Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The vernacular republic

It’s been just on 35 years since Les Murray’s ‘The Vernacular Republic’ selection of poems was published. This was one of the landmarks in Australian literature. Les Murray is the outstanding poet of his generation and one of Australia’s most influential literary critics. 

A nationalist and republican, Les Murray sees his writing as helping to define, in cultural and spiritual terms, what it means to be Australian. 

The late 1970s were heady days for Australian republicans. There were many Town Hall meetings, rallies, and calls to “maintain the rage” after the 1975 Whitlam dismissal. Donald Horne, Jim McClelland, and Manning Clark addressed a public protest entitled “Kerr and the Consequences” on 20 September 1976 at Sydney Town Hall. The meeting explored the Australian constitution and ways they believed it could be changed for the better. This was also the year Les Murray published his selected poems, The Vernacular Republic.
Leslie Allan Murray was born in 1938 in Nabiac, a village on the north coast of New South Wales, and spent his childhood and youth on his father’s dairy farm nearby. The area is sparsely populated, hilly, and forested, and the beauty of this rural landscape forms a backdrop to many of Murray’s best poems, such as ‘Spring Hail’:
.. Fresh-minted hills
smoked, and the heavens swirled and blew away.
The paddocks were endless again, and all around
leaves lay beneath their trees, and cakes of moss.
His parents were poor and their weatherboard house almost bare of comforts. Murray remarked that it was not until he went to the university that he first met the middle class. His identification was with the underprivileged, especially the rural poor, and it was this that gave him his strong sense of unity with Aborigines and with ‘common folk’.

In L
es Murray’s 1976 The Vernacular Republic his selected poems demonstrate how it is Australian language that is at the core of the national identity. It is the independence of an idiomatic Australian dialect that distances the fringe from its English centre. Murray’s poetry shifts our perceptions to show life centred ‘here where we live’. Murray writes of The Macquarie Dictionary (1981), in his review-essay “Centering the Language”, that it shows
‘…how much larger and richer our dialect is than many had thought, in part by gently but firmly shifting our linguistic perception, so that our entire language is henceforth centred for us, not thousands of miles away, but here where we live.’
The use of the title The Vernacular Republic for his selected poems brings home the point that a community becomes culturally independent in its use of a local language dialect, or a ‘vernacular’. Vernacular is one of Les Murray’s favourite words and he often claims to be speaking in Australian rather than English.

Les Murray, both in public life and in his poetry, is an avowed believer in Australian cultural sovereignty. He is unyielding in his defence of a belief that has grown out of a desire to give voice to a very particular Australian identity, which to Murray’s mind emanates from the Bush. Dispossession, relegation, and independence become major preoccupations of his poetry. Beyond this, though, his poetry is generally seen to have a nationalistic bent. The continuing themes of much of his poetry are those inherent in that traditional nationalistic identity of the 1890s — respect, even reverence, for the pioneers; the importance of the land and its shaping influence on the Australian character, and bush-bred qualities and values such as egalitarianism, practicality, straight-forwardness and independence. For Murray his rural-centred Australian ‘vernacular republic’, although superficially modified by modern times and technologies, continues to exist essentially the same as it did in earlier times. Raised on bush traditions, he sees bush ballads as being vital to the national literature. In some ways herein lies the core of Murray’s much vaunted opposition to modernism — that it is a concept of the technological worlds of the northern hemisphere, ignoring and even obliterating the place-specific voice of a popular literature.

Les Murray used the idea of a ‘vernacular republic’ for his 1976 edition of selected poems, where the Australian vernacular is held to be the key to understanding Australian identity.
It is “the matrix [of Australian] distinctiveness” he says, “[w]e are a colloquial nation”, a “vernacular republic”.
Murray’s poetry locates us as a people here, in Australia, not thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. And it is here also that our sovereignty lies.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Girl Guides lead towards an independent Australia

After 18 months of intensive consultation with thousands of members and volunteers, the Girl Guides of Australia have dropped from their pledge of allegiance any reference to both the Queen and God. For a century Girl Guides have promised to do their duty to God and serve the Queen. Australian Girl Guides will now make their promise to serve the community and the country rather than to the Queen and God. Although this move comes in a jubilee year, Girl Guides Australia director Belinda Allen says the timing is right. It is this grassroots movement from Australian organisations that will be instrumental in the creation of an Australian republic.

Since 1969 Australian Girl Guides have made this promise. “To do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country” But from 6 July 2012, God and the Queen will no longer be mentioned. Instead, the young recruits will promise to do their best to be true to themselves and develop their beliefs, serve their community and Australia and live by the Guide Law. The modernisation of the Girl Guide pledge is a reflection of Girl Guides wanting to move with the times and understanding that as a country we are changing and seeking our own identity and that's part of being Australian.

The change to the Australian Girl Guides' 40-year-old pledge to Queen and to God involved a survey of all 28,000 guides and leaders on changing the promise. The refreshed Girl Guides' promise will see its 28,000-strong group promise to do their best "to be true to myself and develop my beliefs" rather than to "do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country". NSW Guides Commissioner Belinda Allen said
"We are very much hopeful with the new wording to the promise that we'll be seen as more inclusive and modern and relevant organisation and many more people will like to join us."

In the new guide law, loyal has been replaced with respect and helpful replaced with considerate.
The old Guide Promise
I promise that I will do my best:
To do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country;
To help other people; and
To keep the Guide Law.

The new Guide Promise
I promise that I will do my best:
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs
To serve my community and Australia
And live by the Guide Law.

The Girl Guide movement started in Australia in 1911. Worldwide, the Girl Guide movement has 10 million members and involves girls aged between 4 and 25. About a million Australian women have been part of the Guiding Movement since it began in 1910. Helen Geard, Australia’s Chief Commissioner has said the World Association for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts or WAGGGS has ratified the changes the Australian movement has made to its promise.WAGGGS has supported Australia and other countries to explore their Promise and Law to ensure it remains relevant to the girls and members of today.”

Republicans have welcomed the decision by Girl Guides Australia to vow to serve community and country rather than Queen and God. National Director of the Australian Republican Movement, David Morris, said it was important young Australians developed an ethic of service to community and country. On 6 July 2012, he said. 
"While Australians come from all over the world and often have emotional attachments to other countries, we have built, here in Australia, a unique community based on the values of a fair go and getting on with the job".
"For the girls of the Girl Guides, and for all Australians, we should be proud of Australia's heritage, such as being the first country in the world to introduce votes for women and to allow women to stand for parliament."
“Our kids are the future and it is very important that we develop the ethic of service to community and country.”
“It is our responsibility to teach our kids to take control of their own destiny, through community service and confidence in themselves.”
“All of the things we have achieved as a nation have been the result of Australians contributing to their community. Girl Guides have played their part in that and we salute them for their service to Australia."

It is these young women of Australia who will help to build an even fairer and more inclusive future.