Tropic Days, by E. J. Banfield

Eternal Sunshine

“North Queensland is my country. I love it. I live in it. I would die for it.”— DODD S. CLARKE.

To those who earnestly believe that a country exercises dominance over its inhabitants, mental as well as physical, the present state of North Queensland offers interesting problems. Save for a fast-disappearing remnant, gone are the original occupiers of the land. The most listless, the least thrifty of the old peoples, have given place to representatives of the most adventurous, the most successful — men and women of British blood, of progressive ideas, vaunting and independent spirit, but with slight respect for the traditions of their race. Apt to regard their own land as all-sufficient, to resent the incoming of strangers (especially those of dark complexion), determined to exclude coloured labour from tropical fields, while demanding higher and yet higher recompense for work which in other equatorial regions is deemed to be servile, on what grounds do they base the hope of adapting themselves to their environment, of becoming children of the soil?

The genius of the race forbids degeneracy. Marked and sudden improvement may be expected if examples drawn from the lower animals and certain plants are applicable. Huxley laid it down that “the animals and plants of the Northern Hemisphere are not only as well adapted to live in the Southern Hemisphere as its own autochones, but are in many cases absolutely better adapted, and so overrun and extirpate the aborigines. Clearly, therefore, the species which naturally inhabits a country is not necessarily the best adapted to its climate and other conditions.” Australian aboriginals having given way before a race better fitted to flourish, what will the future of the new race be? What ideal is at present pursued?

To one who firmly upholds the theory of the evolution of Australian types, and who thinks he perceives convincing evidence in support of his belief, it seems likely that on the tropical coast, where the influence of the sun is all-powerful, rainfall abundant, and vegetation prolific, the type will not only be more rapidly developed, but that it will be pronounced in bodily form, in tongue, and in temperament. One of the reasons compelling towards such conclusion is the decided desire — nay, the ambition — on the part of native-born Australians to do glad and seemly homage to the sun.

If a traveller from distant and friendly lands were to accept as germs of a type those who sport in the surf at fashionable watering-places, he might infer from the display of brown backs and shoulders that Australia had not escaped a smudge of aboriginal blood. But this ardently cultivated tint is notoriously impermanent. Contradictory as it may be, the most earnest advocates of the “White Australia” principle use more than the average quantity of oil, which makes the skin to shine and embrown under the influence of the much-loved sun. Do not their shoulders bear testimony to the sun’s wholesome salutations, and does not the too fair and thin-skinned individual smart under his peeling and display envy against the favoured ones who burn to the tint of old copper? Naturally, those who have the most intense longing for a coloured skin, who persistently seek to acquire it by exposure to the sun seconded by anointings, will prevail. In the course of a few generations — it would be idle to say how many — the type will be fixed and the unguent superfluous; in the meantime the use of coco-nut oil has become one of the confirmed customs of the country, as in Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific.

