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Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience



Tourists represent the largest Australian presence in Britain but also the most fleeting. After considering the particular definitional problems posed by Australian tourism in Britain, this chapter sketches three broad changes in that presence over the twentieth century: increasing democratisation as overseas tourism opened up to an increasing proportion of Australia’s population; logistical changes brought about by plane travel to and car travel within Britain, and the shift from family to friends in providing accommodation; and finally, transformations in the cultural capital that the Australian tourist brought with them, reflecting the diminution of a specifically ‘British’ culture in Australian life.

Of all Australian experiences of Britain in the twentieth century, the tourist experience was the most frequent and the most fleeting. Being so common, it deserves notice, but it has been robbed of serious attention by the persistent notion that it is superficial. It is also a surprisingly difficult subject to research: the evidence of the tourist experience is often elusive, the traces both ubiquitous and hard to find, too easily descending into cliché, too often hidden in slide boxes under beds.

The tourist has always had a bad press. Ever since the word was invented at the end of the eighteenth century, tourists were, as James Buzard has shown, defined as superficial and blinkered, their experience ephemeral and pre-packaged.1 In the conventional dichotomy of traveller and tourist, it was always the tourist who was the butt of the joke. We can recognise that dichotomy as an artefact of the democratisation and commercialisation of travel, a process whereby the figure of the traveller, defined by ‘his’ individuality, came to be valued and promoted over the conventionality of the mass: often female, often American, almost always further down the social scale, a precursor to the cultural distinctions drawn between the high and the popular. But even in acknowledging this dichotomy as a sham, we need to accept that tourists are by definition the most temporary of Australian visitors to Britain. They are too transitory to penetrate society in the way other individual Australians have,2 and too few in number to have a distinctive mass impact; but as the largest Australian presence in Britain numerically, and in the very fact that they return to Australia, they arguably have more influence on popular Australian attitudes to Britain back home than does any other group.

Against conventional expectations of tourist behaviour, the Australian tourist in Britain poses particular problems of definition. Within the variety of Australian types in Britain that have attracted scholarly attention – migrants, expatriates, guest workers, sojourners, exiles, waifs, backpackers, professionals who are not exactly backpackers3 – where do tourists fit?

Conventionally tourism is defined against two aspects of the everyday, the routines of work and the routines of home. As John Urry has put it, tourism is a leisure activity that is the ‘opposite’ of work and takes place away from home.4 True, it has often been argued that while travel is supposed to be an escape from work and home, tourists persist in the routines of work and behave as the ‘the relentless representative of home’.5 Nevertheless, tourism is fundamentally positioned against work and home.

These are the points where definitions are muddied for so many Australian tourists in Britain, and for those who looked down on them. Take the interweaving of work and travel. Many Australians travel to Britain in order to work. For many occupations over much of the twentieth century, work in Britain was the logical extension of a career: Fleet Street for journalism, the West End for theatre, the City for finance, and so on. At the same time, many other Australians worked in Britain in order to travel. In the working holiday, the border between work and holiday is porous. Work in the working holiday became not merely the means to travel, a way of financing it, though that was crucial to the conception. In addition, the work component was often the key with which Australian travellers could penetrate ‘back stage’, to experience British society from the inside, rather than being merely the observers of the ‘staged authenticity’ of tourism.6 So the irony was that working holiday-makers established their superiority to the mere tourist, not in their greater distance from the routines of work, but in their very emulation of those routines.

Just as being in Britain could be equated with being at work, it could also be equated with being at ‘home’. The particular symbolic value that Britain acquired as ‘Home’ in Australia can be dated from the 1840s, when it began to acquire a capital letter and/or a set of inverted commas.7 It is no coincidence that this was when the Victorian idealisation of home as the domestic sphere was taking hold, becoming sentimentalised as a refuge from a brutal world, a haven of culture and peace, and the domain of women.8 While the idea of England as ‘home’ would be satirised by many Australians, a century later, in 1948, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sir Raymond Connelly, could still claim that ‘As long as members of the Empire refer to London as “coming home” the Empire is safe’.9 Such claims did not survive much longer, although wishful thinking might have affected judgements on both sides of the political spectrum: the socialist Brian Fitzpatrick thought the habit of calling England ‘home’ died during the Second World War, while the conservative Frederic Eggleston still confidently asserted ‘England is “Home”’ in 1953.10 But at least until the middle of the twentieth century, its definition remained problematic: how can someone be travelling when they have just arrived ‘home’? When it came to Britain, the superior travellers were those who were, paradoxically, the most domesticated. Even for a later generation, as Clive James and Murray Sayle explained, Australians were not tourists in London because they belonged there.11

