness of British culture in Australia, Saxon Smith approaches his topic with youthful vigour but also youthful playfulness. These are what enable him to open out the limited contextual space in which he begins until it is large enough to encompass a challenge for his entire generation.
2012 commended: “The English Ale: An Annual Celebration of the English Folk Arts in South Australia” by Bronwyn Lloyd, South Australia Bronwyn Lloyd successfully conveys a poetic engagement with the enduring mysteries of our intangible but resonant English cultural heritage.
2012 commended: “English Tower Bells and Change Ringing” by Warne Wilson, Queensland Each of Warne Wilson’s paragraphs is a charming miniature of one aspect of our culture, localised as much in the bells of our small country churches as in our great city cathedrals.
2012 commended: “Positive Aspects of British Heritage” by Peter H. Edwards Peter H. Edwards bravely affirms the restraining influence of British culture on a raw frontier society. His sincerity on the issue of British settler relations with Aborigines is undeniable, and a challenge to those who prefer the weak option of a black armband.
From Everything to Nothing:
The Positive Heritage of British Culture in Australia
by Saxon Smith
It is relatively easy to answer the question: what is the positive heritage of British culture in Australia. The short answer is: everything; that is, everything valuable, cherished, noble and worthy of preservation. British culture and traditions provide the sociocultural infrastructure and backbone to the Australian nation.
Here are some examples. The Australian legal system is derived from Britain, and although appeals from the High Court of Australia to Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council can no longer be made, because of the passing of the Australia Act 1986 in both the Australian and British parliaments, the foundation of Australian law is distinctively British. Our High Court in Sue v Hill (1999) held that Britain is a foreign power, within the meaning of section 44(i) of the Australian constitution, but the common law system and its modus operandi, is British.
The nation’s language, as much as the Asianist crowd may hate it, is English. English is the international language of science and technology. The major scientific journals, be they physics or medicine, are English language journals. Despite lip service about our Asian destiny that erupts from the orifices of ageing ex-prime ministers like bubbling toxic gas, English is also the language of world and Asian business. Learn an Asian language? I’ll learn one when Paul Keating and Mal (look up my name in a dictionary) Fraser learn two.
Our clothes are British in origin, not Asian, and even the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejab, wears a Western (i.e. British) suit, but rebels by wearing no tie. Our clothes are not those of the Australian Aborigine, however metaphysically enlightened and ecologically sensitive their culture may be, at least according to the sacred canons of politically correct secondary schooling.
What about sport and Australian culture? Australian Rules football may or may not have a British origin or connection, but cricket is English in origin, and nothing stirs up the blood of Australian cricket lovers like an Ashes match against England. To beat England is something of an eternal ritual of passage for Australia. But it is all good fun and an excuse to pour down our throats copious quantities of beer, a drink which was brought to Australia from the motherland. We drink our beer ice cold whilst the British like theirs warm, which may have something to do with the climate.
At Federation Australia ethno-racially was about 97 percent Anglo-Celtic, although there are debates about what exactly a “Celt” is. Let’s say 97 percent British. After World War II, Arthur Caldwell, Labour Minister for Immigration, and a blueprint for future politicians such as Paul Keating, scared the population with the cry of “populate or perish.” The idea here was that Australia needed a big population to deal with the coming threat of Asia, a taste of which was delivered by Japan in World War II. Thus while other countries learnt from World War II and understood the power of nuclear weaponry, Australia’s power elites developed a cargo cult mentality towards immigration. This became a new religion, which has spawned doctrines such as multiculturalism and Asianisation. The vast intake of non-British people since about 1947 has made us into, the elites say, a more exciting and rich culture. The metaphors used by them to describe this all are based on food, and the guzzling class love their rich fatty ethnic food and wine.
The food issue illustrates the deracination and deconstruction of the British people and culture which has occurred in recent decades. For example, media cook Jamie Oliver in his TV special, Great Britain: The West Country, travels through Britain to discover the dishes of his home country. But he starts the episode by saying that he doesn’t even know what it means to speak of British cooking because classic British dishes all come, according to him, from other countries. Thus, Oliver investigates the migrants who have the real dishes and culture and goes to Bristol to cook with a Jamaican chef. The subtext here is that the only real people in Britain are migrants and the native white people do not have a culture worth talking about. The same theme is pushed in a vast array of books and media.
People of Britain, including Australia, are being deracinated and dispossessed, by their own cultural elite. This may be the first time in history that this has happened without an outright invasion occurring, but then again maybe the invasion has been a quiet one and has already happened. British culture has given Australia everything worthwhile, but we now stand in danger of losing it all and ourselves as well. My generation, or that which is not brain-dead or brain-washed, will have to fight this or perish.
