The sinister side of politics has had a long love affair with identity.
Dame Mary Gilmore is a fair dinkum Aussie icon, in the truest, bluest sense of that much abused word. Her image has adorned Australian stamps and two sets of Australian $10 notes. Sir William Dobell painted her portrait (below).
The Australian Dictionary of Biography says: “Mary Gilmore’s significance is both literary and historical. As poet and prose writer she has drawn considerable praise . . . her best verse . . . [is] among the permanent gems of Australian poetry. As patriot, feminist, social crusader and folklorist she has now passed into Australian legend.”
The note writer for the Reserve Bank of Australia describes her thus: “Author, journalist, poet, patriot and campaigner against injustice and deprivation. Dame Mary Gilmore was a founding member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and Sydney’s Lyceum Club and was active in organisations as diverse as the New South Wales Institute of Journalists and the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship. A highly popular and nationally known writer, Dame Mary Gilmore was a celebrated public figure: Sydney’s literati gathered annually to celebrate her birthday; awards and scholarships were given in her name; and radio broadcasts and public appearances commanded her time.”
There’s more of this laudatory stuff, much more, to be found in even a superficial search of the WWW – but you get the idea. Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) was a Great Australian.
Passed over lightly is that she was also a woman of the hard left. If she was not a card-carrying communist, she was most certainly a fellow traveller . . . with a season ticket. One of her earliest exploits was to become part of William Lane’s storied and failed attempt to establish his utopian New Australia commune in Paraguay. She founded the women’s page (above) in the Australian Worker, the official newspaper of the Australian Workers Union, and edited it for 23 years. It became her platform for her many ideas and political causes, including support of the republican Irish. She left it when it could no longer tolerate her radicalism, and finished her life writing for the Communist Party paper, Tribune. The award by King George VI of the female equivalent of a knighthood, on the nomination of a conservative Australian Government (in which Robert Gordon Menzies was attorney-general) stands among her greatest, and more mysterious, achievements.
Not easily found in the record is something else. On Thursday, 9 September 1920, this future legend and champion of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, unburdened herself in the Worker of something that had clearly been exercising her mind for some time. What follows in full is what she asked, and then answered:
WHY A WHITE AUSTRALIA?
Life asks form – perhaps. Perhaps not. Life is indifferent to form; she only asks being. Man is unessential to life, but life, having form in man, man is.
The kind of man does not matter to life. She is as vital and as much contained in the evil man as in the good; in the black as in the white. She is so indifferent to form that her indifference is almost reason for assuming a special creation as a means of clothing her life.
Life does not ask for man; a leaf, or an animalcule, serves her purpose just as well as man.
Man does not create her, and his death does not diminish her. He holds life as a cup holds air. Break the cup, and the cup is gone; but the formless air is unaware of the change.
Man’s part is to preserve his body; he only holds life by that preservation. Life can look after herself without his care, but the body is dependent on him. The body is all the self he has apart from life – perhaps, indeed, all the self he has.
His wonderful cells are drawn together to house her who is as indifferent to him as the warmth of the fire glowing through your body is to you; as the flame is to the wood that gives it being.
But life’s indifference is no ground for indifference on the part of man. Neither is it on the part of nations.
If you or I die, it does not matter to life; but it matters to us; and it matters to our fellows. For good or evil (and let us hope and desire that it should be for good) it matters to them.
And as with an individual, so with a nation; so with a race.
Life cares nothing for bodies – body of man, body of family, body of clan, body of nation, body of race.
But all these, being bodies; and only having, being as bodies, their bodies matter to them, and their duty is to preserve them.
It is the duty of Japan to maintain the body of a Japanese Japan; it is the duty of Australia to preserve Australian Australia.
Japan has no more right to seek to make us Japanese than we have to seek to make Japan Australia. The law of right of the body-to-be intervenes. It is not a question of better or worse, nor of superiority, nor even of difference; but merely and absolutely of Being.
No man admits the right of another man to kill him. No nation and no race should.
No man admits the right of another man to kill him unless he can kill back again. But life looks on indifferent. Both men dead, she remains, immutable in being, permutable eternally and everlastingly.
It is a vague perception of the eternal, everlasting, and indifferent side of life which makes many people indifferent to a White Australia, so that they say, “What matter if other races come here . . . Are they not as good as we are?”
Quite as good – for the housing of life. But our concern is not the housing of life, but the body, personal, national, racial, that is ours.
That is our beginning, our being, our ending.
This is the care of every man, whatever the sex, age, or condition life has given him.
This is the solemn charge of being.
Here is our right to a White Australia; a right just to ourselves; inoffensive to any.
So what? That was 100 years ago, right? Except . . .
