Judges’ comments: 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 (Victoria)
“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.
© Jake Breheny, 2014.