© Saxon Smith
2013 winning entry: “An older lady’s reflections (on an under recognised aspect) regarding the positive heritage of British culture in Australia“ by Llewella Jenkins, Queensland. Llewella Jenkins sheds a late-afternoon light on an almost forgotten ceremony. This celebration of a ritual that once helped bind together the world-wide British diaspora derives its charm from an understated certainty that small things matter.
An older lady’s reflections (on an under recognised aspect)
regarding the positive heritage of British culture in Australia
by Llewella Jenkins
What is it that has a civilising effect, is quietly reassuring and is quintessentially British? It has to be the traditional afternoon tea! As a young Aussie living in England I remember being a waitress at Fuller’s Tea Shop.
I wore a royal blue long sleeved uniform and a white apron with red polka dots.
It was my first job and I worked after school, at weekends and bank holidays to supplement my pocket money. I can still remember the heavy feeling of a pocket filled with threepenny bits and sixpences, my tips from serving old ladies their tea and cake … toast and cream cakes. It is hard to believe that I am now as old as they were, and with grand-daughters of my own serving fast food in an even faster world.
Sharing afternoon tea gives us an opportunity to socialize, sate hunger, gossip and sort out life’s problems. Through the inheritance of this custom it is also a reminder perhaps, from across the world, of what seems in retrospect, a kinder, slower and more gentle time.
We have either Charles II’s wife. Catherine of Borganza or Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, to thank for introducing afternoon snacks to tide us over until the evening meal. The formal afternoon tea ritual has since remained virtually unchanged since popularised in the 1840’s.
Nowadays it may involve use of the finest flower be-decked china, a three tiered cake stand complete with tasty morsels, silver pot and spoons and a small vase of pretty flowers all set out on a snowy white cloth. The food should start off with small warm savouries, a selection of ribbon sandwiches, scones, jam and clotted cream … then if you have room … bite sized delicious cakes! Tea from a pot and may I suggest an upsize, to a glass of champagne for the indulgent: now that’s a High Tea! A Palm Court string quartet playing discreetly in the background can only enhance a feeling of well-being.
Once, I crossed the world to Brook Street, Mayfair. Believing as I do, that a wicked witch swapped me at birth, I felt obliged to regain my rightful place, however briefly, for just such an experience at Claridges. I’d been shopping at Harrods with my sister, and High Tea seemed an appropriate decadent finale to our overseas trip. So the Teddy I had just bought sat with us in his own chair. I still remember the Art Decor interior, massive marble columns, the black and white chequered floor, the elegance and sheer beauty of our surroundings. Our waitress had noted we were Australian so brought out the pastry chef, creator of the mouthwatering treats. He came from Sydney! Our visit had been spontaneous but I see on the Claridges’ website bookings now must be made months in advance for this experience.
At the other extreme I have also been fortunate enough to travel across the harsh Australian outback where mile after red dusty mile creates a thirst for a different afternoon tea ritual: a smoko ‘bushman style’. (First boil your billy over an open fire, gumleaf optional, throw in a handful of tea leaves then swing it aloft for a couple of rotations.) Sit under the shade of the nearest tree, if you can find one, then watch the sun go down.
Whilst I gain immense aesthetic pleasure from my cup, plate and saucer collection, supplemented by discoveries from op shops and garage sales, I now find I am running out of room to create effective displays. Precious china overflows from the mirror-backed cabinet, trails down the passage on shelves and will soon reach the bathroom. The nearly best drawer in the kitchen stores some use-able pieces that won’t cause me too much distress in the likely event of being accidentally smashed by my heavy handed husband.
I enjoy preparing afternoon tea for my daughters, usually to celebrate their birthday. I have been known to prepare a special treat just for myself as I did to celebrate the Royal Wedding. High Tea for one, in front of the telly, dressed in my nightgown, with pearls and flower corsage. I didn’t want to miss a moment.
These days tea has become quite trendy with shops dedicated to selling hundreds of blends from around the world. I’m even branching out myself with herbal infusions and a newly acquired taste for aromatic and spicy chai. But nothing will ever beat a British cuppa!
© Llewella Jenkins
2014 saw two joint-winners: “A beacon of light in a sea of darkness“ by Jake Breheny, of Victoria, and “Reflections of British influence on Australian Literature” by Bridgett Leslie of Queensland. Highly commended was “British Heritage and the British People: Going, Going, Gone?” by J. Smith, of Adelaide.
