In 1921 an Australian school girl waxed poetic about the British Empire “the empire on which the sun never sets”

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Watching Prince Harry and his Meghan these last few days I thought about his grandmother, the Queen.

I thought about the Queen’s father, King George VI and her grandfather King George V.

I thought of Britain, the British Empire, the Mother Country and the admiration and devotion we, as young  Australians, showed for the British Crown.

 

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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.

Australia was an important part of the British Empire where all things England and English had been transplanted.

The school girl, my maternal grandmother, Audrey Buddle, was no doubt quite typical of young girls in 1920s Australia. Young people, especially school students, were taught, or encouraged, to admire and honour the British Empire and England, to express their patriotic pride in any way they could.

Most Australians at the time were similarly devoted to the British Crown, to Mother England, Dear England. Her superiority and guiding hand gave us security and prosperity. It gave us freedom, democracy and the rule of law. We died in various wars for these things. Unfortunately, there was no mention in schools or the community of the native Aboriginal people of Australia.

 

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That Australia started 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.  The birth of the USA made Australia 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)

 

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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 as it waxes poetic. It’s about belonging to Britain, to a Greater Britain not about an independent Australia. She talks about our service to Britain and 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, word for word, below.

 

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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.

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Glued to the inside front cover of the book prize is the typed Award Certificate that says:

AUSTRALIAN WATTLE DAY LEAGUE S.A. BRANCH

It refers to the:

WATTLE DAY COMPETITIONS1921

It then says,

Second Prize Open to all SchoolChildren for Original Poem

Awarded to AUDREY BUDDLEGoodwood School

The Award Certificate is signed by President, Secretary and Hon. Adjudicator.

But what on earth is, or 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 and the Wattle Day League came up. One learns that the League (long ago defunct) was set up to promote and encourgage patriotic pride. So, yes, I can see why my grandmother wrote as she did. Her goal was to win!

 

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Grandmother’s poem:

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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I wonder if 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, and meant for Australian girls, 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 the Australian colonies, 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.’

 

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I share here two ‘Girls’ Annual‘ I have printed in England in 1962. One is the Collins Annual, the other is the ‘Girl Annual Number Ten (Edited by Clifford Makins)’. 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 book stores and at sales. Go check them out.

 

Who remembers when ‘God Save The Queen‘ was our National Anthem? In my school days, we were singing to save the current Queen (Elizabeth II) who, back then in the ’60s, was quite young. She was 27 when she acceded to the throne in 1953.

Who can forget these words of the first chorus, the ones we always sang and 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!

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And these words from one of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s more well known poems, Finis Exoptatus have always stayed with me especially the last four:

“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”

Anecdote: In her 1992 Christmas message Queen Elizabeth quoted from this poem when referring to the particularly trying year for the Royal Family: “Kindness in another’s trouble, courage in one’s own.” She did not mention the poet’s name.

 

 

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