What this suggests is the impossibility of ‘travel’ as distinct from ‘tourism’ for Australians in Britain. In the conventional hierarchy the tourist is conventional, timid and clichéd, and the traveller is the individual adventurer who quests for the unexpected. Australians arrived armed with those hierarchies. In 1954 Lindsay Parker wrote on ‘Tourist or traveller’ for the Sydney Morning Herald, and produced this ‘infallible formula’ for distinguishing the various visitors:


I am a Traveller
You are a Tourist
He, She or It is a Tripper.
We are Travellers (be certain of your company)
You are an Organised Tour
They are ruining the place.12

But Britain was too well known: the chances of adventure and the unexpected were few and far between.

When writing about the experience, Australians could adopt the language of travellers – of adventure, exploration and discovery – but it was a personal, interior adventure, as Ros Pesman, Angela Woollacott and Graeme Davison, in his ‘emancipatory tradition’, have shown, often slipping into the language of discovery themselves.13 Woollacott writes of Alice Grant Rosman’s ‘serialised adventures exploring London’, and Nancy Phelan of Louise Mack, ‘walking for miles [in London], exploring, discovering, astonished, enthralled to find so much unexpected beauty’.14 Barbara Hanrahan even insisted that riding London buses and the tube was ‘always an adventure’.15 Australian women seemed particularly fond of the adventure narrative. Alternatively, the traveller-adventurer pose could be adopted ironically to point up the paradox, as in Randolph Bedford’s Explorations in Civilisation of 1914.16

But when they wrote about the external place rather than the inner journey, when they produced travel writing rather than memoir or fiction, Australians were less likely to be able to sustain the idea that they were travellers rather than tourists. This posed a problem. As Patrick Holland and Graham Huggan suggest, most successful travel writing – despite its popularity – is anti-democratic; it reinforces the traveller–tourist distinction as a way of identifying and then pandering to a middle-class audience, and remains ‘a refuge for complacent, even nostalgically retrograde, middle-class values’.17 For Australians writing about their experience of Britain however, to make the claim that they were travellers rather than tourists would have strained the credulity of their readers.

The dilemma was perhaps most stark in Ethel Turner’s travel book, Ports and Happy Havens.18 Turner was born in Yorkshire, but was taken to Australia when she was 7 (she called Australia ‘home’). On her first trip to England she disembarked at Marseilles and detailed her travels through Italy, Germany, Holland and Belgium, recognising herself as a ‘devoted tourist’ – the Dutch children in traditional dress and clogs already adopted poses and expected payment for photographs – but nevertheless offering perceptive judgements on foreign ways, and having adventures as good travellers should. She had dismissed the advice to ‘get off the beaten track’, saying that as an Australian she had to see the beaten track first, but she wrote of her travels as discovery. At Naples, ‘our first of the old-world cities, we can plunge humbly enough into that, we crude, unhistoried Australians’.19 Several times she played with a postmodern conceit that the view from the train was a tableau staged for tourists. Finally at Ostend, they crossed the channel to Dover: ‘Who, with any of England’s blood in them could any longer refuse to hear the call?’. Here, at what might have been the climax of her tour, the travel writing suddenly stopped: this ‘shining interlude’ in England found no expression in the published travel account, though her diary was packed with detail. It was as if she had been struck dumb. Her 15 weeks in England were dispensed with in 15 lines, and then, back in France, the thread of discovery and travel writing and ironic post-tourism was resumed.20

There is a curious sense of disempowerment here. Australians simply could not be travellers in Britain. They could merge in (or try to), or they could be tourists; they could engage in a journey of self-discovery, or be ironic about their colonial status; but they could never claim to discover anything new. Travel to Britain was the necessary validation of the known rather than the discovery of the unknown. Indeed, as I have suggested elsewhere, words simply failed them when confronted by the England they knew so well in their imaginations. The standard response was that England was ‘beyond description’.21

Part of the problem was H.V. Morton and other English writers who embarked from the 1920s on their own search for England, and claimed to have found it. In 1927 Morton wrote his first travel book, In Search of England, which was he said ‘my adventure the beaten track’.22 Its phenomenal success reached throughout the empire. It had 26 reprints by 1939 and spawned another five ‘Search’ books on Britain, five guides to London and three to the Holy Land. He could be said, in the Saturday Review, to have ‘the true spirit of the adventurer’.23

