Page images

discerning when to 'get out from under' in a crisis. Barring Mr Ryan, the only parliamentary figures separately visible in 1920 are men of 1910—Mr Hughes, Mr Pearce, Mr Wise (sole survivor of the old Deakinites), occasionally Mr Millen, and Mr Anstey. The war years merely brought to light the inadequacy of the new blood, which had no background to its mind, and, on whichever side of the House it sat, contributed little but froth to the debates. One thing alone seems to stand between Australia and the rule (when the men of 1910 have gone) of sheer unintelligent parochialism-a contingent of good soldiers just returned to the Senate, who may be stimulated by the futility of their present surroundings to master the party machines as they mastered German designs, and may thus plant themselves later in the House of Representatives as a rallying-point for the friends of sober and sensible administration.

From at least one point of view it was fortunate that the expulsions came when they did. The pretensions of the annual Conferences grew, as we have seen, steadily from 1913 onwards, and by 1916 had reached a critical point. Each year Conference critics attacked the various Labour Ministries, as was to be expected; and some of the Ministries were weak enough to fear the attacks. In 1916 the Premier of New South Wales, Mr W. A. Holman, actually proffered his resignation, not to the Governor as a result of Conference attacks, but to the Conference itself-apparently acknowledging it as the body to which he as Premier was responsible. The difficulties in this particular case were eventually smoothed over, and the resignation was withdrawn; but the Conference had tasted blood, and its successors (as Mr Storey can testify) were quite ready to assume the position thrown open to them. But for the split over Conscription, Australia might have found her representative system of government surreptitiously replaced by an adaptation of the Soviet system. As it is, power passed from the hands of those who were illegitimately grasping at it; the Ministers they hoped to dominate preferred expulsion and sought new, if somewhat uncomfortable, allies; in the general turmoil Australia discovered that class-consciousness,' and 'One Big Union,' and the whole rubbish-basket of such phrases




really concealed a definite and a very dangerous idea. Then the common sense that lies at the back of most Australian minds, and has saved many a situation in Eboth war and politics, resumed control. The Australian Workers' Union, the most powerful in the Commonwealth, scathingly denounced the One Big Union; the electors, first in New South Wales and then in the Commonwealth at large, backed with big majorities the ex-Labour Ministries; and the definitive verdict was perhaps pronounced when, as a result of the two Federal 1 elections of 1917 and 1920, the new Labour found itself represented in the Senate by one member out of 36. For Australia in its senses is above all things anti-extremist, and repudiates the Bolshevist (when it discovers him) as energetically as it ejects the reactionary.

This does not, of course, mean that peace and harmony between opposing political or industrial factions is within sight, or likely to appear in any reasonably near future. Occasionally, as was said earlier in these pages, the Australian evinces an almost French taste for logic. More often he harks back to his British ancestry, and, having established a principle in some big affair, proceeds to deal with smaller matters quite irrespective of that or any other principle. Sincere advocates of industrial arbitration may for all that favour a strike when it seems the shorter way home. Direct Action,' anathema as a principle, may take the disguise of virtue as an expedient. Illegality is certainly an objection to be taken into account, but a minor objection. For in this the Australian is neither French nor British, but purely himself—that he has no worship for law as such. The Englishman, born into a long-settled country, whose government in all its branches is packed with precedents, is essentially law-abiding. If he chooses to disobey the law, he feels that he is in revolt, doing something exceptional and daring, even heroic. When he hears that other men of his own race are disregarding laws they themselves have made, he feels that they are revolting; he classes them as unreliable, dangerous, 'un-British.' But the Australian was born into, and has been brought up in, a country of quite another sort. He is still dealing with the raw material, not the finished article. His country is not fenced in; if there is a tree across the

road, he drives round it, making a new track through the bush, without any anxiety about trespassing. Similarly he has little sense of tradition. He has not yet learnt to care much for past history, or to understand from what deep-reaching roots his latest flowers draw their sap. A law for him is not the temporary culmination of an age-long process, but rather an experimental summary of ephemerally existing conditions. He made it for practical use, and is in no way loth to scrap' it if it does not fit exactly to that use, or to throw it aside for the time while he tries another instrument.

