Mad dogs and Englishmen


I have a photo of my father and mother at their lavender farm at Exeter in the Southern Highlands, South of Sydney. During the war years my father's perfumery factory couldn't import French lavender oil, so his company purchased a property at Exeter to grow lavender. What with the Japanese invasion scare, they decided to live there away from the danger. That's why I was born at Bowral Hospital. In the photo my father is wearing a genuine pith helmet. I still have that pith helmet, specially designed to protect the wearer from the sun's infernal rays, which it was believed, could induce madness. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, and even then, only Englishmen with their pith helmets.

Australians, Aussies or Skipps, inherit more from the Poms than the pith helmet. The theory is that we take the best of our transported culture, meld it with the best of other cultures and end up light brown - we learn from you and you learn from us. Anyway that's the theory. So other than the pith helmet, what did the English give us?

There are numerous descriptions of the English, but the following sums up their character:

    i] Social cohesion - a sense of togetherness;

    ii] eccentricity - individualism;

    iii] Inquisitiveness - the eternal search for truth;

    iv] A sense of voluntary service - working for the common good;

    v] Gentlemanly code of behavior - do the right thing;

    vi] Eternal boyishness - the spirit of Peter Pan.

If these qualities do sum up the character of an Englishman, sexist though they may be, to what extent have we taken them into the Australian psyche? I think eccentricity and eternal boyishness are not Australian. We don't easily handle people who are different to ourselves, nor do we like behavior that is less than masculine. Our harsh beginnings and the tough land probably see to that. Social cohesion, yes, but multiculturalism and the formation of ethnic ghettos have put an end to that idea. Inquisitiveness, yes, but we don't have the time for much of it. Voluntary service, yes once, but now we tend to get in for our cut while there is something left. Do the right thing, yes once, but now it is say the right thing. Political correctness is far more highly regarded.

There is one other thing the English gave us and that is the Christian faith. We learnt about Jesus, even if he did have blond hair and blue eyes - "gentle Jesus meek and mild." "Jesus loves me yes I know...." Oh yes, and we did learn about church attendance. "The English love their church, they just don't attend it much."