A Beacon of Light in a Sea of Darkness
by Jake Breheny
“Men and women of Australia … we are at war with Japan. This is the gravest hour of our history. We Australians have imperishable traditions. We shall maintain them. We shall vindicate them. We shall hold this country and keep it as a citadel for the British-speaking race and as a place where civilisation will persist.”
— John Curtin
The hardest of rocks and tallest of mountains will be slowly eroded by the ever increasing tides which seek to engulf it.
Australia has long stood as a solitary British mountain amidst ever-expansive Asian plains. It has proudly and boldly held steadfast as a ‘citadel’ not only for the ‘British-speaking race’, but for its Anglo-Celtic pioneers, settlers and inhabitants. At the heart of the mountain lies a metaphorical gem — the common blood and ancestry of the British people. It is this which gives life to an otherwise indiscernible pile of rock. It is this civilization which must persist.
Australia may not be at war with Japan, but its identity is once again fast approaching one of the gravest hours in its history and a similar call-to-arms is long overdue. We are awash with tides of disregard for the Anglo-Australian people and culture, whilst the undercurrent acts like a rip – seeking to drag this identity deep down into the darkness, from which it may never resurface.
In order to plead for the preservation and reinvigoration of the British-Australian identity, one must first explore what constitutes Australian identity, for one often hears the cry from disingenuous Anglophobes that ‘Australia has no culture’. At its core, Australian culture and identity is Anglo-Celtic, and is not merely a subscription identity in which hordes of people from a myriad of creeds can sign up to through mere documentation. It is inexplicably intertwined with Britain, yet is peculiarly distinct. It is undeniably British, but has also taken on a character of its own not separate from Britishness.
At the outset of the Australian Nation, 1901, the architects of the constitution sought to enshrine the British-Australian identity. The preamble of the Constitution declares forthrightly, under the blessing of Almighty God, that colonies of Australia shall make a pact to form an indissoluble entity “Under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”. These Australian pioneers could not have envisioned Australia’s current free-fall from the British motherland. Australia was to inherit many and close to all beautiful facets of Britain: her parliamentary customs and traditions, her common law, her language, her gentlemanly and chivalrous virtues, her religion, her vigour for cultural preservation, and most importantly her people. This serves a dualistic function: it is the intricate backbone of the Australian ethno-cultural conscience, providing a British framework upon which everything Australian has been built, whilst simultaneously becoming the Anglo-Celtic ‘soul’ of the nation, pervading every facet of Australian life. Without this, Australia would transform into a soulless husk wandering the land of identity without a map.
There exists a major challenge to British-Australian identity. Many find that the idiosyncrasies of Australian cultural identity are difficult to reconcile with “Britishness”. The ANZAC Legend presents itself as perhaps the most obvious. It is a pillar of Australiana, the ﬁre from which Australia was forged. Many point to the apparent disdain held by the venerated digger for British command during the First and Second World Wars as the personification of Australia’s departure from Britishness. However, upon a close analysis, this is not absolutely irreconcilable with a British-Australian ethno-cultural conscience. Like a younger brother scorned, Australian soldiers yearned for and craved approval from their British compatriots. John Monash further propounded this sentiment, proudly declaring that “the people of England…are beginning to realize that the Australians are some of the best troops in the whole Empire…’ These sentiments are not those of next-door-neighbours-come-vicious-nemeses as one would see in the Balkans, or North East Asia.
Australians and Britons are kin. They share a motherland, yet one is a much more recent arrival into this world. We are of the same flesh and blood, sharing similar memories and histories. Like siblings, our fate is intertwined with one another. Just as a boy may feel a burning desire to prove his mettle to an older, more decorated brother, coupled with a feeling of an absence of adequate appreciation, there simultaneously exists a bond which cannot be destroyed by mere ambition and sibling-rivalry. It is this which determines that Australia’s history is not mutually exclusive from an overarching British-Australian one.
Like a lighthouse beacon shining in a sea of darkness, so Australia has stood as a welcome sight for all Britons in the South Seas of Asia and Oceania. Whilst the seas may be rising around us and our kin, one can hope that through affirmations of our British roots the tide shall be turned and the heart of the Australian mountain shall live on, allowing its beacon to shine brighter than ever before.
Reflections of British influence on Australian Literature
by Bridgett Leslie
When I was first introduced to Bridget Jones, she resonated with me. Like her, I was a shelved, single, thirty-something, living in a small apartment in London, with a group of equally single friends drifting hesitantly along. We laughed and cried with each other through the pages as I discovered how alike our middle class mannerisms were. Such is the power of story. One dives into the mind and body of a character and is transported through imagination into another world. Experiences with characters are real. We feel what they feel and speak as they do. The power of British story through the centuries has maintained a profound impact on Australian literary audiences.
