Sunday, October 18, 2009

Growing closer to the mother country

Greg Sheridan writing in The Weekend Australian:

How do we as Australians stand in relation to our British heritage? Personally, I don't have any genetic British heritage that I know of. My background is Irish. But as an Australian I do fully partake of laws, institutions, traditions, literature and even broadly a culture that to a very considerable extent was shaped in Britain. It has had lots of other influences as well, but it's silly or just irrational to deny or downplay the British influence.

Therefore, being in London has a certain emotional and cultural impact for an Australian, even if you're not sentimentally tied up in British ancestry. While I was in London, a bookshop in the West End was holding a display on my all-time favourite writer, P.G. Wodehouse, full of fascinating arcana about the master craftsman's life. One day I went to see Robin Niblett at legendary think tank Chatham House on St James's Square and was a little astonished to find that we were sitting in what had once been William Gladstone's bedroom.

For Australians, Gladstone is part of our history. He was an immensely important prime minister, for his views on everything from Irish self-rule, to the slave trade, to the role of Christianity in society and a million other things. You cannot be a culturally literate Australian if you've never heard of Gladstone. Yet he rightly means less to us than he does to the British themsleves.

People who favour one special bit of knowledge, as I for example have always favoured Asian literacy, often argue, quite dishonestly, that adding one more thing to the core curriculum of what we need to know to navigate our situation intelligently doesn't diminish any other part of the core. Yet this is not true. The human mind is a zero-sum game. We can exhort all people to read and study more, to watch better movies and attend more galleries and all the rest, but in the end there is a more or less fixed quotient of cultural and historical space in the average mind.

Full article here.

Posted via email from Garth's posterous

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