PROSE PIECE: PRESENT AND PAST

PRESENT AND PAST
Oh, what a beautiful world this is, and what a Paradise we might make of it, if we were not such a selfish money grubbing set of people – that sticky burr of society, selfishness, sticks so close to us that it trammels the feet of our faint efforts to get free, and prevents us from having the greatest happiness we can, or should have in this world – the happiness of doing good to others. We are too ready to make mountains out of our neighbours’ little molehills – their faults and failings; but how hard we try to keep our own out of sight, if we are even willing to own we have any. What a lot of humbugs we are, we even try to humbug ourselves by trying to appear what we are not. Indeed, we are generally the very opposite of what we wish to be thought. If we would practice [sic] a little self-examination, we would often find that the very sin we are so anxious to declaim against and put down in public, is our own particular vanity in private. The trail of the serpent is seen more plainly on the most beautiful flowers, I think, than any others; hence it strikes me that the trail is very plainly seen here in Illawarra, it being in my opinion one of the most beautiful spots in Australia. And yet it seems a very unsociable place, everyone appears to owe his neighbour a grudge. Being obliged to call at many of the houses in this locality, I was astonished to find such a spirit of envy, hatred, malice and uncharitableness among the dwellers there-in; with but one or two exceptions this spirit seemed to pervade the whole district. I think the march of civilization has made us a very uncivil set of people – how different it is from what it was fifty years ago – then neighbours seemed only too glad to sympathise with, and assist each other, when in any trouble or difficulty, instead of, as now, chuckling over the loss of a neighbour’s horse or cow, the breaking of his cart, etc. Even the children partake of the same spirit. I overheard a little boy telling another that Mr G’s best horse had been drowned. He replied, “A good job too, he was allers getting inter our ‘lotment, father was going to pull him to court about it.” Indeed “pulling” to court seems the rage down here. When shall we learn to bear another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ? I am afraid we are a long way off from that “Ultima Thule” of our hopes and aspirations. I think, as Hamlet did, that “there’s something rotten in the estate of Denmark” (Illawarra). Talking of fifty years ago, I cannot but feel how changed all things are, even hospitality, the characteristic tract of the old colonists, has almost disappeared, and the very name of “damper” (the bread then used by all residents in the bush) has become obsolete, and as I recall the memories of the past, of the changed, the loved, and lost, with a weary heart I am tempted to exclaim Qui Bonu[??]
(Illawarra Mercury, July 3, 1884)
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In this prose piece there is a hint, perhaps, of Melinda Kendall’s pretence at sobriety: “What a lot of humbugs we are, we even try to humbug ourselves by trying to appear what we are not. Indeed, we are generally the very opposite of what we wish to be thought. If we would practice [sic] a little self-examination, we would often find that the very sin we are so anxious to declaim against and put down in public, is our own particular vanity in private.” Was her attachment to the Temperance movement in later life merely a ruse, and statements like this clues to her true position on the subject? She has been, after all, painted as a hopeless drunk by some of her son’s biographers.
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19th-century Australian writer, pioneer, teacher. The site of the rambling research of Mr Knox's offsider.

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