Since I788, Australians have allowed British English to mentor the Australian English language. The richness of language is often an inward investment that allows human beings to communicate anything they imagine. Language gives expressions to intangible thought and makes the wealth of literature possible. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, British literary ideologies heavily ﬂooded Australian audiences and book markets. British literature reﬂects evolving British identity. Upon this rock, Australia started its literary world.
Australians have long enjoyed the depth of British literature through classics such as the Bronte Sisters, Charles Dicken even J .K. Rowlings in recent times. These authors are wordsmiths who entice emotion and action. The best of British literature can reduce you to a tearful mess or encourage you to belly-grabbing laughter. Good literature can make you travel. You roam as you wish through the Yorkshire moors with Emily Bronte. She takes you through one man’s yearning for the love he should never have. Charles Dickens entices you to rich philosophical heights through his journey with an orphaned boy, Oliver Twist. The reader is implored to mystic adventure through The Lord of the Rings with Tolkien. All of this is done through the genius of literature. Lest we forget Shakespeare who wooed us to romantic themes and A.A. Milne whose imagination brought Winnie the Pooh to life for children.
Whilst Australian literary tradition began with links to British literature, evolution occurred over time, weaving in domestic themes such as mateship, Aboriginality and democracy. Australia started off as a literature immigration movement and integrated cultural nationalism over time. Award winning Australian authors such as Rolf Boldrewood showed obvious British literature influences in novels such as Robbery under Arms. The excellence of Australian literature has its initial roots in a parent tree that has never ceased to produce good fruit in literary excellence.
Having a ﬁrm literary foundation on which to build meant that Australia could establish a publishing industry and launch the works of promising Australian writers. Publishing houses such as Penguin Australia and Random House now serve the literary community with various literary ﬂavours. It is interesting to note that even the Australian publishing industry has its roots in Britain. In the early l800’s Australia used to produce ﬁnished product of stories and texts in book form in Britain. Gradual reliance on British printing presses stopped between World War One and Two. Of course, commercial British interest maintained its presence in a booming Australian market. Present day, Australia maintains a differentiated industry, with a structured existence of distinctive ﬁelds.
There is also another noble, humanitarian aspect to British influence on Australian literature. British women fought to become literate in emerging modernistic times, creating a ripple effect on Commonwealth countries. In the years leading up to the First World War, the British militant campaign attracted Australian Women to its feminist revolution. Australian suffragettes learnt from the experiences of the British Suffrage movement and did what they could to effect changes.1 Vida Goldstein, a famous Australian Suffragette, became involved in the ways of her British sisterhood. Together with her fellow feminist ﬁghters she distributed pamphlets outlining their grievances as well as their campaign. She was also deeply involved in helping her British sisterhood advance. Through literacy, suffragettes Worked towards the improvement of child health as well as becoming economically empowered members of society. Today, Australian women enjoy the beneﬁts of the combined ﬁght. We are much further than we were because of their bravery.
Whenever we consider British history, we have to consider its ruling inﬂuence on Commonwealth nations such as Australia. British influence on Australian literature is obvious and lasting. Britain has acted as teacher to Australia. A good teacher gives the student a foundation and instructs the student on expansion thereof. Australia’s growing and influential literary world proves that Britain has been a good teacher. Though accents divide us, our similarities in literature unite us. Now that’s a very good foundation for a literary friendship. In the spirit of mateship, let us continue to inﬂuence each other’s literary works with positive inﬂuence.
Australian Suffragettes, Retrieved from http:/ / australia.gov.au_/ about-australia/australian-story/austn-suffragettes
2015 saw the return to a single prize-winner, Tasmania’s Bryan of Blidworth. The judges commended Bryan’s engagement with the smaller, everyday continuities of British culture that link us back to the days of the Anglo-Saxon hall – which of course is the centrepiece of our earliest literature, such as Beowulf.
The positive heritage of British culture in Australia
by Bryan of Blidworth
I’m a first generation Australian; my father is English, from Nottinghamshire and he came to Australia as a post-war (WW2) 10 pound POM. I lived in the U.K. for a few years as a young adult exploring the world, before returning to Australia.
When I think of the positive heritage of British Culture, I think of the less tangible, but all important cultural traits that I, and many others whose cultural roots are British, share in common. These are age-old customs, traditions and character strengths, traits you can count on when you meet a Britisher, and it’s instantly recognisable: strong and comforting.
