Category Archives: 2. Australia Unlimited

Australia Unlimited · Prologue

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The glow of his campfire framed a simple tableau of pioneer life. Across this ‘untenanted land’, Edwin Brady mused, ‘little companies’, such as his own, sat by their ‘solitary fires’. ‘They smoked pipes and talked, or watched the coals reflectively’. Around them, the ‘shadowy outlines’ of the bush merged into the dark northern night, and ‘the whispers’ of this ‘unknown’ land gathered about. It seemed to Brady that this camp, this night, represented the ‘actual life’ of the Northern Territory as he had known it. But the future weighed heavily upon that quiet, nostalgic scene. The moment would soon fade, Brady reflected, as the ‘cinematograph of Time’ rolled on. It was 1912, and something new was coming. 1

Staring into the flames of the campfire, Brady imagined he heard ‘the whistle of the Trans-continental Express’. The ‘rumble of freight trains’ followed, and the sound of water churning in the wake of ‘fast coastal steamers’. The night was filled with movement as Brady perceived an end to the north’s crippling isolation, the conquest of its ‘lonesome distances’. New industries too! The ‘chug-chug’ of sugar mills, ‘the buzzing of cotton jinnys’, ‘the clinking of harvesters’, ‘the hissing of refrigerators’—as Brady listened, ‘the thousand homely sounds of human progress’ joined in a triumphant ‘hymn of the Future’. The night’s subtle whispers were lost amidst the clamor of technology on the move. Not mere campfires, but ‘young cities’, ‘electric lit and alive with enterprise’, would soon arise to defeat the darkness. 2 This was Brady’s dream. This was progress.

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Notes:

  1. Edwin James Brady, Australia Unlimited, George Robertson and Company, Melbourne, 1918, p. 570.
  2. ibid., pp. 570-1.

The borders of fanaticism

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EJ Brady has served Australian historians well. His sea shanties and bush ballads might now be forgotten, but Brady lives on as the eager champion of Australian development, the oft-quoted author of that ‘profusely illustrated doorstopper’, Australia Unlimited. 1 No account of Australia’s developmental dreams seems complete without a colourful phrase or two lifted from Brady’s hefty tome. 2 And why not? While some critics may have felt that he tended to the ‘purple’, there is no doubt that his ‘celtic effervescence of adjectives’ makes him eminently quotable. 3 The colour and confidence of his vivid sloganeering is irresistible.

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Notes:

  1. Joseph Michael Powell, Griffith Taylor and ‘Australia Unlimited’, The John Murtagh Macrossan Memorial Lecture, 1992, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1992, p. 9.
  2. Powell, Griffith Taylor and ‘Australia Unlimited’, p. 9; Stuart Macintyre, 1901-1942: The succeeding age, Oxford history of Australia, vol. 4, Oxford University Press, Melbourne,1986, pp. 198-9; William Lines, Taming the great south land: a history of the conquest of nature in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1991, p. 168; David Day, Claiming a continent: a history of Australia, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1996, p. 253; Geoffrey Blainey, This land is all horizons: Australian fears and visions, 2001 Boyer Lectures, ABC Books, Sydney, 2001, p. 5; Tom Griffiths, Hunters and collectors: the antiquarian imagination in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, p. 186; Warwick Anderson, The cultivation of whiteness: science, health and racial destiny in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002, pp. 163-4.
  3. Bertram Stevens, ‘Australian writers – Edwin J Brady’, Herald, 16 August 1919.

