has gone"black coated"
Australian Journey. By Paul McGuire. Heinemann, 12e. Ma Reviewed by STANLEY B. JAMES
FRANKLY it was not with any particularly keen anticipations of pleasure that I opened this volume. I had memories of travel stories written in the stilted style of the guide book and recording second-hand opinions and superficial impressions which did not dispose me to submit to another.
But the name of Paul IvieGuire on the cover reatisured me. McGuire can write. His style has the qualities, excellent for a. work like this, of the experienced raconteur who has entertained varied companies by the fireside, in the deckchairs of liners, or at hotel bars. Moreover, he is here writing about something that is In the very marrow of his bones. The Australian sun has enriched his Mood. And he has the gift of enabling the reader to share his intimacy.
Since his survey covers every phase of antipodean life—the urban fringe airing the coast, up-country stations, the beginnings of Australian culture and the legends reminiscent of pioneer days—by the time he has finished with you he has made it difficult to remember that you are still in England.
This, though it imparts abundance of Information, is a holiday book, not in the sense that it is a book to take with you to the seashore (though it would suit that purpose), but. in the sense that the reading of it Might serve as a substitute for an actual holiday.
AND now for another confession : seconding the lure of McGuirees name was the picture on the cover representing a rider in large sombrero and check shirt lounging in the saddle. That picture (one of thirty-two superb photographs) got me. It aroused the nostalgia of which every old cowpuncher must be sometimes conscious. I swear I caught a whiff of the oncefamiliar smell compounded of horsesweat and leather.
Nevertheless I have a quarrel with the publishers for giving that particular photograph first place. True, this is the sort of figure which Is supposed to symbolise Australia. Here is the sinewy type we have been taught to associate with that part of the world. It is this kind of thing whict when we reflect on the decadence of the Old Country, comforts us by reminding us of the stalwart manhood held in reserve by overseas dominions. For all that, the picture is deceptive; it does not represent presentday Australia. Listen to what Mr McGuire himself says:
" The modern Australian, then, is most often a city or a suburban dwellers inorking at a wage in someone else's business. The old race of men who were hammered into steel in long battle with tire wilderness, a lonely battle for the most part, is pas.sing. AustraNa prefers now to make Manchesters. She becomes a country of industrial workers and of clerks and shop assistants, crowded into the barrack-towns of iadustry. Whether a clerk who spends all his days calcukiting other people's profits and losses is a positive human advance on the bushman, I shall not argue: but Australia has preferred the city to the btash, and the mass production worker to the riders of the plains and the Afan from Snowy Meer."
CO much for the quality of Australian J manhood. When we inquire into its quantity the answer is no less die
appointing. " Within the next genera, tion," we are told, " the natural growtr. of the Australian population will cease and Australia will begin to die (and this was the people which once had a birthrate of over forty in the thousand)." The reflections caused by this state of things strike a note of alarm. " Whence then are the people to come who will occupy the empty Continent? From Britain? But Britain's own decline is faster. Then from where?" Meanwhile Japan Is advancing, establishing her outposts in the Pacific and finding herself positively encouraged Us advance further by the fact that the nearest Australian land is so sparsely populated and so badly served by roads and railways that adequate defence would be impossible.
Again and again in the course of his sprightly account of the country the author strikes a. note of grave warning as to the waste of Australia's natural resources. The denudation of the land by the reckless felling of timber and barking of trees is assisting that procees of erosion by which millions of acres are being lost to cultivation.
There was a time when it was customary to argue that the fresh blood supplied by generations of hardy pioneers in our colonies might save the Empire. It looks now ite though the colonies were importing the vices of our own urbanised civilisation more effectively than we are importing virility from them.
DID I call this " a holiday book "? Well—er—so it is; that is, if you have no objection to a strain of prophetic warning in your holiday reading. Anyway, Mr McGuire has rendered a real service by giving us this candid and yet entertaining book.