When you meet someone for the first time, and you get a solid, strong handshake, looking someone in the eye, it’s a sign of respect, the start of a social bond. Hand-shakes, as a cultural act, are an inherently British form of expression, hailing from our Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse forebears. The Norse sealed bargains with a hand shake, as we still do. When we shake hands, we “shake-on-it”, seal a bargain, give our word as our bond. Amongst the Scots, the expression of genuine friendship is to clasp the hand and embrace the friend, saying, ‘There’s my heart, there’s my hand’. It’s an expression of mutual respect, loyalty, steadfastness. It’s an instant mutual recognition that you can trust this person, you know where you stand.
An increasingly disappearing, but nonetheless important, legacy of our British heritage, is the pub. When you’re in such a place, you are among friends. It’s an extension of the lounge room at home; it harks back to the Anglo-Saxon hall. It’s a place of community, where the social fabric is unpicked and rewoven. Where news, views, stories are exchanged, and one of the few strongest places where British culture can thrive.
Pubs have been polluted by gambling, pokies, keno, big screens and artificial, rip-off commercialism and ugly paraphernalia. A good pub relies on the quality of its food, music, and ale, to bring the community into a safe place. This is the village pub; you see it still in rural Australia, and in some out of the way corners of our cities. It’s the communal trophy cabinet, where grandad’s name is on a darts trophy, where games hailing from Anglo-Saxon times, like skittles, and bait-the-bull, chess and draughts are still played. It’s a repository of local culture, where everyone can tell you who caught the fish mounted on the wall, or who won the quiz last week. It’s a place where the age old British hospitality to strangers and travellers is still offered and gratefully received.
In the short space I have left to spare, I also want to write about the positive heritage of the British in Australia, when it comes to mend-and-make do, and to carry on with a stiff upper lip.
The hipsters of 10 minutes ago try to tell us to recycle, as if it’s a new idea. Every generation of working English families has inherited the skills and ideas and practices of ‘re-use, re-purpose, recycle’, from the generation before. From the experience of living through lean times, through many ‘home fronts’, of depressions and world wars, back to before the industrial revolution, before mass production and cheap imports, the English are past-masters at the art of looking after what you have, and making, re-using, re-recycling everything else. There is a continuity here that I experience every day. My veggie garden and chook pen is no different from the ‘Dig for Victory’ garden of my grandparents and great grandparents. (My great grandfather lost his fore-arm fighting at the Somme in WW1, and had a wooden hand and a mechanical jaw so he could still dig his garden with a spade!) I’d go even further, and say that tradition of Australian men having a shed in the backyard, where things are mended, made and fixed, comes from our British heritage, from the tenacity and ingenuity of the English to make, it, mend it, get on with the job and do it well. The things we make and do are a reflection of our people. We are decent, good quality, purposeful, inventive, reliable, honest, resilient and made to last. May the heritage of the English continue in Australia for generations to come.
The judges for 2016 commended Tasmania’s Heidi Townsend on her atmospheric evocation of the transforming effects of British settlement on the landscape of her region. They felt this depiction was firmly within the English pastoral tradition without being in any way over-drawn.
From Acorns to Oaks
by Heidi Townsend
In late autumn the air here has a distinctive chill. The hedgerows are heavy with hawthorn berries, the apple trees are losing their leaves. Around me there are fields of pasture, slowly recovering from the heat of summer, becoming green once again.
Ayrshire cows graze nearby, one of the many British cattle breeds in Australia, brought here generations ago by a settler who wished for the cows of his homeland. Down the road we sometimes see Scottish Highland cattle with their shaggy coats and aurochs-like horns, Herefords in small herds raised for beef, Dexters from Ireland and the unmistakable black Angus, growing fat on large fields of grass, the favourite beef breed of many Australians. The animals here are indistinguishable from their ancestors in the British Isles because of the care taken by our ancestors to keep the breeds true to type, as a memory of the animals of home, of the regional idiosyncrasies of the old country that many now take for granted. The Wessex saddleback pig is easily found here, but is now extinct in Britain.
Driving down the road there are English oak trees, strong and silent, which must be over two hundred years old, for this is an old part of the country, where the first British settlers arrived, acorns in hand, to plant these oaks. The earliest settlers may never have seen the shade of these trees, but their children, grandchildren, and many generations ahead can now look up at these trees and remember. To see them standing, proud and strong, brings me to reflect on the courage of those first settlers, who arrived in a harsh, unknown landscape, separated from their homeland by great distance, a long and dangerous sea voyage behind them.
Great tracts of land were claimed. Humble cottages quickly built. Wells were dug and water was hauled from the rivers – the lifeblood of the harsh summers to sustain life in the animals, bringing life to the first seeds sown and the first crops grown. Lessons were learnt about how to adapt our agricultural traditions to a different climate and different soils. Isolated farms, separated by vast distances from others would have to provide for themselves. There was no choice but to endure.