The day of small things endeth

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‘Wars, revolutions, earthquakes…the invention of the motor car and airplane, the discovery of X-Rays, radium, and Tutankhamen’s tomb’; these, Brady noted, were regarded as some of the ‘major events’ of his time. ‘But what about the major events of our individual lives?’, he pondered. What are the key moments, the turning points, that make us who we are? Standing with his father on a cliff-top near Watson’s Bay, the young Edwin Brady experienced such a moment. There, for the first time, was the sea: ‘Out to the horizon, to the edge of the world, to the Beyond where other countries, islands and continents lay, it spread like a level blue plain—the Sea’. 1

Brady’s lifelong fascination with the sea had begun, but there was something more. The feeling of space, of distant horizons, of places and experiences that lay ‘beyond’: these were obsessions that fed his restless journeying, and shaped his understanding of land as well as sea. The possibilities of space were central to the creed of ‘Australia unlimited’. ‘From sea to sea’, Australia was ‘one vast continent of undeveloped riches’. 2 The so-called ‘waste spaces’ would power the nation’s future, providing ample resources for at least 100 million people. It was, Brady argued, ‘a matter of simple arithmetic’: ‘if a Mildura will carry 5,000 people on 10,000 acres, 200,000 acres of equivalent land, on the banks of the Darling River, will carry 100,000 people’. 3

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Notes:

  1. Edwin James Brady, ‘Life’s highway – extracts (continued)’, Southerly, vol. 14, no. 1, 1953, pp. 25-6.
  2. Brady, Australia Unlimited, p. 636.
  3. Brady, ‘Can the dead heart of Australia be revived?’, p. 5.

We have all been explorers

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In 1899, EJ Brady bought a covered wagon and headed north from Parramatta. ‘I longed to see Australia away from the geography and the guidebooks’, he recounted in his book The King’s Caravan, ‘I had a recurring desire to cross mountains, ford rivers, and explore plains, slowly and deliberately’. 1 There was a restlessness in Brady’s character, a romantic yearning for new scenes and new ideas. But the ‘gipsy inclination’ that set him aboard a caravan bound for Townsville, was sharpened by his literary ambitions. Unlike some of his Bulletin contemporaries, Brady believed that his hopes of becoming a ‘representative Australian writer’ carried ‘an obligation to know more about the Island Continent’. 2 And to know Australia, you had to travel.

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Notes:

  1. Edwin James Brady, The king’s caravan: across Australia in a wagon, Edward Arnold, London, 1911, p. 3.
  2. Edwin James Brady, ‘E.J. Brady, by Himself’, Life Digest, vol. 3, no. 3, June 1949, p. 22.

Linking horizons, bridging spaces

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It was the ‘whistle of the Trans-continental Express’ that sounded as the first note in Brady’s ‘hymn of the future’. The rumbling of trains and the churning of steamships heralded the onrush of civilisation. In Brady’s dream, as in the minds of many Australians, improvements in transport and communication were essential to the future development of the Northern Territory. The land could be brought to its full potential only once its isolation had been conquered. ‘In a country of great distances like Australia’, noted David Gordon in Australia To-Day, ‘the problem of transportation is the problem of progress’. 1

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Notes:

  1. David J Gordon, ‘Bridging a continent’, Australia To-Day, no. 13, 21 November 1917, p. 107.

The spirit of progress

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EJ Brady’s father, Edward, left famine-struck Ireland in 1849 in search of something new. He travelled first to America, where he was swept up by romantic tales of frontier life. After working a spell on the Mississippi, he joined the army and headed west, hoping ‘to see and admire unoccupied American spaces’. 1 When his term was complete, a boyhood fascination with the voyages of Captain Cook lured him aboard a whaling ship bound from San Francisco. Sailing the Pacific from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn, Edward arrived back on US soil four years later, just in time to join the Union Army in battle against the rebellious south. Injured but intact, Edward contemplated a somewhat quieter life and journeyed to Australia to meet up with family in Sydney. He soon joined the mounted police and headed inland in pursuit of bushrangers.

From his father, EJ Brady claimed to have inherited ‘a longing to travel and a desire to be as far away from crowded places as I could get’. Perhaps he also gained a taste for the quirky and unconventional; for the young Brady, a knowledge of ‘Real Life and Real Things’ involved a thorough grounding in the habits of whales and Indians. 2 Brady published an account of his father’s life in America and Australia under the title Two frontiers. More than just a biography, the book is a nostalgic journeying through the ‘land of adventure’ that framed Brady’s childhood. It is also a tribute to the ‘frontier folk’ of both nations who were, he argued, ‘much alike’: ‘Similar dramas were being presented in two theatres of untamed spaces’. 3

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Notes:

  1. Edwin James Brady, Two frontiers, Frank Johnson, Sydney, 1944, p. 67.
  2. Edwin James Brady, ‘Life’s highway – extracts’, Southerly, vol. 13, no. 4, 1952, p. 196.
  3. Brady, Two frontiers, pp. 236-7; see also pp. 126, 297-9.