If “beauty born of murmuring sound” may enhance the charms of maidenhood, is it too much to expect that sunburn, fervently desired, may not only permanently darken the complexion, but affect the mien of the race? And thus in years to come the white Australian may be of the past — transformed physically by the supremacy of soil and sun, and improved in disposition and character by economic observances as irrefutable as the laws of Nature. The horses of out dry, stony uplands have already developed hoofs in shape and texture well adapted to the country over which they roam, and have become surer-footed and more active and durable. Conditions and circumstances which in a few generations effect desirable changes in horses will assuredly be influential in respect of the physique and stamina and moralities of man. North Queensland will establish a type, just as Tierra del Fuego did many centuries since, and the type will be that which is best fitted to maintain itself. It will be brown of complexion, hardy and alert. North Queensland is expansive and varied. It comprises a marvellous range of geological phenomena, from which may be expected remarkable variants. The sheep-grower of the treeless downs will differ from the denizen of the steamy coast who supplies him with sugar and bananas. The man from among the limestone bluffs may be in temperament strange to the dweller on the black soil plains and to the individual who lives among barren hills seamed with copper. Readers of English books and magazines are familiar with the little prominence given to matters which stand for good and worthiness and the stress laid on the seeming disadvantages of life in tropical Australia. A favourite magazine may contain a series of articles, sumptuously illustrated, conveying information concerning country life in Canada. It is impossible not to visualise the miles of wheat-fields, the imposing elevators, the railways cutting across endless prairies or winding among wonderful mountains, snowcapped as a stage effect merely. The pictures of chubby children and buxom girls and sturdy boys tell of the healthfulness and invigorating qualities of the climate. Is it not always spring or summer in Canada? Would not the man who whispered of snow and ice be a renegade, a dastard, a rebel? North Queenslanders do not attempt to belittle the reputation of Canada as a field for the activities of the surplus population of the old country. We are of the same blood and breed, and merely ask for a proper understanding of our own good land. The comfort given to Canada is all in the family, and an Empire which extends from pole to pole must needs embrace differences of climate and productions.

Do not we all take upon our shoulders the burden of Empire? Here we bear our share stripped to the buff, while Canada bustles under an equally honourable but heavier load. Occasionally, no doubt, the most patriotic son of our Lady of Snows would joy in the heat of North Queensland noon; while the sweatful North Queenslander may often pant for the superfluous ice of his far-away cousin.

The denizens of the different parts of the Empire quite understand one another, and realise that to be great the Empire must disregard temperatures as it does prickly heat and chilblains. Only the casual visitor fails in this.

Sun Days are essential to the production of sugar and bananas and mangoes, to say nothing of pineapples and other fruits of the tropics. When we are called upon to endure extraordinary heat, we tell one another of the penance and find excuse for extra drinks. But neither the heat nor the comparison of personal experiences is of the injurious nature of some of the refreshments. The weather is not compounded of excesses, but of means. Is it not true that few countries in the wide world would be considered fit for habitation by human beings if the character of the climate was estimated by its extremes?

No North Queenslander will resent records of high temperatures. He will be quite content to be shown enjoying and flourishing in the heat in which sugar-cane thrives, for thereby is to be proved a fact theorists seem unable to grasp — viz., that such is the soundness and virtue of the British race that it adapts itself with equal success to the long, dark, cold winter of Canada and the perpetual summer of North Queensland. Who is to say that the Canadian in his thick woollens and furs is a healthier subject, a worthier type, than the North Queenslander, stripped to the waist in the full blaze of the sun, glorying in his own vigour, proud of his magnificent heritage, and scornful of the opinions of those who have never experienced that supreme zest of life unpurchasable outside the tropic zone?

With intent to picturesquely demonstrate that soil will tell, some are ready to assert that we owe Christianity to the horizontal limestone formation of Palestine. Accepting the theory with whole-hearted enthusiasm, and admitting that North Queensland comprehends tracts of country not dissimilar from the Holy Land, mark what the future may have in store for the race. Do you want old age? — Methuselah, Noah, Isaac. Strong men? — Gosselin, Samson, Saul. Beautiful women? — Ruth, Rebecca, Esther. Does not David, the man after God’s own heart, appeal? Was not Solomon, the wise, the glorious, the prolific, a superior type? And, with all reverence be it said, was not the Founder of the Christian religion a solar product?

Hotter lands beyond the bounds of Palestine gave to the world men and women whose deeds and influence still astound and stimulate millions of mankind — the Queen of Sheba, Cleopatra, Pharaoh the Great, Moses the leader, whom the Lord knew face to face, Joseph the organiser, Mahomet, the benign Buddha, and all the sages, the poets, the historians, the architects of the gorgeous East. May not those who elect to live in lands of high temperature and who are strong in their faith cite apt and illustrious precedents, and make bold to say that none has exercised more influence on the minds and destinies of mankind than those born in the lands of the Sun?

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32