Old roads were formed, winding along the countryside. We can drive along them today and look upon the poplars, oaks and elms lining them. Sometimes we’ll pass by an old bridge, constructed by hand out of large stones, built to endure, superior to any bridge built today not only in strength but in appearance. We have an atmosphere of old Australia on these roads, of the best qualities of the British people brought to a new land, to forge ahead, to build something from nothing, to form something of their own in a vast wilderness.
Separated from the British Isles by many wild seas, detached from all lifelines and supplies there, the settlers fought against the odds to put down roots in this new land. Thousands of hawthorn hedges were laid, carefully tended, to form dense stands, protecting the stock from furious winds, and the crops from marauding animals, establishing boundaries between the new homeland and the wild lands beyond. These early settlers have a great strength we can all look up to and aspire to.
This strength continued as we suffered through all manner of strife over the years, through wars and the loss of many of our best. There was nothing we could do but forge ahead, and approach the unknown future with the same courage our ancestors had in the past, for their blood flows in our veins, their memories in our hearts.
Many of the settlers did not arrive of their own free will. Rather than dwelling on the tragedy involved, they got on with their lives, forged ahead, made this land their own. A kind of meritocracy emerged in some places, and those with the will to succeed were rewarded. Many Australians are descended from these convicts. Maybe it’s our tradition of the stiff upper lip, maybe it’s our common sense, but we don’t wail and whine about the tragedies of our ancestors, we forge ahead, their courage alive in our veins.
Autumn leaves and acorns drop from the old oak trees, the leaves cover the earth, decomposing to bring new life to the tree. Some acorns will grow into new trees, and in the distant future maybe they too will be great oaks to be revered. These oaks and their yearly cycle can be seen as a symbol of our British heritage. Planted as acorns in a distant land, against all odds, they continue to endure and inspire.
May their cycle continue. May new oaks spring from these great trees, to forge ahead in this land, with health, vigour, and ancestral strength in their roots.
2017’s winning entry is “Time for Pride (Again)” by Jade Hawkins of Geelong, Victoria. Jade’s encapsulation of the unity, vigour and optimism of the international Anglo-Celtic diaspora during the Victorian era is remarkable, given the tight word-limit of the BAC Award.
Time for Pride (Again)
by Jade Hawkins
Some of us are old enough to have had grandparents who were alive when the British Empire was at its peak. Back then it covered a ﬁfth of the world’s land and embraced a quarter of the earth’s population.
British subjects, including Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians, were then protected by the most daunting naval fleet of the time, and were able to travel almost anywhere without “let or hindrance”.
On those sad occasions when war could not be avoided, the overwhelming power of the imperial navy often allowed conﬂict to be resolved with a minimum of suffering. For instance, the shortest war in recorded history took place on the 27th of August 1896, between Britain and Zanzibar. The British fleet under Rear-Admiral Rawson ordered the local Sultan to quit his palace and surrender. When he failed to obey, the ﬂeet opened ﬁre at 9.02 am. Just 38 minutes later, at 9.40 am, the war was over.
Military might was not the only reason for Britons, wherever they lived. to be proud. The Victorian era saw the ﬂourishing of an astounding range of British genius in almost every ﬁeld of human endeavour.
Many of the great statesmen of the period are still honoured by place- and street-names, so that it is difﬁcult to travel in any English-speaking country without being reminded of Lords Melbourne, Palmerston, Beaconsﬁeld, Russell, Salisbury or Gladstone. The deeds of these men may be largely forgotten today, but they were giants compared with the heads of state of modern English-speaking nations.
Literature also ﬂourished during the reign of Queen Victoria. A list of great Victorian poets would only begin with Tennyson, Arnold, the Brownings, Swinburne, Hopkins, Housman and Kipling. Equally, among prose writers, there are few readers today who haven’t been touched by Darwin, Dickens, Thackeray, Carlyle, Ruskin, Bronte, Eliot or Hardy.
The visual arts of the Victorian period are only now coming to be appreciated again after decades of ofﬁcial neglect. Fairness to the sheer quantity and diversity of talent would make any list of outstanding painters and sculptors too long for the space available here.
Inventors, scientists, and engineers abounded, people whose pioneering achievements the world relies on today. Without the discoveries of Michael Faraday, Lord Kelvin, William Crookes, or Graham Bell, to name a few, our lives would be so much poorer.