This attitude, of course, creates its own risks. It was not because representative government was in danger that sober Labour men repudiated the authority of the Conference, or the Workers' Union rejected the 'One Big Union.' Parliament is not so excellent an instrument of government that any Australian would uphold it for its own sweet sake. Any substitute that offered greater advantages would be tried without much hesitation. But neither the narrow cliques that controlled the Conference nor the ambitious and swollen-headed officials who hoped to control the One Big Union

appealed to the average citizen as an improvement, and for that reason—a little reluctantly, because he would have welcomed a change-he decided against them. Similarly, when the legal mechanism of industrial arbitration failed to act promptly in a crisis-partly because technical difficulties connected with the Federal Constitution were urged against it by the High Court, under the influence of an able but very conservative Chief Justice-it was not only the aggrieved workmen who evaded the law and sought relief in striking; the Prime Minister himself, an ardent champion of arbitration, devised extra-legal means of getting work resumed, and invaded the sphere of the Arbitration Court by appointing Commissions to investigate miners' and seamen's grievances and to discover the true 'basic wage' in these days of rising prices and lowered currency values.

While, therefore, the Labour discontents and Bolshevist propaganda and the vague undirected surges

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

*Bolshevist' is used as a convenient nickname for the desire of halfeducated or fanatical extremists to replace what they believe to be a 'capitalist' tyranny by an indisputable tyranny of the proletariat.

[ocr errors]

of unrest that seem to be now affecting the whole world are all represented in Australia, the particular phenomena which Europe, misled by newspaper talk and the alarm of reactionaries, is apt to take for symptoms of a widespread imminent revolution are of much less importance and hardly at all dangerous. As has been said already, the Australian instinctively goes straight across country to his goal, and is not troubled by fear of trespassing; and to that extent he is admittedly a nuisance to the landowner; but it does not follow that he is a menace to society. He is not wandering at large, or with a destructive intent; he wants to reach the township, not to burn down the wool-shed on his way thither. He is, as has just been hinted, badly misrepresented by two agencies—the soi-disant Labour press, which for reasons too intricate to discuss here is almost wholly in the hands Br of extremists, and the reactionary press and politicians, ttoo unintelligent to discern his motives even if they were unbiassed enough to scrutinise them fairly. But, though the old Labour party is gone, its spirit continues to animate the mass of its former adherents-that is, of the men and women who, by whatever political name they called themselves, both in 1910 and in 1914 put Mr Fisher and his friends in power. Their political objectives are still defined in terms of the fair deal' and of comradeship, not of any Marxian or Leninite dogma. Their active sympathy is for the 'small man' against anything that looks like undue dominance of money-owners or landowners or men with a political pull.' More especially-and this, one thinks, is a particularly Australian touch-their ideal is leisure rather than wealth; their demands for short hours and high overtime pay indicate not, as in some countries, a wish to earn money more quickly at overtime rates, but a marked objection to overtime work at any rates.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

This, be it remembered, is an explanation, not an excuse. For any one accustomed to the methods and motives of British or European or American workers the employment of Australians must be a perpetual and frequently irritating series of surprises-as, from all accounts, was the behaviour of Australian troops during the war to British officers who did not understand the type. For isolation (and Australia, even in these days

of rapid communication, is remarkably isolated) may improve the breed and clarify thought, but it minimises experience and deprives self-centred communities of valuable standards. With the best intentions, the Australian is apt both to undervalue customs and institutions whose origin and use he does not immediately comprehend, and to repeat amateurishly and without guidance experiments long since made and correctednot to say abandoned. Indeed, one of the most interesting features of Australian life to an English observer is the exactitude with which it reproduces conditions and events two thousand years past and ten thousand miles away.

This, at any rate, is for the present the surest guide to an understanding of things Australian-that the Anzac, the 'Digger,' in his best and worst qualities alike, is a fair type of his fellow-countrymen. The Commonwealth, like most other countries just now, has its proportion of agitators and fanatics and loose-thinking, emotional phrasemongers. Not by them, however, is the mass of Australians influenced beyond a casual moment now and then. To interpret in terms of European mob-philosophy the industrial unrest of Sydney or Melbourne leads to hopelessly wrong conclusions; the advice of certain socalled Labour politicians and the vapourings of the Labour press may sometimes be so interpreted, but not the common action of any large section of the community.

That consideration leads us directly to the second stage of this article. For among the resources of the Commonwealth that may be of notable value to the Empire its men stand out prominently. Faults and all, the Anzac was a clear gain to British strength; and the chief difference between the Anzac on the battle-field and his mates left in Australia, because they were either too young or unfit for the strain of fighting or more useful at home (the comparatively few real 'slackers' were no mates of his, but mostly recent immigrants from alien lands) the chief difference, it may safely be said, lay in his newly-acquired experience and their lack of it. His habit of mind, his initiative, versatility, independence of thought, intolerance of unexplained discipline (but



« PreviousContinue »