Colony and Empire

Section Seven



Our country's political position of being "under the rule" of the British monarchy (whether in a symbolic sense or in a practical sense) has stymied the development of Australia's national identity and culture.

As William Byrne has pointed out in Republic Vs. Monarchy: Australia's past emphasis on its "British connection" has also fostered continual denigration of Australia's culture as "inferior" to that of Britain, thereby creating the "cultural cringe".

In Australia's early years, the "British connection" created a social and political climate where Britain was referred to as "the Home Country" or "Home" (even by those Australian-born who had never set foot in Britain), and where Australian children were taught "Loyalty to the Empire", rather than "Loyalty to Australia, first and foremost".(151)

Such happenings ensured that a substantial part of the Australian population was pro-Britain in many ways; politically, culturally, and even economically. This style of people have been referred to collectively by some as "the British Brigade".

For at least the first 150 years since European settlement, this "British Brigade" was predominant in Australia. It espoused a doctrine of "British imperial patriotism", a widely held ideology, the large support for which can be seen in the "jingoistic fervour" which was aroused by the British Empire's involvement in the Sudan War in northern Africa (1885), the second Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), and the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900).(152)

As Ross McMullin has noted, This "British mind-set" was reinforced in many areas of Australia's national life, such as the commencement in 1905 of an annual Empire Day as a "special festival for the schools", whereby children were taught that patriotism meant "loyalty to both Australia and the Empire", illustrated by the suggestion that "the cry 'Australia for the Australians'... should be 'Australia for the Empire'."(154)

With nearly one in five Australians being born in the United Kingdom, and with their affections for Britain being passed onto their children (most Australians were of British descent), it is not surprising that many Australians regarded Britain as "Home". However, during World War One, many Australian soldiers fighting in Europe had visited England whilst on leave - and they were disappointed with what they found - due to many small English annoyances and differences (the ANZACs especially disliked the very obvious English class system). One letter-writer wrote that he hated England, and that "they ought to give England to Germany and apologise for the state it is in". Due to the various cultural differences between the English soldiers and the Australians, the ANZACs actually developed more of an affinity with the Scottish troops, rather than with the English soldiers.(155)

Interestingly, rather than fighting for England or the Empire, many Australians held the view that it was in Australia's best interest for Britain to prevail; that is, "they were pro-British for Australia's sake, not for the sake of blind fervour towards the Crown".(156)

Following the end of World War One, Australian troops returned to their native land, which many now "saw with new eyes". Their experiences in Britain had made them more "Australian" in their outlook.(157)

Australians can take pride in our nation's British heritage, however, we should recognise it for what it is: It is only a part of our national heritage; it does not comprise our entire national identity nor our national culture (although it has provided a part of the basis for both).

Colony and Empire

Australian Nationalism Information Database -