It was a glittering period, larger than life, and yet constantly seeking improvement. For instance. while there were inequalities and injustices, many of the subsequent reform movements gained their strongest impetus about a hundred years ago. The Colonies and Dominions shared fully in the adventure of the time. All citizens of the Empire seemed to be marching forward together, and the centre didn’t always lead the way. Women, for instance, first received the vote in New Zealand.
The more backward regions under British administration also beneﬁted from being part of the Empire. Even India enjoyed great progress due to internal peace and new roads, railways, canals, sanitation systems and so on.
Despite prejudice against this period during much of the 20th century, it should come as no surprise that when Queen Victoria proceeded in state to St Paul’s Cathedral for her Diamond Jubilee, she was escorted by the Premiers of all the chief colonies, and a magniﬁcent array of British, Indian and Colonial troops. As Queen of a united people, her Jubilee was celebrated with unbounded joy throughout at least the Anglo-Celtic parts of the Empire.
Flash forward to 1996, when English writer Peter Hitchens compared the British today to a hospital patient with amnesia, having “suffered a collective blow on the head which has wiped out our understanding of who we are and what we are for.” He warned that “Unless we swiftly ﬁnd a cure, then we will be adrift in a world only too ready to take advantage of our weakness.” 1 His answer was to cultivate a deeper knowledge of and pride in our past.
The malaise diagnosed by Hitchens seems to be common to English-speaking peoples, whether we live in the UK, Canada Australia, New Zealand, or even the US. Perhaps it is time for all people of British Isles origin, wherever we were born, to take a ﬂesh look at the Victorian period – when we were united, proud, innovative, knew where we had come from and where we were heading, and gave so much to the rest of the world.
l. Peter Hitchens, ‘Why are we so ashamed of our glorious past?’ The international Express, 26/6/96
In 2018 the judges decided to reward two entries and thus there are two joint winners. We were impressed by Kate Downham’s pioneering exploration of the need for wilderness in the British soul. Equally, Ulf emphasises the proclivity of British people to create thriving societies in harsh and hostile environments. These differing views are complimentary, like the two sides of a coin.
The Need for Wilderness in British and Australian Tradition
by Kate Downham
Long before the days of high speed travel, satellite imagery and internet communication, the British Isles consisted mostly of small villages surrounded by wild lands, mystery, and the potential of danger. The concept of innangard and útangard were a strong part of Anglo-Saxon spiritual tradition and ethics, where the family farm or the village would be the physical innangard centre of their lives. Outside this innangard was the unknown, the mysterious ‘other’ that in a later period became the focus of many folk songs involving tinkers, gypsies, highwaymen, and wanderers.
These romantic visions of the outside world continued into the age of exploration. Stories emerged from the mysterious land in the south of the world, of black swans, hopping animals with pouches, and other strange creatures. Visions were related of endless spaces and dreamlike landscapes from the twisting branches of the eucalypt, the red soils of the arid inland, joyful wattle flowers, fertile rainforests, and beautiful beaches. Folk songs continued, warning any wrongdoers that they would end up in Van Diemen’s Land, far away from their friends and families.
With the urbanisation of England, as the old farm and cottage based economies began to be replaced by factories and globalisation, the healthy and varied lives of past workers were replaced by drudgery, becoming interchangeable cogs in factory machines. Life in the distant colonies, with fresh air and a wealth of opportunities, began to have enough appeal for many to leave their homelands in search of a healthier life.
Cities began to emerge in Australia, and with this came the yearning once again for mysterious lands beyond. When Banjo Patterson wrote of his ‘dingy little office’ in the ‘dusty, dirty city’ it could be any city in the world, but the semi-wild lands where Clancy of the Overflow is shearing and droving are uniquely Australian, where the Anglo soul is free to live outdoors once again.
In the early novels of Henry Williamson’s A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight the character of Richard Maddison often regrets not having moved to Australia when he had the chance. His London life of mundane office work, polluted air and commuting on congested trains is contrasted with the appeal of farm work in Australia, where there was the opportunity for those in overpopulated Britain to return to the land once more.
Film Australia’s Life in Australia documentaries made to entice ‘ten pound poms’ to move to Australia in the 1960s depict a healthy Anglo society with work in familiar industries balanced by natural light, space, outdoor activities, relaxed lives and friendly faces. To watch these documentaries now can bring on a melancholy mood, as this idyllic Australia from fifty years ago seems to no longer exist. The average Australian on the street no longer appears to be the healthy and friendly face of the 1960s videos, but more akin to Banjo Patterson’s ‘pallid faces’ that ‘shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste’.
