The University of Western Australia is celebrating its Centenary this year. Instinctively, one would congratulate and celebrate, but looking at it rationally, what has been achieved in that century, beyond survival?
Where were Australia’s hopes and asiprations a century ago? Perhaps we can get a clue from Henry Lawson who wrote this in 1904:
Ah, well! but the case seems hopeless, and the pen might write in vain;
The people gabble of old things over and over again.
For the sake of the sleek importer we slave with the pick and the shears,
While hundreds of boys in Australia long to be engineers.
A new generation has risen under Australian skies,
Boys with the light of genius deep in their dreamy eyes —
Not as of artists or poets with their vain imaginings,
But born to be thinkers and doers, and makers of wonderful things.
Born to be builders of vessels in the Harbours of Waste and Loss,
That shall carry our goods to the nations, flying the Southern Cross;
And fleets that shall guard our seaboard – while the East is backed by the Jews -
Under Australian captains, and manned by Australian crews.
Boys who are slight and quiet, but boys who are strong and true,
Dreaming of great inventions – always of something new;
With brains untrammelled by training, but quick where reason directs -
Boys with imagination and unclouded intellects.
They long for the crank and the belting, the gear and the whirring wheel,
The stamp of the giant hammer, the glint of the polished steel.
For the mould and the vice and the lathe – they are boys who long for the keys
To the doors of the world’s Mechanics and Science’s mysteries.
They would be makers of fabrics, of cloth for the continents -
Makers of mighty engines and delicate instruments;
It is they who would set fair cities on the western plains far out,
They who would garden the deserts – it is they who would conquer the drought!
They see the dykes to the skyline, where a dust-waste blazes to-day,
And they hear the lap of the waters on the miles of sand and clay;
They see the rainfall increasing, and the boundless sweeps of grass,
And all the year on the rivers the strings of barges pass.
But still the steamers sail out with our timber and wool and gold,
And back with the costly shoddy stacked high in the foreign hold;
With the cardboard boots for our leather; and the Brummagem goods and the slops
For stunted and white-faced Australians to sell in our sordid shops.
Lawson’s pen may indeed have moved in vain.