To judge from its ubiquity in second-hand bookshops, In Search of England was a big success in Australia, often given as a gift, perhaps to prospective tourists or more poignantly to armchair tourists who would never be able to go. Morton created an England that seeped into the very bones of those ‘independent Australian-Britons’ described by Keith Hancock three years later.24 Part of Morton’s mastery of the genre lay in his ability to politely eroticise his adventures, particularly his encounters with women, while keeping within quite respectable bounds. Though married, Morton was something of a sexual predator, keeping a list of more than 100 sexual conquests in his private papers, and his solo journeys in search of England were perfect opportunities for extending it.25 In response, Australians writing their own accounts of time in England could only defer to the Englishman’s superior knowledge – or superior powers of discovery – and adopt a cultural cringe. For tourists in Britain there was, in A.A. Phillips’s phrase, a ‘minatory Englishman’ sitting in the back of their mind, and his name was H.V. Morton.26

My favourite example of this deference to the superior descriptive powers of others was Hudson Fysh, in England on business with Qantas in 1937. At his first contact with English nature up close in Kew Gardens, he was lost for words. He laboriously copied into his diary 16 lines from Halliday Sutherland about ‘England! our England!’ which described ‘old English parks, having within themselves peace, security, and contentment everlasting. In those gardens of Eden the mind for a few moments may know a pantheistic calm in which conflict, sin and death are forgotten’. Fysh added the comment, ‘Exactly the words I have been groping for except that I don’t know what pantheistic means’.27

Morton and others put Australians in an awkward position; if, when writing about their travels in Britain, they were not describing a personal journey of adventure, then they could only write, often quite frankly, as tourists. I have argued elsewhere that Australian travel writing in the middle of the twentieth century saw the emergence of a genre that (unusually) could celebrate the tourist over the traveller. Frank Clune was a master of the tourist book: not a tourist guide, but a style of travel writing that positioned the tourist as hero. I am suggesting that, when it came to Britain, Australians had no other option.

Clune’s own book on Britain, Land of Hope and Glory (1949), was a perfect example of the genre.28 He was, he said, ‘a typical Australian’ on his first visit, at the age of 53, to the ‘Old Dart’, ‘a “home” I had never seen’ despite its overwhelming familiarity from a lifetime of ‘schools, newspapers, books, plays, cinema, radio, political oratory’. He would write as a tourist, seeking out the familiar: he had ‘only six weeks in which to capture the rapture’ so it would be ‘some high-pressure sightseeing to make even a nodding acquaintance’. The results were recorded in a substantial 150,000 words, ‘as a glimpse, and not as a full picture’.29 All tourists, as Jonathan Culler suggests, are ‘interested in everything as a sign of itself’30 but Clune went further, becoming devoted to the sign itself, quite literally. He was an avid connoisseur of the monument and the memorial, the tourist seduced by the signifier. The typical photograph in his many books is of a tourist sign or monument, often with Clune posing in front of it. In his first travel book, the first five pages contain the inscriptions copied from seven monuments.31 He was shocked to learn that Londoners took ‘very little interest in their abundant memorials of past days and bloody deeds’, but found it ‘enchanting to a visitor from the Antipodes to discover wreaths are still placed on King Charles the First’s statue ... London is full of historical vestiges like that’.32 Mathew Trinca has argued for a peculiarly Australian emphasis on London’s monumentality, with its imperial and bourgeois themes.33 Clune himself happily combined imperial and bourgeois sympathies with more populist Irish-Australian ones, and his enthusiasm for monuments was also the enthusiasm of the tourist. ‘Being only an Australian’, he once suggested, perhaps inadvertently, ‘I see and depict what average tourists see’.34

This definitional struggle seems to have been a constant in the Australian experience of Britain throughout the twentieth century, but there were also changes. I now turn to three significant – if rather obvious – transformations: shifts in who went, how they did it and what they took with them. The trajectories of these three shifts were uneven, and they interacted with the dramatic changes taking place in Britain at the time, but they led to very different Australian tourist experiences at the two ends of the twentieth century.

First was the democratisation of tourism. Prior to the First World War Australian tourists in Britain were secure in their exclusivity. It took a lot of money and – more importantly – a lot of time to make the journey. This ‘travelling class’ was not simply defined by wealth.35 Angela Woollacott has pointed out that many not particularly well-to-do women managed to make it to London, but that did not mean everyone could go.36 These women generally had considerable cultural capital and hopes of working as journalists or in the arts, hopes that were not always realistic and not always fulfilled. Again we see the working holiday undermining our ideas of the nature of tourism. These women were, as Ros Pesman put it, ‘duty free’ – in that they possessed time and freedom from ties that might bind.37 Each individual setting off for London had to strike a balance in their economy of desire between the cultural capital driving them to go and the (fluctuating) material means necessary to get there. For the vast majority of Australians, the desire to go was not enough to overcome the hurdles; no matter how strong the desire, many simply lacked the cultural or financial capital, the freedom or perhaps the foolhardiness to go. Most Australians could not expect to travel, and certainly not as tourists.

