A vision splended
Ronald Conway once wrote, "the soul of the Australian is a starving captive in a dungeon created by generations of either not caring, or dreading to show care". A very harsh comment indeed, yet it is the view of many of our writers, poets and film makers. D.H. Lawrence, a rather famous visitor to Thirroul in southern New South Wales, wrote that he observed in Australia "the disintegration of social mankind back to the elements". So, what reasons do these observers of the Australian psyche give for our demise?
First, many writers observe that we have failed to cope with our origins. We still behave as a group of servile convicts - petty thieves and bullies. We are still governed that way and we respond to authority as if it were still true.
Second, many writers observe that we have failed to cope with our environment. "If you call the land a bride, she's the sort of bride not many of us are willing to tackle. She drinks your sweat and your blood, and then as often as not lets you drown, does you in." The land is something we feel we must tame, must break, and yet so often she breaks us.
So here we are, the children of Europe, transported to an ancient land, slowly degenerating into a primitive people. To keep up the pretense of society we promote a superficial mateship. We avoid "self-examination in adolescent geniality and the Australian art of knocking". When that fails we resort to mind deadening booze. From the security of the costal urban sprawl we dream of the Aussie bush while it disappears before our very eyes.
Did our 20th Century Australian prophets put their finger on the problem, or did they over-egg it somewhat? We are certainly a people with a mighty inner emptiness doing everything possible to hide it. We are ineffective in human relationships, unable to touch each other, unable to be open and sensitive. We are insecure, at one moment fawning and servile in the face of authority and at the next, cynical at best, destructive at worst. In our grasp for meaning we find only emptiness, an emptiness salved to some degree by mateship and the mystic bush.
The "pub rail", says Manning Clark, "is the only communion rail to Australian men." Even so, our hope still lies in the words of Jesus, "I come that you might have life and have it more abundantly."