In ‘The Children’s Columns’ edited by ‘Playmate’, young Patrick O’Shaughnessy of Ashfield caused a storm with his essay in a competition on the theme ‘County Life versus City Life’. He followed up with a reply to his critics in the issue of 22 May 1919:
Dear Playmate. — In view of the tremendous upheaval which my essay on ‘Country Life versus City Life’ has created, I beg leave to reply to the vitriolic attacks of my multitudinous critics. I did not mean to offend anybody. I simply made what I considered a plain statement of facts, and, despite the storm of criticism which still rages over my head, I do not hesitate to reiterate the sentiments which I expressed in my essay. I still believe that the farmers are a quarrelsome, and discontented lot. I still believe that the people living in the country are lacking in that finer intelligence which characterises the people of the cities, and that the spectacle of the never-ending forests and fields, with the stupid cattle and sheep doing nothing but munch and munch the whole day long is dispiriting and monotonous in the extreme. I still believe that it is only in the city that you find real life — contentment, gaiety, and throbbing industry.
Some Cruel Statements.
But, my main object in writing this letter, is to endeavour to reply to some of the cruel things that were written by many country playmates regarding the dwellers of the slums of Sydney, and the densely populated centres, such as Woolloomooloo, Waterloo, &c. I think, and I know, the majority of broad-minded people will support my contention, that the dwellers of the so-called slums and the thickly populated centres, such as Woolloomooloo, Waterloo, &c, are the most democratic and unselfish citizens to be found throughout the length and breadth of Australia. They are possessed of many admirable qualities which may be searched for in vain amongst the residents of the fashionable suburbs, and even the prosperous farming and agricultural district of the country. Who was it saved Australia from the curse of conscription? Why, the people of the slums, the Woolloomoolooites, and others of the same democratic sentiments throughout Australia. They voted solidly against the iniquitous proposals of the turncoats, into whose hands had fallen the government of this fair southern land.
NSW Recruitment Committee poster, 1915 (National Library of Australia)
‘We Don’t Want to Lose You.’
Even the little children of the slums, and of Woolloomooloo and Waterloo and the ‘Rocks,’ are imbued with the true spirit of democracy. When the conscriptionist politicians visited those centres and endeavoured to persuade the people to vote away their liberties and their lives, the little boys and girls banded together and sang in chorus to the visiting politicians ‘We don’t want to lose you, but we think you ought to go.’ And the politicians went for their lives. When the dread influenza swept through the city, who was it that nobly volunteered to bring succour and relief to their stricken comrades when the ‘valiant’ V.A.D.’s, the flag flappers, and the high society dames flew to safety? Why, the people of the slums, and the residents of the democratic suburbs previously mentioned. They were only excelled in their efforts by the brave priests and nuns.
Anti-conscription leaflet, 1916 (National Library of Australia)
One Parting Shot.
Now, in conclusion, dear playmate, please let me have one parting shot at my country critics, and I will retire once again into obscurity. They have been cruel in their remarks about the dwellers of the slums, and the democrats generally of Sydney. I am not surprised. They do not know any better. They are cruel because they are ignorant. Let me point out an illustration. One morning, whilst on a holiday in the far west, I met a little girl who was returning home. She was very young, and a cheerful, merry-faced little soul. But in her hand she carried a cruel steel trap, in which was imprisoned the leg of a live rabbit. The sharp teeth of the trap were deeply embedded, crushing and tearing the bone and quivering flesh of the poor dumb animal, which writhed in agony. The little country girl laughed and joked at the sufferings of the animal, and she swung it around and around in childish glee. She seemed incapable of realising that dumb animals have feelings, like ordinary human beings. She was not to blame. It was simply the result of her environment. Most country people are cruel, as a result of their surroundings. They lay poison traps for rabbits and foxes and other animals, despite the fact that they know that by doing so they will destroy multitudes of beautiful and harmless native birds and creatures that are the pride and the glory of Australia.
–Patrick O’Shaughnessy, Australian