From Kangaroo (1923)

D. H. Lawrence visited Australia in 1922, staying for a time at Thirroul, south of Sydney:

The train ran for a long time through Sydney, or the endless outsides of Sydney. The town took almost as much leaving as London does. But it was different. Instead of solid rows of houses, solid streets like London, it was mostly innumerable detached bungalows and cottages, spreading for great distances, scattering over hills, low hills and shallow inclines. And then waste marshy places, and old iron, and abortive corrugated iron “works” – all like the Last Day of Creation, instead of a new country. Away to the left they saw the shallow waters of the big opening where Botany Bay is: the sandy shores, the factory chimneys, the lonely places where it is still Bush. And the weary half established straggling of more suburb.

Como” said the station sign. And they ran on bridges over two arms of water from the sea, and they saw what looked like a long lake with wooded shores and bungalows: a bit like Lake Como, but oh, so unlike. That curious sombreness of Australia, the sense of oldness, with all the forms worn down low and blunt, squat. The squat-seeming earth. And then they ran at last into real country – rather rocky, dark old rocks, and sombre bush with its different, pale-stemmed, dull-leaved gum-trees standing graceful, and various healthy-looking undergrowth, and great spiky things like yuccas…

 

The Travellers by Gary Shead, 1996 (Savill Galleries)

The Travellers by Gary Shead, 1996 (Savill Galleries)

“Your wonderful Australia!” said Harriett to Jack. “I can’t tell you how it moves me. It feels as if no-one had ever loved it. Do you know what I mean? England and Germany and Italy and Egypt and India – they’ve all been loved so passionately. But Australia feels as if it had never been loved, and never come out into the open. As if man had never loved it, and made it a happy country, a bride country – or a mother country.”

“I don’t suppose they ever have,” said Jack.

“But they will?” asked Harriett. “Surely they will. I feel if I was Australian, I should love the very earth of it – they very sand and dryness of it – more than anything.”

–D.H. Lawrence, English, 1885-1930

From The Spectator (1988)

Visiting Australia for the Bicentenary, Auberon Waugh casts his idiosyncratic eye over the Sydney Opera House and ponders what it says about Australia:

My bedroom in the Regent Hotel, Sydney, looks down from a great height on the harbour and on the Sydney Opera House nestling in a corner of it. This strange and costly building, designed by the Danish architect Jøern Utzon in 1955, was opened on its magnificent site, surrounded by water on three sides, in 1973 to cries of wonderment and disbelief from the rest of the world. Briefly, it seemed to have fanned the dying embers of the Modern Movement; it became one of Mr Bernard Levin’s Enthusiasms, along with Bayreuth, the Maharishi Yogi and some even odder ones, now forgotten; it remains the focus of a certain bemused pride in Sydney and throughout the whole of Australia.

On my last visit I was taken behind stage and into its bowels, marvelling at the lack of functional justification for the design. Even judged as decoration, it ignores the first principles of artistic integrity, since in order for the huge, concrete sails to be filled with air (they contain nothing else) in the manner of real sails, the wind would have to be blowing simultaneously from opposite directions.

View from Four Seasons Hotel (formerly Regent Hotel), Sydney (Four Season Hotel website)

View from Four Seasons Hotel (formerly Regent Hotel), Sydney (Four Season Hotel website)

This time I have not ventured inside. Instead, I brood over it twinkling underneath me in the morning sunlight, as I eat my breakfast, glimmering in the evening light as I return to change for dinner (the Australians are very formal about dress) and glowing once again by floodlight when I eventually return to bed. From this great height it looks very small and strangely vulnerable, enshrining, as it does, a last, residual hope for the future, that Modern Art was a good idea, Epstein’s contortions and Moore’s polished lumps expressed a vision, an alternative aesthetic, a justification for modern culture. All the nicest and most intelligent people I know have convinced themselves that this is the case, just as all the nicest and most intelligent Australians have convinced themselves their Opera House is beautiful.

It is not beautiful, of course. Nor is it ugly. It is merely absurd. It is a Mickey Mouse construction, straight out of Disney World. It is a harmless little joke about modern architecture rather than an example of the real thing — which would inevitably have been brutal in its desire to shock, offensive in its ugliness and sinister in its contempt for mere humanity. The Opera House is none of these things. It is purely absurd, and utterly endearing in its absurdity.

What makes it so endearing is the mystery of how a sceptical, satirically-minded nation allowed it to be built — at such prodigious cost, and with such flamboyant disregard for any canon of good taste or common sense. It is a monument to a particular Australian quality which is seldom remarked in discussions about the country, still dominated by the stock Australian expatriate joke-figures of Clive James, Barry Mackenzie, John Pilger, Charles Osborne and Germaine Greer, but one which impresses me more with every visit. At its least interesting, it takes the form of an astounding level of tolerance. Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras, when all the homosexuals of Kings Cross cavort in the streets, is an example of this. The friendliness with which they are received would be unthinkable in Britain, even before Aids. In Sydney, it is welcomed as another opportunity to show good humour and friendliness.

 –Auberon Waugh, English, 1939-2001