All this changed suddenly in 1916, when tens of thousands of ordinary Australian men – ‘six-bob-a-day tourists’ – visited Britain on leave or for training on what many treated as a sort of packaged working holiday.38 Mere presence in Britain was now robbed of any social exclusiveness. I suspect the result was that after the war, in the 1920s, Australian tourism to Britain moved towards a self-conscious search for high culture, where social distinctions could be marked out, rather than a simple reconnection with family and place – which, after all, the troops had indulged in just as effectively.

By the 1950s it seems the range of ordinary young Australians on working holidays was increasing, with rising prosperity in Australia relative to Britain: Barry Humphries’ Debbie Thwaite and her 1960 flatmates – physiotherapist, hairdresser, typist, comptometrist, nurse, phys-ed instructress – were archetypes, ‘a type of Australian girl I kept meeting during my early weeks in London’.39 But a rite of passage before ‘settling down’ still called for time and commitment. With the arrival of the jumbo jet the commitment in both time and money was dramatically reduced: the reduced commitment of time would prove far more significant than the cost savings.40

For younger Australians it says much about the cultural meaning of Europe that the ‘Grand Tour’ – a serious commitment of time to travel in Britain and the Continent to expand one’s intellectual and social horizons – continued so long after it had become practicable to visit Britain for an annual holiday from the security of a permanent job. With this antipodean Grand Tour, we are venturing beyond the mere tourist experience, and we can only speculate about how it has changed. Has time in Britain shifted from being a socially sanctioned educational experience to simply providing a reasonably safe test of individual character? Has Britain lost much of its glamour, as distinct perhaps from the Continent, which continues to offer cosmopolitan panache? For older Australians, we can be more confident that those who travelled to Britain as tourists found it easier by the end of the century than ever before: an obvious point, but of profound consequence in the Australian tourist experience.

One effect of the democratisation of tourism was the rapid retreat by the Australian government from providing facilities for Australians in Britain. When it opened in 1917, Australia House took over the role of the agents-general and the offices of the British-Australasian in providing facilities for tourists, whom they could be confident were respectably middle class. In the 1920s the official role of the High Commission was to ‘wish all Australian visitors to regard Australia House as a corner of Australia in London, a rendezvous ... where they can meet each other, where they may recapture their touch with home’. It offered an enquiry counter, a bookstall, a reception room and a commodious library, where ‘Australian visitors might find it convenient to rest ... a while and arrange to meet their friends’ (see Chapter 6). In a curiously tortured mission statement for a tourist bureau, they promised that ‘The officials in charge are in a position to furnish information of a nature that may be helpful to visitors’.41 Always criticised for catering excessively to the elite who could afford to travel, those facilities were progressively wound down from the 1950s, just as travel was being democratised. By 1987 Bernard Lyman was bemoaning the fact that ‘Australia House ... is no longer the home from home for Australians it used to be’.42

The second major shift was in how Australian tourists travelled. The move from ship to plane meant not only a saving in time and money, but also a loss of the less tangible benefits of the voyage. Andrew Hassam and Angela Woollacott have pointed to the importance of the six-week voyage as preparation for the ensuing experience of Britain, heightening anticipation, increasing knowledge, supplying a sense of modern technological competence, reinforcing a sense of empire with ports of call on the way, and establishing helpful (or unhelpful) contacts among fellow passengers.43 Tourists at the end of the century were denied that experience. Andrew Taylor has suggested the rise of air travel produced a profound psychic shift: not he stresses from exile to mere tourism, but from unitary to pluralistic patterns of identification with Britain, turning a taste for the tragic irony of the expatriate predicament into comic irony.44

Another shift concerned accommodation for tourists arriving in Britain. As the century wore on, family connections in Britain grew more tenuous, though they were being replenished by those of the migrant ‘ten-pound Poms’. While changing communication technologies – phone and email adding to postal links – reinforced those links, increased residential mobility might well have been breaking them. If it was easier to keep in touch, it was also becoming easier to lose touch. For increasing numbers the possibility of staying with relatives in Britain was no longer available, though even at the end of the century one third of Australian visitors to Britain stayed with relatives, at least for a time.