A sort of heritage

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The campfire was slowly dying, as was the dream. Brady continued to ponder the Northern Territory’s future, but the sounds of progress filling his thoughts gradually yielded to the insistent ‘tramp of young Australian feet at drill’. Instead of ‘clinking’ harvesters, he now heard ‘the wireless keeping watch by night and day’; instead of rumbling freight-trains there was the sound of ‘scouting aeroplanes coming home to their military hangars’. As the embers crumbled to ash, Brady concluded his campfire devotions, looking up at the stars ‘glittering like bayonet points’ and offering a prayer to the ‘God of Nations and of Battles’ that ‘this Northern State-to-be might put her young feet upon the paths of Destiny… in peace’. 1 Brady’s hymn of the future was scored to a martial beat; Australia’s unlimited future could be assured only through determined vigilance and resolute defence.

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Notes:

  1. Brady, Australia Unlimited, p. 571

A world of destinations

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The Sydney Morning Herald’s 1958 ‘Australia Unlimited’ supplement took inspiration from the words of Prime Minister Robert Menzies. ‘If I were a young man, with all the world in front of me’, Menzies told a group of businessmen in Adelaide, ‘I would want to be in Australia at the beginning of what will be its most wonderful period of development’. 1 The same sense of excitement carried through the supplement as it surveyed the nation’s current and future progress. The story of ‘Australia Unlimited’ was a ‘BIG story’, the supplement proclaimed, ‘a story to stir the pulse of all Australians’. 2 With an election nearing, Menzies and his Liberal colleagues certainly hoped the populace would be stirred by visions of continuing prosperity. 3 ‘Our slogan is “Australia Unlimited”’, Menzies declared in his campaign speech, ‘and we pronounce it with confidence’. 4

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Notes:

  1. ‘A continent on the march’, in the ‘Australia unlimited’ supplement, SMH, 30 June 1958, p. 1. For an account of Menzies’ speech see ‘Australia’s progress exciting’, Australasian Engineer, 7 August 1958, pp. 93-7.
  2. ‘A continent on the march’, in the ‘Australia unlimited’ supplement, SMH, 30 June 1958, p. 1.
  3. Marian Simms, A Liberal nation: the Liberal Party and Australian politics, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1982, pp. 58-60.
  4. Robert Gordon Menzies, ‘For “Australia unlimited”‘, Australian Liberal, vol. 2, no. 1, November 1958, p. 1. See also the campaign pamphlet Australia unlimited! – a nation on the march, Liberal Party of Australia, Canberra, 1958.

Life’s highway

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‘After nearly eight decades near association with the man’, Brady wrote of himself in 1949, ‘I have come to look upon him as the most successful failure in literary history’. This energetic booster of Australia’s potentialities was well aware of his own life’s mocking irony. ‘He has not… made the wages of a wharf laborer out of book writing’, he continued, ‘yet he persists in asserting Australia is the best country in the world!’. 1 It was a recipe for bitterness—a poet who had fallen out of fashion, an artist diverted from his calling, a failed businessman, a disappointed utopian, an old man struggling to the end to leave his family more than just a catalogue of dreams. ‘I had succeeded and failed’, Brady concluded, reflecting on a life that had never quite fulfilled its promise, ‘Should I end up, therefore, on a melancholy note?’ 2

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Notes:

  1. Brady, ‘E.J. Brady, by Himself’, p. 23
  2. Brady, ‘Life’s highway – extracts (concluded)’, Southerly, vol. 16, no. 4, 1955, p. 201.