When Prince Phillip passed away earlier this year, I found myself thinking about the Queen’s father, King George VI & her grandfather King George V. I thought of Britain, the British Empire, the Mother Country & the admiration & devotion we, as young Australians, showed for the British Crown.
Australia was an important part of the British Empire where all things England & English had been transplanted.
I was also reminded of a short poem written in 1921 by a 14 year old school girl in South Australia for which she won a prize in a local poetry writing contest.
The school girl, my maternal grandmother, Audrey Buddle (maiden name), was no doubt quite typical of young girls in early twentieth century Australia. Young people, especially school students, were taught to admire & honour England & the British Empire, to express patriotic pride & loyalty in any way they could.
All Australians at the time were similarly devoted to the British Crown, to Mother England, dear England. The monarch on the British throne at the time in 1921 was, of course, Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI. The King’s superiority as head of the sprawling British empire, his guiding hand, gave us Aussies security & prosperity. It gave us belonging to Britain. to a Greater Britain. It gave us freedom, democracy & the rule of law.
Indeed, Australians gave their lives in various wars for these things. Per Australian War Memorial:
Australia’s involvement in the First World War began when Britain and Germany went to war on 4 August 1914, and both Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher, who were in the midst of an election campaign, pledged full support for Britain. The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great enthusiasm.
Australia & NZ Army Corps: Popular illustration of Anzac troops after the fighting at Gallipoli
Anzac Cove WWI
ANZAC Christmas Card from Turkey, 1915-1916
Unfortunately, sadly, there was no mention in schools or the community of indigenous Australians let alone the over 1000 who fought in the First World War.
And do you realise that Australia, starting out as British, specifically a British convict colony, was the USA’s fault?
Yes, we really must thank the USA for making Australia a British colony. The War of Independence closed the American colonies to Britain causing it to turn to Australia to send its convicts, its human dregs. The birth of the USA gave birth to Australia & made us British.
“George Washington may have been the father of the United States: he was assuredly the stepfather of NSW.” (Henry S. Albinksi quoting T. Dunbabin in ‘Australia and the United States’ Australia: The Daedalus Symposium 1985)
OK back to Grandma . . . gushing in her support for the British Empire, the bonds of Empire, for ‘oh England! Dear England!’, my grandmother’s poem is almost a chant, an anthem, in the way it waxes poetic.
It’s about belonging to Britain, to a Greater Britain, not about an independent Australia. Grandma talks about our service to Britain & seems to take pride in the price paid in blood by Australian soldiers, perhaps referring to the Western front, even commemorating war: “When Britain was calling, the great price to pay.”
I have copied the poem’s five short verses below.
This volume of ‘Poetical Works of Adam Lindsay Gordon‘ was grandmother’s prize in the contest. Adam Lindsay Gordon (born in Scotland) was an Australian writer and poet (1833-1870) who wrote many popular ballads of his time. He was the first Australian poet to gain considerable recognition overseas & according to his contemporary, writer Marcus Clarke, Gordon’s work represented “the beginnings of a national school of Australian poetry“.
Glued to the inside front cover of the book prize is the above typed Award Certificate:
AUSTRALIAN WATTLE DAY LEAGUE S.A. BRANCH
WATTLE DAY COMPETITIONS 1921
Second Prize Open to all School Children for Original Poem
The Certificate is signed by President, Secretary and Hon. Adjudicator.
But what was, ‘The Wattle Day League’ I asked myself. I had never heard of it.
We all know what a Wattle tree is but what was the League? A short internet search & the Wattle Day League came up. It seems the League (long ago defunct) was set up to promote & encourage patriotic pride. So, yes, I can see why my grandmother wrote as she did, expressing, so enthusiastically, her pride in the mother country. Her goal was to win!
1. Dear England! the home of the brave and the free,
What shall we, thy children, render to thee?
For thou art the fairest, the bravest, the best
And thou art above all and beyond all the rest.
2. In days long ago our fathers were brave
To battle for right on the land and the wave,
Nor proved they less valiant in this later day
When Britain was calling, the great price to pay.
3. Oh England! Dear England! may we never be.
As noble, unselfish, and true unto thee
As those of thy sires who fought long ago
To help thee to conquer, and also to grow.
4. And we, in Australia, will help right the wrong,
And stand by the weak and ever be strong
To keep from our Empire the sins that would harm
And weaken the strength of our King’s mighty arm.
5. Thy children will stand by thee, aye, and be true
To keep ever flying, the red, white and blue,
For this is the prayer of thy people and to-day:-
May God bless our Empire, now, and always.
I assume my grandmother read annuals like the Empire Annual for Australian Girls (1909–30) published by the Religious Tract Society and the Australian Girl’s Annual published by Cassell from 1910. The books, published in Britain, & meant for Australian girls in the colonies, were given a new title and sent to the colonies.
Given that reading material like the ‘Girl’s Annual’ was in essence a book about British girlhood for girls in places like Australia, it is no wonder my grandmother was so strong in her praise of mother England.
‘The British publishers of these annuals addressed an apparently homogenous readership comprised of girls from white settler colonies and Britain without attempting to customize the contents of their books for different audiences. In both fiction and illustrations, the annuals simultaneously employed and produced a British model of girlhood that was attractive to Australian girl readers.’
I have two of the old ‘Girls’ Annual‘ pictured here. Both were printed in England in 1962. One is the Collins Annual, the other is the ‘Girl Annual Number Ten (Edited by Clifford Makins)’.
As expected Australia is not mentioned in either book in any context. Not a mention. The girlhood we learned, through these books, was a British model. Vintage books of this type are easily available today in second hand book stores, at thrift & charity shops. Go check them out and see for yourself.
Who remembers when ‘God Save The Queen‘ was our National Anthem? By the time I was born, a young Queen Elizabeth II (she was 27 when she acceded to the throne), the current Queen, was on the throne. ‘God Save the King’ had been replaced by ‘God Save the Queen’. In my early school days, back in the 60s, we were singing to save the Queen.
Who can forget these words of the first chorus, the ones we always sang & all knew by heart?
God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen!
We sang that anthem to our little hearts content to have the Queen be happy, gracious & noble, to be saved, to be victorious & to live long & long reign over us!
Anecdote: In her 1992 Christmas message Queen Elizabeth not only referred to the trying year as her “annus horribilis” due to the various misfortunes that had beset the Royal Family, she used these words: “Kindness in another’s trouble, courage in one’s own” from Adam Lindsay Gordon’s poem Finis Exoptatus. Here’s a part of the stanza from which the Queen took the words:
“Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none; Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own . . . ”
As an aside, there are words in that stanza that come to mind in representing the indigent, those in need, in trouble: “helping every feeble neighbour” and “kindness in another’s trouble”. There must be equal justice under law, legal aid for the poor, for people of lesser means, the less well off, even for more middle-class citizens who cannot afford lawyers, or who cannot grasp the legal processes, needed to attain justice in court. If there’s to be justice for all in Australia there must be lawyers for all.