But if convenient relatives were fewer, convenient friends had multiplied. Globalisation, mobility, communication technologies and the democratisation of tourism all contributed to a situation whereby more Australians knew more people in Britain (other Australian visitors as well as British residents) than ever before, and so the decline in the relatives was made up for by the rise of the friends. Indeed, it is quite possible that the proportion of Australians spending time in English homes, ‘the extremely important VFR (visiting friends and relatives) market segment’ as the industry puts it, has not changed significantly over the twentieth century.45 Certainly, the possibility of staying with locals remains more common for Australians in Britain than anywhere else. However, two differences accompany this shift from family to friends. First, if that sort of accommodation gave the tourist a sense of getting ‘back-stage’, of ‘going native’, friends presumably introduced them to a somewhat different ‘back-stage’ area from that offered by family. Second, there was a reduction in surveillance: with friends there was possibly less need to be on one’s best behaviour, perhaps less sense of being judged, certainly less chance of adverse gossip getting back home.

Perhaps the biggest change in the ways Australians were tourists in Britain was their increasing automobility over the century. Many – especially the young – continued to rely on public transport and package tours, but the emergence of the car (and the Kombi / camper van / motor home) as a technology of tourism had major implications for the experience: as others have pointed out, the mode of transport is crucial to an understanding of the experience of travel.46 The car, Jonas Larsen suggested, replaces John Urry’s ‘tourist gaze’ with the travel ‘glance’.47 But it is not simply a matter of speed and (by implication) superficiality.

The car allowed the tourist to penetrate a very different England to that of the conventional tourist relying on public transport routes or even on organised tours. Indeed this was the very England that H.V. Morton went in search of; and the crucial departure he made was to search for England by car, a modest Morris Cowley ‘Bullnose’ he named Maud.48 Australians followed suit in their droves. This modern technology allowed a new way to deprecate modernity. As Morton bowled along English lanes, seeking out-of-the-way villages, he deplored indications of modernity seeping into the countryside – the cinema, the wireless, bobbed hair, tourists in char-à-bancs, the manufactured quaintness of Clovelly. He even regretted that the safety razor and modern dentistry had replaced idiosyncratic old faces, full of character, with standardised modern ones. He sang the praises of villages in which nothing at all happened, as he hurtled along in the supreme symbol of modern progress. He drove from one place where people do nothing to another, he alone doing everything.49 He was the modern in search of the pre-modern, the sophisticate in search of the simple life – and the car made it possible. In his wake, the car gave other tourists access to Morton’s England, the ability to penetrate an England previously inaccessible.

The British-Australasian began promoting drive tourism in Britain from 1911. By the 1920s Australia House’s tourist guide was full of advertisements extolling motor travel, whether chauffeur driven, motor coach or self-drive. In 1924 Australian tourists were being told by Lamrock Ltd that ‘No visitor can afford to miss the beauty spots of the British Isles. To obtain a true appreciation of these famous localities, it is necessary to approach them by road’. Ena Smith offered her services as ‘an expert driver who knows the country intimately’. Godfrey Davis promised that the ‘pleasures’ of a visit to England were ‘considerably enhanced’ by their ‘Modern Cars for Hire’: ‘you can explore the beauty of old England, with its highways and byways, old ruins, woodland dells and rolling moors’.50 Wrights welcomed Australians to ‘the Home of Our Race. The country and the villages in all their old-world charm are most appreciated when approached by road’, and the Indian & Eastern Car Agency (later Overseas Cars Ltd) insisted that ‘The best way to enjoy your Holiday and see this country is to get a car’.51

The convention that the modern car allowed for a unique entrée into Britain’s ‘old-world charm’ would continue for the rest of the century. In 1953 Jessie Sisson produced a 6000-mile itinerary for the Bank of New South Wales Travel Service, designed especially for Australians and New Zealanders. She explained that ‘To motor leisurely through England in the springtime ... is indeed to touch the heights. Travel can offer nothing more satisfying’. But she also offered a warning: ‘Unfortunately across the face of this fair and lovely land stretches a great belt of industrial and mining country, which is incredibly ugly’.52 Those tourists staying with relatives may have found themselves in these ugly towns, but the car gave them access to Morton’s England.