‘Clancy of the Overflow’ was first published in 1889, but the description of the city reads as though it could have been written today. Could it be that ‘their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy, For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste’ has simply been what always happens when anyone become polluted with city air and the values of the merchants? Or is it only some of us who appreciate the bushland and countryside?
Later in Henry Williamson’s A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight Phillip Maddison, the son of Richard Maddison is given the chance to move to Australia. He imagines what it would be like to be in a strange land without the English wildlife and English soil and chooses to stay in England. For those of us who have grown up in Australia, the Antipodean flora and fauna has become familiar and homely, the wattle blooms and subtle changing hues of the forest throughout the year stir joy in the heart. The lively birdsongs are now familiar, yet the wild lands beyond may still bring to mind the forests of long ago, the mysterious ‘other’ that inspired many sentiments in folk songs.
In Tasmania it is possible to walk for an entire month without seeing any other person or sign of civilisation. Even in England, before the motorways began to weave their way through almost every part of the land, the wild lands beyond the village would only last so long before a new village was encountered. Australia might well give us the wild lands that British folk need for a revival of songs and art forms. An American writer once said ‘Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread’. Could it be that with the destruction of the wilderness, as politicians from all sides prize growth and money above all else, that something we deeply need and have travelled over oceans to find is being destroyed?
Australia: a British Legacy, a British Jewel
In 1606 the Dutch ship Duyfken was the first recorded landing of Europeans on the Australian continent and island. This event would change the course of the continent’s history. Although Willem Janszoon, the captain of the Duyfken, only explored Western Australia, it would lead the way for the most important event in Australian history, the landing of the British in Sydney some 170 years later. This event which would shape the very destiny of Australia, born from the hardest of necessities and injustices in the British Isles, would result in a Nation-state unlike any other. Australia, although inhabited by Aborigines for supposedly anywhere between 40 thousand and 80 thousand years, had produced no homogeneous, unified, or productive societies. It wasn’t until James Cook landed in what is now known as Botany Bay in 1770 on the ship Endeavour that the fate of the Great Australian nation and people would begin to form. In this essay I will discuss the positive impacts of British culture on Australia and Australians.
The course of this nation would have been significantly different if the Dutch had decided to colonise this land mass. Instead, dissuaded by the harsh and unforgiving landscape that presented them in Western Australia, they decided it was too difficult and therefore not worth the trouble. However, given that the British empire was in desperate need for space for its overflowing prisons – and the inability for Great Britain to send their convicts to the Americas due to the American War of Independence – there was no other British option than the Great Island in the south. The combination of necessity and British stoicism led to the establishment of a colony in Australia. That same stoicism would shape the very psyche of Australians.
The tenacity that we are known for is a product of the British disposition. The Australian temperament, although moulded by the environment, is indistinguishable from that of the British. It is this same temperament that has allowed the first British Australians to survive and even flourish in such a harsh environment as Australia. This is evident in the historical record. Faced with the long journey home, and lacking even a basic appreciation for opportunity, the Dutch decided to leave. The British saw the harsh landscape, knew it would be difficult, but persevered with tenacity and stoicism and seized on the potential opportunity and risk of settling Australia. The result is that Australia became a nation known the world around for not only its natural beauty but its thriving and high-function society.
The British – among other things such as innovation and technological excellence – are civilisation builders. The British empire at its height was one of the largest empires the world has known. But its military might wasn’t the truly amazing element of this great empire. It was its ability to engineer societies in places that previously had either no society or merely primitive civilisations. This notion is more important than is initially realised until analysed further. The idea that a people predisposed to building thriving societies in harsh environments, when some are not is an indicator of the type of values and morals that a people are made of. Not only morals, but the very fabric of their genetics.
Why are the British diaspora spread around the world and responsible for creating stable, productive societies while others are not? It is a question of genetics. The British pursuit for innovation is a result of their biological make up.
Australians cannot be removed from this, as we share the same genetics. Our culture, customs, food, language are all products of our genetic attachment to the British peoples. Our desire to strive through adversity as much as the above listed elements is linked to this common ancestry: a shared blood which In turn influences our perceptions, our goals, values and ethics and inevitably the outcome that we desire for our people.
The Great Australian nation could not have been if it were not for a Great Empire, the British Empire. But the Empire existed because a people acted with the same purpose towards a common goal. A product of this shared commonality, of which blood plays a pivotal role, is Australia. Through inconceivable hardship our pioneers endured and persisted and built what is arguably one of the most successful societies today, all of which only took 200 years to produce. This feat is a testament to those people, their values, their mentality and their ancestry; an ancestry I belong to, a nation I call home. That nation is Australia; that nation is the sum achievement of my people; that is a British legacy, a British jewel.