Abstract

On 16 May 1871 the Illustrated Australian News reproduced an engraving illustrating ‘A Surgeon’s Hut in the Bush’. The accompanying text observed that Victoria still retained ‘in its bush life, photographs, so to speak, of the manners and customs which prevailed during the period when the gold fever was raging at its height.1 The writer commented on the fact that the difference between such ‘unpretending habitations’ and ‘the princely mansions in Collins Street East’ afforded ‘a vivid mental panorama of the gigantic strides Victoria has made during the last twenty years’. It is easy to deride such naive perceptions of time and change. Writing 101 years later in Punch, Stephen Toulmin (an Englishman) declared that ‘any self-respecting people must find it embarrassing to possess a national history less than five centuries old’.2 He was writing of America but his assumptions can also be applied to Australia, and especially so as its Bicentennial year of 1988 approaches. This essay attempts to throw some light on what meanings 1988 might have for Australians by examining attitudes to the past and the present expressed by Australian city-dwellers in the period leading up to 1888.

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