From the 1950s most guides pointed out the benefits of the self-drive holiday, and assumed it was the dominant Australian mode of tourism. They emphasised the independence it provided, and the merits of, as Bernard Lyman put it, ‘meandering on country lanes’.53 By 1964 Stuart Gore explained that self-drive tourism was so common as to be ‘old hat’, though he noted, with a corporate plug, that more rarefied forms of car travel were still available: ‘It is a rare Avis Australis indeed who wants to be chauffeur-driven!’.54

The car provided an entirely different experience of tourism, kinaesthetically. As others have pointed out, the corporeality of the tourist experience has always been more than a ‘gaze’, and that of the drive-tourist was always more than the ‘glance’.55 The meandering was a physical sensation created by the car, as was the occupants’ experience of driving on cobblestones, negotiating roundabouts and ring-roads and motorways (which many Australians met for the first time when driving in England), learning the frustrations of ‘queues’ in the countryside, and of very narrow streets and impossible parking. Above all the car distinguished the independent traveller from the crowd and from the pre-packaged. Self-drive tourists regard themselves as travellers rather than tourists even as the car’s very modernity made them, in Morton’s view, a mass scourge on the landscape.56 Their discoveries could only be those sanctioned by the tourist industry: the ‘discovery’ of the quaint teashop, the picturesque out-of-the-way village or the B&B with edible bacon and eggs.

Finally, there is the dramatic shift in what tourists brought with them. There was, as Simon Sleight and David Dunstan make clear, a world of difference between the cultural capital of those catered to by the British-Australasian in 1901 and of those catered to by TNT in 2001 (see Chapters 6 and 14). In 2005 I was privileged to hear, in the Bloomsbury square outside our hotel window just after 4 a.m., a rendition of ‘I am, you are, we are Australian’: I cannot say if the performers were tourists, or travellers or conference delegates – or even Australians – but clearly they had access to a different culture from their counterparts in 1901. Not that 1901 tourists were incapable of larrikin behaviour, but the cultural wells they drew sustenance from were different.

This shift is only partly related to the democratisation of tourism, from a quite privileged cultural elite to a much broader spectrum of Australian society a century later. There is also the shift away from being ‘jolly proud’ to be British (as Noel McLachlan put it),57 from a culture that was British by default, where in the Australian imagination Britain represented the norm and Australia the exception. We can question how far that culture extended outside a polite middle-class setting – in the dance halls and cinemas of the 1920s the empire had arguably already lost out to Americanisation. But certainly what Jim Davidson long ago called ‘de-dominionisation’ was well underway in the second half of the twentieth century.58 We can plot the change in tourist guidebooks.

Through the twentieth century an increasing number of guides explicitly targeted Australian tourists. During the Great War, at least two guides for ‘colonials’ catered to the influx of troops on leave.59 In the 1920s Australia House itself published a guide to London, regularly updating it. It was unashamedly touristy, promoting the popular illusion over any pedantic search for authenticity. Of the Old Curiosity Shop: ‘Though some people affect to doubt the authenticity of the quaint little house ... millions of Londoners and visitors are quite content to regard it as the house of “Little Nell” ... and in any case, all tourists are satisfied to believe that it was so’. The ‘affect’ is interesting, implying that any anti-tourist doubt about the authenticity was itself an affectation, a spurious snobbery, standing for the ironic genuineness of the tourist position. Apart from giving directions to Australian war graves, there was no attempt to identify anything of particular Australian interest: London’s significance lay in its being ‘a city which enshrines and epitomises the history of our race ... the heart, the centre, the rallying point of the English-speaking world’.60 There was a generic interest in – as Mathew Trinca says – London’s imperial sights, an understanding of Britain’s significance shared throughout the empire. Arthur Mason explained in the Australia House guide that when inevitably the visitor came upon ‘this or that memorial of a name, or a place, or an event he has known of all his life’, he will be ‘reminded of ever memorable things’.61 This was still the case in 1953, in Jessie Sisson’s motoring guide: ‘There is no country in the world so completely satisfying to tour as the British Isles’, with its good roads, ‘enchanting’ scenery and ‘magnificent’ history. ‘And, above all’, she was able to add, ‘it is ours. It is our heritage’.62

But as the notion of Britain as ‘Home’ was falling into disuse in the decades after 1945, there was a change in what guides thought worth noticing. Frank Clune’s eccentric endpaper map of his 1949 ‘prowl’ around Britain, which showed such sites as Keswick (‘Poets and Rain’), Hull (‘Bombed by Jerries’) and Doncaster (‘Puncture here’), also included three places with Australian connections: Donington (‘Matthew Flinders born here’), Great Ayton (‘Captain Cook’s Birthplace’) and Middlesborough (‘Sydney Harbour Bridge – parts here’). In 1960, the New South Wales Government’s London offices published Australians in the British Isles, a brochure listing ‘memorials and places that may appeal especially to Australians’; most items related to explorers but it also included a plaque where Henry Handel Richardson lived, a notice of Dame Nellie Melba’s participation in ‘the first pre-announced broadcast public entertainment in the world’ and the grave of Yemmerrawanyea, who died in London soon after arriving in England with Phillip in 1793.63 Here in a small way we begin to see attention being given to places with specifically Australian connections, even if only through the prism of empire. In 1958 Stuart Gore published the punning title Australians, go home! with no special interest in Australian sites, but in 1964, his Going to Britain? had an index entry ‘Australian Interest’ which listed connections to Cook, Bligh, Macquarie, Billy Hughes, Simpson (of the Donkey), Melba and sheep!64

