When I was quite young, and I heard for the first time the cry of “The King is dead, long live the King!”… I was confused … how can the king live long if he is already dead?…But of course, well … you know the logic of that old saying with out me saying it.
And just as the new King replaced that deceased King, so too must we replace the old dead Australian culture with a new one … just as a language will absorb sounds and words from another tongue and “convert” them into common words of the dominant language, so too must we allow our culture to do the same..to innovate..to change.
It is why the English language has become so flexible and widely spoken … this absorption and adoption cannot and should not be stopped..just as the death and birth of cultures ought not be stalled … to do so can see a language die … as Ancient Greek has died and so to has Latin as a spoken language. In truth, those ancient languages never were the true language of the people..most speaking a mixture of Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern/Asiatic dialects … the pure, grammatical Greek and Latin was restricted to the elite ruling classes and academics.
Nevertheless the Greek nation with all that it had possessed – with its nationality, its language, its art–belonged to the past.It was only in a comparatively narrow circle not of men of culture–for such, strictly speaking, no longer existed – but of men of erudition that the Greek literature was still cherished even when dead; that the rich inheritance which it had left was inventoried with melancholy pleasure or arid refinement of research; and that, possibly, the living sense of sympathy or the dead erudition was elevated into a semblance of productiveness. (Mommsen; The History of Rome).
The tragedy of any society is for it to lock itself into a stagnant situation of cultural growth. This happens with the creation of an “industry” around a favoured era of the nation’s history … a false reality, a twisted jingoism is created with a romantic view of what existed and of what happened in that epoch. We saw this with the Menzies era after the second world war, when conservative governments went all out promoting the “Anzac Spirit”, with special day celebrations and marches … Returned service people leagues and institutions holding a falsely elevated and powerful social position in the community and even their heads of office like Bruce Ruxton drawing up political policy for the government … When all the time the last of the old culture of the “Bronzed Anzac” had died on the brutal battlefields or prisoner of war camps in Burma, Thailand or Singapore. There is no illusion any more of the stolid, manly returned soldier … All were wounded, all were hurt … just that everything was done to hide away from the public eyes those whose wounds were so obvious or whose pain was most visible.
The notion of an Empire “on which the sun will never set” has created a romantic illusion of the Victorian era of English monarchy: A time in reality of brutal management of earlier colonisation. This illusion was formulated and maintained in Australia up to the second world war … by then, following on from the great depression, any illusion of a Greater British Empire could only be maintained with blind faith and a fiercely selective reporting of worshipping propaganda … the beast was already dead, but because of the political need for conservative dominance, a kind of bizarre “dance” was performed around regular appearances of the Royal Family in the colonies and by all those status class-leeches that depended on them … a weird dance of necromancing the ancient rites of aristocracy and class privilege. And along with this black magic of public adoration and worship, there was the Menzies era of metaphorical necrophilia with a lost cultural soul.
The literary tendency of this age was varied and could not be otherwise, for the age itself was divided between the old and the new modes. The same tendencies which came into conflict on the field of politics, the national-Italian tendency of the conservatives, the Helleno-Italian or, if the term be preferred, cosmopolitan tendency of the new monarchy, fought their battles also on the field of literature. The former attached itself to the older Latin literature, which in the theatre, in the school, and in erudite research assumed more and more the character of classical …
… the poets of the sixth century were never more vividly felt than in this epoch of thoroughly developed epigonism (an artistic or literary imitation of an artist by a later generation), which in literature as decidedly as in politics looked up to the century of the Hannibalic warriors as to the golden age that had now unhappily passed away beyond recall. No doubt there was in this admiration of the old classics no small portion of the same hollowness and hypocrisy which are characteristic of the conservatism of this age in general … (Mommsen; The History of Rome)
This obsession we had with a dead culture, the culture of “ockerism”, of a romantic construct of the “Bronzed Aussie”, with an imperial monarchy giving “cultural cred” to a coterie of anachronistic worshippers of all things regal and militaristic. But in effect, this masculine bravado, this Anzac legend had died with the dying days of the second world war … instead, where brave reality was needed to reconstruct the hurt of a generation, a phoney pastiche of “masculinity” was erected as a stop-gap until it was hoped a new wave of younger patriotic citizens could be persuaded to keep carrying the flag … but then along came the Vietnam War … and that put the kybosh on that little plan.
The world of literature of that age giving a certain credence to the myth can perhaps be best represented with the film of the Neville Shute story; “A Town like Alice” … taking us from the heroic to the horrors of war to the sentimental romanticism of a town in the centre of Australia … overlooking with suitable musical accompaniment the real-life horrors of what happened to those returned soldiers, traumatised by the brutalities they had seen. Such horrors were not allowed to be presented to the general public…instead, this cultural myth of male camaraderie and stoic, silent endurance was manufactured and maintained.
In contrast, we have the Richard Flannigan novel of “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” … A story close to his own knowledge of his father’s experiences on the Thai-Burma railway. He in effect buries the myth of cultural heroism:
Though there is much horror in the book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is ultimately redemptive. By shining a light on a particularly low moment in history and coupling that with the everyday details of life, of enduring love, of the impact of time and memory on our own history and the broader history of the world, Flanagan creates a book that is at once familiar and foreign, and ultimately deeply satisfying. As Issy put it:
This world of dew
is only a world of dew —
and yet. (Magdalene Ball; A review of The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan).
There has been an attempt at resurrecting this myth of “heroic masculinity”, this white supremacy, Western Cultural supremacy over all others … It is false … it is a failure, like the proud, ancient Romans gathered in their exclusive Senate house or their expensive villas in old Pompeii and waxing lyrical in those grammatically pure languages of a culture, long dead in the streets outside.
John Howard sidled up with what was left of the monarchists in his time as Prime Minister, and they worked in-step with the Murdoch media to concoct a “new vision” of an old story of the “Anzacs of Gallipoli”, turning the faces of the youth of the nation toward their own private sunset and delivered a gross stage-set of the “heroics of war” with a emulation cringe-worthy of a modern “Biggles” or something like the wide-eyed “Brylcreme philosophy” of a Boy’s own Annual. And in gingering up an old stew, he has created, in his tin-pot middle-class manner, a farcical effigy of “Golden Aussie Youth” with his “battlers” and personal wish for such to “feel relaxed and comfortable in their own skin” … a “skin” now clothed in the Nazi uniform of our once Fascist enemy and with a face over-rouged and whored-up for Hayek’s Capitalism!
No … Just as Ancient Rome had to fall so Modern Europe could arise, so must we let our archaic Anglo-European culture die so a new Australian culture can be born into the environment it exists … into the Pacific/Indian oceans … into the region of Asia …
Into our multi-cultural, honest and honourable image.
This article was originally published on my own blog, freefall852.wordpress.com.