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 lavender oil from France, 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 the 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 the Englishmen, of course, with his pith helmet.

Australians, Aussies or Skipps, have inherited 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:

Social cohesion - a sense of togetherness;

eccentricity - individualism;

Inquisitiveness - the eternal search for truth;

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

Gentlemanly code of behavior - do the right thing;

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 very 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 in this tough land probably sees 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's say the right thing; political correctness is of greater worth.

There is one other thing the English gave which is of great value. No, it's not colonialism, or a racism shaped by moral Darwinism, both rightly viewed as major evils today, but rather the Christian faith. Our anglo heritage taught us about Jesus, even if he did have blond hair and blue eyes - "Jesus loves me yes I know...." Oh yes, and we did learn about church attendance. "The English love their churches, but they just don't attend them much."


[Pumpkin Cottage]