By the 1980s such guides were both more common and more insistent that they were presenting Britain to an audience with specifically Australian interests. Among their authors were some names familiar to historians: Philip Derriman, An Australian’s Guide to Britain; Bernard Lyman (who would later write Outback house), An Australian’s Britain and Ireland; Gillian and Ged Martin, Waltzing Britannia: A guide to Britain for Australians; John Laffin, An Aussie guide to Britain.65 Their Australian entries became increasingly elaborate. Lyman, for example, directed readers to the remote farmhouse on Mull said to be haunted by an Aborigine murdered by a ‘bushranger’, though according to his researches it was unlikely a bushranger was involved.66

Increasingly the associations Australians could make with Britain were contracting. If in Clune’s lifetime school and other cultural institutions had made Britain intensely familiar, by the end of the century those same media had made it strange.67 While these later guides extended the range of sights of interest to Australian tourists, they still deferred to the metropolitan valuation of more ‘British’ sights, which remained what most Australian tourists visited Britain to see. But now they were likely to visit it not as ‘ours’, but in order to enjoy its foreignness, a familiar foreignness more easily equated with that of France or Italy.


I want to acknowledge my debt to work-in-progress on two PhDs, Olwen Pryke’s on Australia House (since submitted), and Mathew Trinca’s on Australian postwar tourism in Britain. Thanks also to Laina Hall, Caroline Ford, Simon Sleight, Emily Pollnitz and Alex Roberts.


1     Buzard, 1993, 18.

2     Norman Lebrecht suggested most of them were ‘out of their depth’ Norman Lebrecht, ‘Why do so many Aussies run the show?’ Evening Standard 6 July 2005. Thanks to Stuart Ward for this reference. See also Alomes, 1999.

3     See chapters by Graeme Davison and Jim Davidson in this volume. Conradson and Latham, 2005.

4     Urry, 2002, 2–3.

5     Buzard, 1993, 8; Cohen and Taylor, 1976. 119–121.

6     MacCannell, 1999, 98–99.

7     See ‘Home’ in Australian National Dictionary; Bruce Moore kindly gave me access to the dictionary’s surplus cards.

8     Perhaps Ruskin’s is the classic statement of the ‘separate spheres’. Ruskin. 1865. Sesame and Lilies. See also Cott, 1977, 57ff; Davidoff and Hall, 2002, 180–181. Sir Henry Bishop’s immensely popular ‘Home sweet home’ appeared in 1823 (not so long before his wife ran off with the celebrated harpist, Nicolas Bochsa, eventually to settle in Sydney).

9     C.f. Francis Adams: ‘Ten years ago England was spoken of affectionately as the Old country or Home. Now it is “home” or more sarcastically “’ome”. The inverted commas make all the difference, and the dropped “h” contains a class contempt’. Adams, 1893, The Australians: A Social Sketch, 41.

10    Fitzpatrick, 1956, 15.

11    Ford, 2000, 56; Eggleston, 1953, 6; cf. W.E.H. Stanner, who claimed that the habit ‘seemed to be dying fast’ Stanner, 1953, 8.

12    Lindsay Parker. 1954. ‘Tourist or traveller’. Sydney Morning Herald, 6 November 1954, 7. Cited in Ford, 2000, 55; C.f. Evelyn Waugh’s comment that ‘The tourist is the other fellow’, Waugh 1930, 44; Fussell, 1980, 45–50.

13    Pesman, 1996, 3; Woollacott, 2001, Graeme Davison chapter 14 in this volume.

14    Woollacott, 2001, 49–50.

15    Hanrahan, 1992, Michael and Me and the Sun, 34.

16    Randolph, 1914, Explorations in Civilisation. Bedford was drawing on Bulletin articles from 1901.

17    Holland and Huggan, 2000, viii.

18    Turner, 1911, Ports and Happy Havens.

19    Turner, 1911, Ports and Happy Havens, 171, 175, 73, 27, 268.

20    Turner, 1911, Ports and Happy Havens, 213, 162; Poole, 1979, The Diaries of Ethel Turner, 233–239.

21    White, 1986, 47–49.

22    Morton, 1927 [1939], In Search of England, 4. The book was based on his series of articles for the Daily Express, which followed a series on London.

