First and foremost of course in every eye was the commanding figure of Sir Henry Parkes...His studied attitudes expressed either distinguished humility or imperious command. His manner was invariably dignified, his speech slow, and his pronunciation precise...He had always in his mind's eye his own portrait of a great man, and constantly adjusted himself to it...Movements, gestures, inflexions, attitude harmonized, not simply because they were intentionally adopted but because there was in him the substance of the man he dressed himself to appear...
It was not a rich nor a versatile personality, but it was massive, durable and imposing, resting upon elementary qualities of human nature elevated by a strong mind. He was cast in the mould of a great man and though he suffered from numerous pettinesses, spites and failings, he was in himself a full-blooded, large-brained, self-educated Titan whose natural field was found in Parliament and whose resources of character and intellect enabled him in his later years to overshadow all his contemporaries.
In 1890, Parkes represented NSW at a Federation Conference held in Melbourne's Queen's Hall. He pushed the case for federation by reminding his audience of what the colonies shared:
The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all. Even the native born Australians are Britons, as much as the men born in the cities of London and Glasgow. We know the value of their British origin. We know that we represent a race...for the purposes of settling new colonies, which never had its equal on the face of the earth. We know, too, that conquering wild territory, and planting civilised communities therein, is a far nobler, a far more immortalizing achievement than conquest by feats of arms. (p.161)
Parkes was politically a liberal. At this time, the logic of liberalism had not yet unfolded to the point at which Anglo Australians thought it wrong to uphold their own existence as a distinct people (their own ethnic existence). For Parkes, at least, this belief in preserving his own nation was not because of feelings of supremacy. He supported restrictions on Chinese immigration, for instance, on the following basis:
They are a superior set of people . . . a nation of an old and deep-rooted civilization. . . . It is because I believe the Chinese to be a powerful race capable of taking a great hold upon the country, and because I want to preserve the type of my own nation . . . that I am and always have been opposed to the influx of Chinese.
This outlook was to hold until the middle of the twentieth century in Australia, before giving way to the situation familiar to our own time, in which both left and right liberals came to support a civic nationalism and then a multiculturalism. It is not a development that the Fathers of Federation would have supported.
|Sir Henry Parkes statue in Parkes, NSW|