The Schadenfreude of old books–2–Sir Frank Fox

This one came out the year my parents were born.



He was no dill.

Sir Frank Ignatius Fox (1874-1960), journalist and Imperialist, was born on 12 August 1874 at Kensington, Adelaide, second son of Charles James Fox, journalist, and his wife Mary Ann, née Toole. He moved to Hobart in 1883, when his father became editor of the Tasmanian Mail, and was educated at Christ’s College. At an early age he wrote paragraphs for his father’s paper.

Stranded in Sydney about 1891, Fox abandoned the idea of reading for the Bar, and became an office-boy on the Australian Workman. He became a shareholder in the staff co-operative that took over ownership from the Trades and Labor Council; as its editor in 1893-95 Fox opposed the efforts of the ‘outside’ Labor men to impose on the parliamentary party ‘an impossible & silly pledge’. On 13 June 1894 he married, with Congregational forms, Helen Clint (d.1958); they had a son and two daughters.

Next year Fox became editor of the Bathurst National Advocate and supported Federation. In 1898 he could not pay debts incurred by the illness of his wife and himself; he was released from bankruptcy in July 1900. Meanwhile he had returned to Sydney and worked for the Daily Telegraph and Truth. Fox joined the staff of the Bulletin in 1901. Next year, as ‘Frank Renar’, he published Bushman and Buccaneer, a memoir of Harry ‘the Breaker’ Morant

And went on to do quite a lot.



A dwindling race; their curious weapons—The Papuan tree-dwellers—The cunning witch-doctors.

The natives of Australia were always few in number. The conditions of the country secured that Australia, kept from civilization for so long, is yet the one land of the world which, whilst capable of great production with the aid of man’s skill, is in its natural state hopelessly sterile. Australia produced no grain of any sort naturally; neither wheat, oats, barley nor maize. It produced practically no edible fruit, excepting a few berries, and one or two nuts, the outer rind of which was eatable. There were no useful roots such as the potato, the turnip, or the yam, or the taro. The native animals were few and just barely eatable, the kangaroo, the koala (or native bear) being the principal ones. In birds alone was the country well supplied, and they were more beautiful of plumage than useful as food. Even the fisheries were infrequent, for the coast line, as you will see from the map, is unbroken by any great bays, and there is thus less sea frontage to Australia than to any other of the continents, and the rivers are few in number.

Where the land inhabited by savages is poor in food-supply their number is, as a rule, small and their condition poor. It is not good for a people to have too easy times; that deprives them of the incentive to work. But also it is not good for people who are backward in civilization to be kept to a land which treats them too harshly; for then they never get a fair chance to progress in the scale of civilization. The people of the tropics and the people near the poles lagged behind in the race for exactly opposite but equally powerful reasons. The one found things too easy, the other found things too hard. It was in the land between, the Temperate Zone, where, with proper industry, man could prosper, that great civilizations grew up.

The Australian native had not much to complain of in regard to his climate. It was neither tropical nor polar. But the unique natural conditions of his country made it as little fruitful to an uncivilized inhabitant as was Lapland. When Captain Cook landed at Botany Bay probably there were not 500,000 natives in all Australia. And if the white man had not come, there probably would never have been any progress among the blacks. As they were then they had been for countless centuries, and in all likelihood would have remained for countless centuries more. They had never, like the Chinese, the Hindus, the Peruvians, the Mexicans, evolved a civilization of their own. There was not the slightest sign that they would be able to do so in the future. If there was ever a country on earth which the white man had a right to take on the ground that the black man could never put it to good use, it was Australia.

Allowing that, it is a pity to have to record that the early treatment of the poor natives of Australia was bad. The first settlers to Australia had learned most of the lessons of civilization, but they had not learned the wisdom and justice of treating the people they were supplanting fairly. The officials were, as a rule, kind enough; but some classes of the new population were of a bad type, and these, coming into contact with the natives, were guilty of cruelties which led to reprisals and then to further cruelties, and finally to a complete destruction of the black people in some districts…

Usually the Australian black is altogether spoilt by civilization. He learns to wear clothes, but he does not learn that clothes need to be changed and washed occasionally, and are not intended for use by day and night. He has an insane veneration for the tall silk hat which is the badge of modern gentility, and, given an old silk hat, he will never allow it off his head. He quickly learns to smoke and to drink, and, when he comes into contact with the Chinese, to eat opium. He cannot be broken into any steady habits of industry, but where by wise kindness the black fellow has been kept from the vices of civilization he is a most engaging savage. Tall, thin, muscular, with fine black beard and hair and a curiously wide and impressive forehead, he is not at all unhandsome. He is capable of great devotion to a white master, and is very plucky by daylight, though his courage usually goes with the fall of night. He takes to a horse naturally, and some of the finest riders in Australia are black fellows.

An attempt is now being made to Christianize the Australian blacks. It seems to prosper if the blacks can be kept away from the debasing influence of bad whites. They have no serious vices of their own, very little to unlearn, and are docile enough. In some cases black children educated at the mission schools are turning out very well. But, on the other hand, there are many instances of these children conforming to the habits of civilization for some years and then suddenly feeling “the call of the wild,” and running away into the Bush to join some nomad tribe.

It is not possible to be optimistic about the future of the Australian blacks. The race seems doomed to perish. Something can be done to prolong their life, to make it more pleasant; but they will never be a people, never take any share in the development of the continent which was once their own.

A quite different type of native comes under the rule of the Australian Commonwealth—the Papuan. Though Papua, or New Guinea, as it was once called, is only a few miles from the north coast of Australia, its race is distinct, belonging to the Polynesian or Kanaka type, and resembling the natives of Fiji and Tahiti.

Papua is quite a tropical country, producing bananas, yams, taro, sago, and cocoa-nuts. The natives, therefore, have always had plenty of food, and they reached a higher stage of civilization than the Australian aborigines. But their food came too easily to allow them to go very far forward. “Civilization is impossible where the banana grows,” some observer has remarked. He meant that since the banana gave food without any culture or call on human energy, the people in banana-growing countries would be lazy, and would not have the stimulus to improve themselves that is necessary for progress. To get a good type of man he must have the need to work.

The Papuan, having no need of industry, amused himself with head-hunting as a national sport…

So interesting just to register, without surprise, what was the received wisdom in the year my parents were born!