We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is
in it--and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot
stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again--and that is
well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
All English-speaking colonies are made up of lavishly hospitable people,
and New South Wales and its capital are like the rest in this. The
English-speaking colony of the United States of America is always
called lavishly hospitable by the English traveler. As to the other
English-speaking colonies throughout the world from Canada all around, I
know by experience that the description fits them. I will not go more
particularly into this matter, for I find that when writers try to
distribute their gratitude here and there and yonder by detail they run
across difficulties and do some ungraceful stumbling.
Mr. Gane ("New South Wales and Victoria in 1885 "), tried to distribute
his gratitude, and was not lucky:
"The inhabitants of Sydney are renowned for their hospitality. The
treatment which we experienced at the hands of this generous-hearted
people will help more than anything else to make us recollect with
pleasure our stay amongst them. In the character of hosts and
hostesses they excel. The 'new chum' needs only the
acquaintanceship of one of their number, and he becomes at once the
happy recipient of numerous complimentary invitations and thoughtful
kindnesses. Of the towns it has been our good fortune to visit,
none have portrayed home so faithfully as Sydney."
Nobody could say it finer than that. If he had put in his cork then, and
stayed away from Dubbo----but no; heedless man, he pulled it again.
Pulled it when he was away along in his book, and his memory of what he
had said about Sydney had grown dim:
"We cannot quit the promising town of Dubbo without testifying, in
warm praise, to the kind-hearted and hospitable usages of its
inhabitants. Sydney, though well deserving the character it bears
of its kindly treatment of strangers, possesses a little formality
and reserve. In Dubbo, on the contrary, though the same congenial
manners prevail, there is a pleasing degree of respectful
familiarity which gives the town a homely comfort not often met with
elsewhere. In laying on one side our pen we feel contented in
having been able, though so late in this work, to bestow a
panegyric, however unpretentious, on a town which, though possessing
no picturesque natural surroundings, nor interesting architectural
productions, has yet a body of citizens whose hearts cannot but
obtain for their town a reputation for benevolence and
I wonder what soured him on Sydney. It seems strange that a pleasing
degree of three or four fingers of respectful familiarity should fill a
man up and give him the panegyrics so bad. For he has them, the worst
way--any one can see that. A man who is perfectly at himself does not
throw cold detraction at people's architectural productions and
picturesque surroundings, and let on that what he prefers is a Dubbonese
dust-storm and a pleasing degree of respectful familiarity, No, these are
old, old symptoms; and when they appear we know that the man has got the
Sydney has a population of 400,000. When a stranger from America steps
ashore there, the first thing that strikes him is that the place is eight
or nine times as large as he was expecting it to be; and the next thing
that strikes him is that it is an English city with American trimmings.
Later on, in Melbourne, he will find the American trimmings still more in
evidence; there, even the architecture will often suggest America; a
photograph of its stateliest business street might be passed upon him for
a picture of the finest street in a large American city. I was told that
the most of the fine residences were the city residences of squatters.
The name seemed out of focus somehow. When the explanation came, it
offered a new instance of the curious changes which words, as well as
animals, undergo through change of habitat and climate. With us, when
you speak of a squatter you are always supposed to be speaking of a poor
man, but in Australia when you speak of a squatter you are supposed to be
speaking of a millionaire; in America the word indicates the possessor of
a few acres and a doubtful title, in Australia it indicates a man whose
landfront is as long as a railroad, and whose title has been perfected in
one way or another; in America the word indicates a man who owns a dozen
head of live stock, in Australia a man who owns anywhere from fifty
thousand up to half a million head; in America the word indicates a man
who is obscure and not important, in Australia a man who is prominent and
of the first importance; in America you take off your hat to no squatter,
in Australia you do; in America if your uncle is a squatter you keep it
dark, in Australia you advertise it; in America if your friend is a
squatter nothing comes of it, but with a squatter for your friend in
Australia you may sup with kings if there are any around.
In Australia it takes about two acres and a half of pastureland (some
people say twice as many), to support a sheep; and when the squatter has
half a million sheep his private domain is about as large as Rhode
Island, to speak in general terms. His annual wool crop may be worth a
quarter or a half million dollars.
He will live in a palace in Melbourne or Sydney or some other of the
large cities, and make occasional trips to his sheep-kingdom several
hundred miles away in the great plains to look after his battalions of
riders and shepherds and other hands. He has a commodious dwelling out
there, and if he approve of you he will invite you to spend a week in it,
and will make you at home and comfortable, and let you see the great
industry in all its details, and feed you and slake you and smoke you
with the best that money can buy.
On at least one of these vast estates there is a considerable town, with
all the various businesses and occupations that go to make an important
town; and the town and the land it stands upon are the property of the
squatters. I have seen that town, and it is not unlikely that there are
other squatter-owned towns in Australia.
Australia supplies the world not only with fine wool, but with mutton
also. The modern invention of cold storage and its application in ships
has created this great trade. In Sydney I visited a huge establishment
where they kill and clean and solidly freeze a thousand sheep a day, for
shipment to England.
The Australians did not seem to me to differ noticeably from Americans,
either in dress, carriage, ways, pronunciation, inflections, or general
appearance. There were fleeting and subtle suggestions of their English
origin, but these were not pronounced enough, as a rule, to catch one's
attention. The people have easy and cordial manners from the beginning
--from the moment that the introduction is completed. This is American.
To put it in another way, it is English friendliness with the English
shyness and self-consciousness left out.
Now and then--but this is rare--one hears such words as piper for paper,
lydy for lady, and tyble for table fall from lips whence one would not
expect such pronunciations to come. There is a superstition prevalent in
Sydney that this pronunciation is an Australianism, but people who have
been "home"--as the native reverently and lovingly calls England--know
better. It is "costermonger." All over Australasia this pronunciation
is nearly as common among servants as it is in London among the
uneducated and the partially educated of all sorts and conditions of
people. That mislaid 'y' is rather striking when a person gets enough of
it into a short sentence to enable it to show up. In the hotel in Sydney
the chambermaid said, one morning:
"The tyble is set, and here is the piper; and if the lydy is ready I'll
tell the wyter to bring up the breakfast."
I have made passing mention, a moment ago, of the native Australasian's
custom of speaking of England as "home." It was always pretty to hear
it, and often it was said in an unconsciously caressing way that made it
touching; in a way which transmuted a sentiment into an embodiment, and
made one seem to see Australasia as a young girl stroking mother
England's old gray head.
In the Australasian home the table-talk is vivacious and unembarrassed;
it is without stiffness or restraint. This does not remind one of
England so much as it does of America. But Australasia is strictly
democratic, and reserves and restraints are things that are bred by
differences of rank.
English and colonial audiences are phenomenally alert and responsive.
Where masses of people are gathered together in England, caste is
submerged, and with it the English reserve; equality exists for the
moment, and every individual is free; so free from any consciousness of
fetters, indeed, that the Englishman's habit of watching himself and
guarding himself against any injudicious exposure of his feelings is
forgotten, and falls into abeyance--and to such a degree indeed, that he
will bravely applaud all by himself if he wants to--an exhibition of
daring which is unusual elsewhere in the world.
But it is hard to move a new English acquaintance when he is by himself,
or when the company present is small and new to him. He is on his guard
then, and his natural reserve is to the fore. This has given him the
false reputation of being without humor and without the appreciation of
Americans are not Englishmen, and American humor is not English humor;
but both the American and his humor had their origin in England, and have
merely undergone changes brought about by changed conditions and a new
environment. About the best humorous speeches I have yet heard were a
couple that were made in Australia at club suppers--one of them by an
Englishman, the other by an Australian.