Conan Doyle. Impressions of Australia

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Conan Doyle. Impressions of Australia is an interview of Arthur Conan Doyle written by a journalist of The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) published on 2 december 1920.

Conan Doyle. Impressions of Australia

The Sydney Morning Herald (2 december 1920)


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is to leave to-day for New Zealand, gave to a "Herald" interviewer yesterday some interesting impressions of Australia.

"I am," he said, "endeavouring to write a book of my travels in Australia, and have completed five chapters of it. Trying to study the difficult problems which are engaging your attention. I am impressed, as every impartial observer must be, by the need for more population. I can clearly see that if at present anything occurred to weaken the power of Great Britain - supposing, for example that a Labour Government were to take a low view of Imperial responsibility in England, and this is quite possible, and refuse to throw the whole weight of the British Empire into a purely Australian quarrel - the situation of this country, with its enormous unpeopled territories, would be a desperately dangerous one, isolated as it is among the teeming swarms of these seas.

"I think that within the next twenty years every good Australian should, even though it may lower the value of labour or have any other temporary effect, still realise that the presence of more people here is the absolutely vital thing in Australian development."


He went on to suggest the sub-tropical districts of America as a source of immigration for Australia, "It has struck me," he said "that just as Canada has secured hundreds of thousands of the very best class of immigrants from the northern States of America, there may possibly, in the sub-tropical States of the Union - Southern California, Louisiana, and so forth — be large numbers of people who would make desirable immigrants for the northern territories of Australia.

"I throw out this suggestion at a venture. Possibly such a scheme has already been tried; but I cannot help thinking that a little advertising of the advantages of North Queensland and the Northern Territories in that particular part of the United States may bring an unexpected current of humanity towards these shores. Such immigrants would find in that part of Australia conditions similar to their own, suitable for sugar, cotton, and those other products which they have been accustomed to produce and handle. No doubt, also, they would become loyal to the flag, just as the Americans have become who have settled in Canada.


"It seems to me that something in the nature of a strategic railway across the northern coast of Australia — a railway which would possibly justify itself on economic grounds later on — would perhaps be a better investment than any investment in ships. For everything might depend upon concentrating upon and extirpating some small body of intruders before they were able to reinforce and get a serious grip upon the country."


Sir Arthur, in reply to another question, said he had endeavoured to keep in touch with Australian literature, but as his time had been so fully taken up he had not been able to do justice to the subject. "But," he went on, "I have made myself acquainted with the charming poetry of Leon Gellert, and have met him in Sydney. I was surprised to find how young a man he is. He has, no doubt, a great future.

"It is the artistic work of Norman Lindsay which has impressed me most in Australia. He seems to me a man built on the models of the great sixteenth century Italians — a man who can paint, etch, do sculpture — in short, an artist all through. That was the old Italian tradition, exemplified in Leonardo da Vinci. We find it very seldom in these days, but it is realised in Norman Lindsay.

"I have seen two of his pictures — one 'The Goths' and the other 'Who Comes?' and they have impressed me more than any pictures I have seen for a very long time. I was greatly impressed also by his picture 'The Crucifixion of Venus.' I notice also a tendency in his art to grow more spiritual. In that, direction, I am sure, his future lies. What the world needs is spirituality in art, in thought, and in literature, We are sick of, the realism of Zola."


Speaking of his spiritualistic tour, Sir Arthur said he had been struck with the mental activity of Sydney, not necessarily in agreement with his views, but in opposition as well. "I like to see activity of thought, whether for or against," he continued, "because out of differences truth eventually comes. The one thing I detest is stagnation of thought, for that means spiritual death. I was surprised at the strength of the Spiritualistic movement in Sydney. Nobody could have been in the Town Hall on Sunday night, and seen 3000 Spiritualists assembled there, and notice the type of men and women in the audience, without feeling that they were a factor in the population that could not be ignored. I am told that there are in Sydney 10,000 Spiritualists.

"What is needed now among them is organisation, and this is being effected. While this was being carried through, it was perfectly clear that we should form a strong political weapon, should it ever — I hope it never will be necessary to assert ourselves. The one direction in which we should use our political force is in the direction of religious liberty. We are as ready as anyone else that the fraudulent medium should be prosecuted — in fact, it is to our interest that we should — but that a medium, merely for being a medium, and not because of fraud, should be subject to the law — which is the fact at present — is to us a thing we must fight.

"What we suggest is that a system of licensing mediums should be left to a committee of Spiritualists, who would use their powers with considerable discretion, since otherwise they would get themselves into bad favour, and that licenses should be demanded by the public whenever they need the use of a medium. In that way they would have a guarantee against fraud, and we should be spared the annoyance of hearing all sorts of charlatans and fortune-tellers classed under the name of mediums.

"I have been greatly struck also with the liberality of most of the organs of the Press in Sydney, with one exception. They have opened their columns fully to attack and defence, and have given me the fullest chance of stating my own case. If I had not been able to make that case clear, it has certainly been through my own fault.

"I propose to do a lightning tour of New Zealand, covering the two islands, and delivering eight lectures in fifteen days. I shall for the first time fail to keep Christmas with my own family, but I hope to be back before the New Year, and to rejoin them in the Blue Mountains, whence I shall be able to keep in touch with my friends in Sydney. I am anxious now that some of those numerous public men whom I know to be favourable to the cause should publicly, either as presidents or otherwise, join the organisation, so as to give it that status which it needs."