23    Cited in review on the dust jacket of Morton, 1927 [1939], In Search of England. On Morton, see Bartholomew, 2004. Others writing in a similar vein included E.V. Lucas and the contributors to Macmillan’s Highways and Byways series.

24    Hancock, 1930, 50.

25    Bartholomew, 2004, 24, 30.

26    Phillips, 1958, 94.

27    Undated diary entry [London, October 1937], Hudson Fysh, Diary, MS 2413, Box K21833, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. Halliday Sutherland was a population propagandist who had already written travel accounts of Scandinavia and would visit Australia in 1941, publishing Sutherland, Halliday, 1942, Southward Journey.

28    It was based on his trip in 1947. Clune, 1948, High-Ho to London: Incidents and Interviews on a Leisurely Journey by Air from Australia to Britain, vii.

29    Clune, 1949, Land of Hope and Glory: An Australian Traveller’s Impressions of Post-War Britain and Eire, v–vi.

30    Culler, 1988, 164.

31    Clune. 1935. Rolling Down the Lachlan. 1–5; see also White, 1997, 95–96; Dixon, 2001, passim; Tebbutt, 1997, 53–64.

32    Clune, 1949, Land of Hope and Glory: An Australian Traveller’s Impressions of Post-War Britain and Eire, 15.

33    Trinca, 2006, 8.

34    Clune, 1952, Castles in Spain: A Flying Trip from Australia to Europe with Some Quixotical Peregrinations in the Iberian Peninsula in Quest of Facts, 1–2.

35    White, 1986, 44.

36    Woollacott, 2001, 17.

37    Pesman, 1996.

38    White 1987, 63–77.

39    Humphries, 1981, A Nice Night’s Entertainment: Sketches and Monologues 1956–1981, 44–47.

40    Taylor, 1992, 14–16.

41    The Australians’ Guide Book to London 1929, 1929, 4, 3. Thanks to Olwen Pryke for information on Australia House.

42    Lyman, 1989, An Australian’s Britain and Ireland, 61.

43    Woollacott, 2001, 19ff; Hassam, 2000, 4, 30–31.

44    Taylor, 1992, 20–21.

45    Hall, 1995, 12.

46    Hall, 1995, 12.

47    Larsen, 2001, 80–98.

48    Bartholomew, 2004, 92.

49    Morton, 1927 [1939], In Search of England, 114, 116.

50    The Australians’ Guide Book to London, 1924, 17, 25, 41.

51    The Australians’ Guide Book to London, 1925, 23; The Australians’ Guide Book to London, 1924, 17, 25, 41; The Australians’ Guide Book to London 1929, 1929, 49; The Australians’ Official Guide, 1936, 47.

52    Sisson, 1953, A Tour By Car Through England, Scotland & Wales, 9–10.

53    Lyman, 1989. An Australian’s Britain and Ireland, 22.

54    Gore, 1964, Going to Britain? 17–18.

55    Jokinen and Veijole, 1994, 126–127. For a response see Urry, 2002, 145–153.

56    Prideaux and Carson, 2003, 307–314; Yabsley, 2005.

57    Trinca, 2006, 26.

58    Davidson, 1979, Davidson, 2005.

59    Manders, 1917. The Colonials’ Guide to London. Campbell, 1916, The Overseas Soldier’s Guide to London. See also Gilbert, 1999, 279–297.

60    The Australians’ Guide Book to London 1929, 1929, 33, 4, 19–20.

61    The Australians’ Guide Book to London 1929, 1929, 4.

62    Sisson, 1953, A Tour By Car Through England, Scotland & Wales, 1.

63    NSW Government Offices, nd [1960], Australians in the British Isles, 1, 5–8.

64    Gore, 1964, Going to Britain?

65    Derriman, 1980; Lyman, 1989; Martin, 1989; Laffin, 1995.

66    Lyman, 1989, 175.

67    Clune, 1949, Land of Hope and Glory: An Australian Traveller’s Impressions of Post-War Britain and Eire, v.


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Cite this chapter as: White, Richard. 2009. ‘Australian tourists in Britain, 1900–2000’. Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience, edited by Bridge, Carl; Crawford, Robert; Dunstan, David. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 11.1 to 11.15.


Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience

   by Carl Bridge