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Australian Essays

Francis William Lauderdale Adams

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
It is difficult to speak of Melbourne fitly. The judgment of neither native nor foreigner can escape the influence of the phenomenal aspect of the city. Not fifty years ago its first child, Batman’s, was born; not forty, it was a city; a little over thirty, it was the metropolis of a colony; and now (as the inscription on Batman’s grave tells us) “Circumspice!” To natives their Melbourne is, and is only, “the magnificent city, classed by Sir George Bowen as the ninth in the world,” “one of the wonders of the world.” They cannot criticise, they can only praise it. To a foreigner, however, who, with all respect and admiration for the excellencies of the Melbourne of to-day as compared with the Melbourne of half-a-century ago, has travelled and seen and read, and cares very little for glorifying the amour-propre of this class or of that, and very much for really arriving at some more or less accurate idea of the significance of this city and its civilization; to such a man, I say, the native melodies in the style of “Rule Britannia” which he hears everywhere and at all times are distasteful. Nay, he may possibly have at last to guard himself against the opposite extreme, and hold off depreciation with the one hand as he does laudation with the other! The first thing, I think, that strikes a man who knows the three great modern cities of the world—London, Paris, New York—and is walking observingly about Melbourne is, that Melbourne is made up of curious elements. There is something of London in her, something of Paris, something of New York, and something of her own. Here is an attraction to start with. Melbourne has, what might be called, the metropolitan tone. The look on the faces of her inhabitants is the metropolitan look. These people live quickly: such as life presents itself to them, they know it: as far as they can see, they have no prejudices. “I was born in Melbourne,” said the wife of a small bootmaker to me once, “I was born in Melbourne, and I went to Tasmania for a bit, but I soon came back again. I like to be in a place where they go ahead.” The wife of a small bootmaker, you see, has the metropolitan tone, the metropolitan look about her; she sees that there is a greater pleasure in life than sitting under your vine and your fig-tree; she likes to be in a place where they go ahead. And she is a type of her city. Melbourne likes to “go ahead.” Look at her public buildings, her New Law Courts not finished yet, her Town Hall, her Hospital, her Library, her Houses of Parliament, and above all her Banks! Nay, and she has become desirous of a fleet and has established a “Naval Torpedo Corps” with seven electricians. All this is well, very well. Melbourne, I say, lives quickly: such as life presents itself to her, she knows it: as far as she can see, she has no prejudices. As far as she can see.—The limitation is important. The real question is, how far can she see? how far does her civilization answer the requirements of a really fine civilization? what scope in it is there (as Mr. Arnold would say) for the satisfaction of the claims of conduct, of intellect and knowledge, of beauty and manners? Now in order the better to answer this question, let us think for a moment what are the chief elements that have operated and are still operating in this Melbourne and her civilization. This is an English colony: it springs, as its poet Gordon (of whom there will presently be something to be remarked) says, in large capitals, it springs from “the Anglo-Saxon race ... the Norman blood.” Well, if there is one quality which distinguishes this race, this blood, it is its determined strength. Wherever we have gone, whatever we have done, we have gone and we have done with all our heart and soul.