SYDNEY, Jan. 8 1901



SYDNEY, Jan. 8 1901; Feb. 12 1901.

A week has passed since the new century and the new nation were ushered in together. Never was a moonlit midnight in Sydney marked by a wilder, more prolonged, or generally more discordant welcome than was December 31, 1900. Hymns in the churches, patriotic songs in the theatres, glees in the homes, and convivial choruses at the clubs were extensively sung. Outside these places, however, all music was lost in the tumultuous uproar of the streets, where whistles, bells, gongs, accordions, rattles, and clanging culinary utensils yielded unearthly sounds. In the harbour, where the ferries and excursion steamers were all afloat and alight, the blare, hoot, and shriek of the steam pipes were positively hideous. Immense crowds on land and water vied with each other in mocking and echoing the noises about them. But amid all this din the crowds were as sober, orderly, and good-humoured as could be desired. They had to be afoot again soon after daylight to witness the official procession. Never on this side of the world was a New Year so freighted with high anticipations. It was actually, in a sense, the birthday of a whole people.


It is certainly a very self-conscious nation that has just made its appearance in the centre of the Southern Seas. Platform orators and the Press have combined to instruct it as to its present importance and future potentialities. The newspapers of late have comprised many retrospects and statistical comparisons as to our progress and relative resources in population and wealth, all calculated to minister to that self-esteem which is by no means wanting among us. One most vivid illustration consists of a map of our Continent, within whose great extent are pictured all Europe—except Russia and Scandinavia—with a large surplus margin. Another diagram depicts in the centre of the Continent a small spot bearing about the same proportion to the whole as a bull’s-eye does to a target. In that is indicated the pitiful fraction settled by us if our population were concentrated as densely as that of Europe. The two sheets together proclaim pictorially the ample area remaining to be peopled. The fear expressed in Paris lest the Commonwealth should presume to adopt a Monroe Doctrine for the Pacific is another tribute to our possibilities, attracting the more attention because it emanated from a foreign source whose ambitions in the New Hebrides are threatened with another obstacle. It was consequently with an abounding sense of the magnitude of our fields of operation within and without our territorial limits that Australians everywhere on January 1 drew deeper breaths as they stepped out of provincial into federated life.


The only apprehensions cherished as to the festivities had been in regard to the great masses of spectators for whom provision required to be made. These fears were, happily, removed by the people themselves, whose self-restraint and cheerfulness under many trying conditions were beyond all praise. The occasion was theirs in every sense; they had adopted the Constitution framed under their instructions, and they now celebrated what was entirely their own triumph in their own way. The whole route of the great procession, five miles long, on New Year’s Day was guarded by the police and local forces without the slightest difficulty. All the Militia did was to stand at ease a few paces apart on each side of the roadway. The onlookers did the rest, and nowhere was there an attempt to break bounds. During the illuminations the streets were impassable for hours, but no accident was reported then nor at any time, except to an unfortunate inspector of police, who was killed by a runaway horse. Railways, tramways, boats, omnibuses, and every kind of vehicle were very much overloaded, but they fulfilled their purposes without a catastrophe. How many people were present in Sydney is mere matter of guesswork. The best-informed persons estimate the number at more than half a million, and probably three-quarters of a million. That this vast concourse should have been conveyed to and fro, accommodated, fed, and amused successfully is perhaps the most satisfactory feature of the whole celebration. As anticipated by those behind the scenes, what may be termed the aristocratic side of the display was as great a failure as the democratic aspect of it was a success. There was, for instance, no proper provision for the reception and accommodation of many of our most distinguished guests. Partly owing to the unsuitable quarters provided some of them changed their lodgings, and, no record being kept of their new addresses, they were altogether lost to view. There was, again, nowhere any proper discrimination. The official table of precedence was so much departed from that certain dignitaries refused to join the procession. The distribution of seats at the state banquet also produced innumerable heartburnings. The crowds outside were admirably provided for; but the more official side of the proceedings was not quite the success that it might easily have been.


Our favoured city and harbour lend themselves naturally to the spectacular. There are a background and a middle distance of unapproachable charm. It is difficult anywhere to take the modern street and make it a thing of beauty even for a short period, but this was accomplished here last week. None of those present in London during the Diamond Jubilee can ever forget the superb pageant, the vista from St. Paul’s, or the massed millions assembled in its vicinity. Sydney on New Year’s Day, however, could sustain the comparison, having regard to the relative size of the two capitals. The baldness of business buildings and their rectilineal monotony disappeared under gracefully-flowing festoons attached to the poles and wires of our electric tram system. The route was divided into sections, each decorated with its own harmony of colours. Every possible space was occupied by wooden galleries crammed with finely-dressed onlookers, thousands of them waving patriotic flags. Tens of thousands of pieces of bunting fluttered in the flooding sunshine of the day. Considering the celebrations as a whole, it may fairly be claimed that they far surpassed anything yet seen on this side of the Line; that in certain respects they might be measured with the great demonstrations of the Old World; and that in the popular character of almost all the entertainments provided they outdid everything of the kind since the Centennial of the United States nearly a quarter of a century ago. The Commonwealth, however fortunate or glorious it may be, will have no reason to complain of its festal inauguration. We have now had a full week of entertainment and practically nothing else—a carnival less theatrical than that of Italy, a saturnalia without excesses, following hard on a Christmas kept with English sincerity and good cheer. Among the splendid arches which still span our streets those of solid coal, of wool, and of wheat remind us of the bountiful stores of wealth against which we can afford to draw, especially at such a season as this. Under the Commonwealth we look for larger investments of British capital, for the development of our immense natural resources, for an inflow of population and an outflow of products which shall  secure to us fat years and “many of them”, as we say just now in answer to the season’s greetings of our friends.

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