This is a country today where significant portions of the intelligentsia want to tear down statues of Captain Cook, rewrite the history of settlement and denounce the merest hint of racism wherever and whenever it occurs. People brandishing placards march down from the high moral ground during a pandemic, unhindered by police when everyone else is under house arrest. Sports players now “take a knee” before matches and ignore the national anthem.
Green-left ideology dominating our institutions demands that everybody deny the facts of life. At the same time we must bow to “the science” . . . but only “the science” that conforms to the ideology. Men and women, especially men, are held to account for their sins no matter how far in the past they transgressed, no matter whether they have repented in the meantime, and no matter what they might have achieved. This is now a country where anonymous denunciation is the norm.
Surely, if there were a statue of Mary Gilmore anywhere, it would be a target, if not for destruction then at least for explanation. How can her image remain on our $10 note? Racism must be condemned. It can’t be cancelled by anything.
Or, as a Lady of the Left, is she excused?
Sally White writes on the Australian Media Hall of Fame website: “Dame Mary Gilmore was a contradictory character. She was an ardent internationalist but a fierce nationalist. She was a staunch socialist who revered the monarchy. She was a pacifist who was convinced that Australia should prevail over its enemies in both World Wars. She advocated the cause of Australia’s Aborigines and Europe’s Jews but once supported the White Australia policy and the expulsion of the Chinese. She lauded domestic virtues and marriage but lived much of her adult life alone, separated from her husband and son.”
Ah, she “once supported the White Australia policy”. Once.
What about this then, from the Australian Worker, signed Mary Gilmore, 6/7/21?
THE BROWN WOMAN’S HUSBAND
Oh, John, for old faith in you!
There was a day when we held you true;
Sturdy and set as a pyramid.
Man of your word whatever you did;
But, oh, John, shattered and gone
Is the old belief that we once gave you!
“John,” we said, “is a right white man;
And white he has been since he began!”
But, John, ambition grew up in you
Till it changed the man that once we knew.
And, John, John, of old tres bon,
You have killed the faith that we gave to you.
Think of it, John, how proud we were!
So proud that we felt the heart’s deep stir
Whenever we heard men speak your name
That now is spoken with hate and blame –
John, John! whom we leaned upon
In the once deep faith you have brought to shame!
John, was there never a clean white life
In all the world you could make your wife,
But you must turn to the dusk and brown
And draggle the proud white standard down?
John, John! whose face once shone
Where the pride of race was the white man’s crown!
What will you do when the children come? –
What! Is the once bold John grown dumb? –
When the chickens come home to roost, my man,
Brindle and yellow, and black and tan,
And long, long gone from the lips of John
Are the prayers he said since his race began!
There was a white wife close beside.
John, she was fittest of all for bride!
Did you think of her when you turned your eyes
Where the alien faiths of the Easterns rise?
Think of. it, John, we builded on –
As the tree falls forever it lies.
These two pieces were penned a year apart. They are not the emotional outbursts of a kid – they display the tightly argued reasoning of the seasoned commentator that she was. In 1920-21, Mary Gilmore was 55 years old, she had been married in 1897 and a mother almost immediately afterwards. She had been close to Henry Lawson (in more ways than one) and was already a literary lion, having published her first book of poetry in 1910. Furthermore, the White Australia policy was very broadly supported throughout the Australian populace, having been enshrined in law as one of the first acts of the new Australian Parliament when the Australian federation came into being in 1901. The policy was supported by both sides of politics until the late 1960s, when it was dismantled into irrelevance, and formally abolished in 1975.
Mary Gilmore died in 1962. It might well be that by then she had “once supported the White Australia policy”. Maybe she changed her views as she became even more widely known and acclaimed in old age after WWII. I don’t know but, although I suspect she didn’t change, I’m willing to give her benefit of the doubt. I’m willing to think, at least hope, that even past middle age she was still capable of learning and evolving.
Which none of today’s “woke” puritans affords people not of their ideology. They truly are sinister.
FOOTNOTE: When I started this blog, I intended to steer away from political issues, because the media are saturated with current affairs commentary and I’d had enough of the struggle over “issues”. If I have sometimes strayed from that purpose, it’s because, well, I’ve found something a bit quirky to comment on, or maybe just because I couldn’t help myself. The Gilmore story encompasses both of those excuses.
For the record, I do not agree with Mary Gilmore on anything, even her contradictions. Discrimination on the basis of skin colour, apart from the morality, is a complete waste of time and energy. You might as well throw away your Bible because it has a black cover. Skin colour is not a reliable indicator of race anyway (if that’s important, which I doubt).
As for the rest of today’s wokeness . . . bah, humbug!