ALTHOUGH AUSTRALIANS MAY be increasingly conscious of our unique, ancient, indigenous culture, the national psyche is very much attuned to the reality that most were either born elsewhere or are descended from people who arrived from Europe, Asia or the Americas less than 220 years ago. We have traditionally thought of ourselves as being a long way from anywhere, the “anywhere” in question having a generally northern face.
Prior to the 1950s, relatively few Australians ever made the journey back across the equator. While my English grandparents always spoke of the green fields and villages of rural Essex as “home”, they had neither the resources nor the inclination to return, either permanently or for a visit. Regular overseas trips were the province of the wealthy, or for those with business or political reasons. My wife’s grandparents were born in Melbourne. Being in the wool trade, they travelled en famille to Britain and Japan during the first part of the 20th century. The sea voyage was long, and a defining social experience, especially for young people. However, the only “mass travel” prior to the 1950s was by military personnel, firstly to fight in the wars of the British Empire then, more regionally, to defend this country against attack. This experience, associated with death and loss, led to a rather constrained view of other cultures that still persists in elements of Australian conservatism.
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