Mitchell on the "Sex" and Other
"Problems" by Henry Lawson
An Extract from,
Over the Sliprails
"I agree with `T' in last week's `Bulletin'," said Mitchell, after
cogitating some time over the last drop of tea in his pannikin, held
at various angles, "about what they call the `Sex Problem'. There's no
problem, really, except Creation, and that's not our affair; we can't
solve it, and we've no right to make a problem out of it for ourselves
to puzzle over, and waste the little time that is given us about.
It's we that make the problems, not Creation. We make 'em, and they
only smother us; they'll smother the world in the end if we don't look
out. Anything that can be argued, for and against, from half a dozen
different points of view — and most things that men argue over can be
— and anything that has been argued about for thousands of years (as
most things have) is worse than profitless; it wastes the world's time
and ours, and often wrecks old mateships. Seems to me the deeper you
read, think, talk, or write about things that end in ism, the less
satisfactory the result; the more likely you are to get bushed and
dissatisfied with the world. And the more you keep on the surface of
plain things, the plainer the sailing — the more comfortable for you
and everybody else. We've always got to come to the surface to
breathe, in the end, in any case; we're meant to live on the surface,
and we might as well stay there and look after it and ourselves for
all the good we do diving down after fish that aren't there, except in
our imagination. And some of 'em are very dead fish, too — the `Sex
Problem', for instance. When we fall off the surface of the earth it
will be time enough to make a problem out of the fact that we couldn't
stick on. I'm a Federal Pro-trader in this country; I'm a Federalist
because I think Federation is the plain and natural course for
Australia, and I'm a Free-tectionist because I'm in favour of sinking
any question, or any two things, that enlightened people can argue and
fight over, and try, one after the other, for fifty years without
being able to come to a decision about, or prove which is best for the
welfare of the country. It only wastes a young country's time, and
keeps it off the right track. Federation isn't a problem — it's a
plain fact — but they make a problem out of every panel they have to
push down in the rotten old boundary fences."
"Personal interests," suggested Joe.
"Of course. It's personal interest of the wrong sort that makes
all the problems. You can trace the sex problem to people who trade
in unhealthy personal interests. I believe in personal interests of
the right sort — true individualism. If we all looked after
ourselves, and our wives and families — if we have any — in the
proper way, the world would be all right. We waste too much time
looking after each other.
"Now, supposing we're travelling and have to get a shed and make a
cheque so's to be able to send a few quid home, as soon as we can, to
the missus, or the old folks, and the next water is twenty miles ahead.
If we sat down and argued over a social problem till doomsday, we
wouldn't get to the tank; we'd die of thirst, and the missus and kids,
or the old folks, would be sold up and turned out into the streets,
and have to fall back on a `home of hope', or wait their turn at the
Benevolent Asylum with bags for broken victuals. I've seen that, and
I don't want anybody belonging to me to have to do it.
"Reminds me that when a poor, deserted girl goes to a `home' they
don't make a problem of her — they do their best for her and try to
get her righted. And the priests, too: if there's anything in the sex
or any other problem — anything that hasn't been threshed out —
they're the men that'll know it. I'm not a Catholic, but I know this:
that if a girl that's been left by one — no matter what Church she
belongs to — goes to the priest, they'll work all the points they
know (and they know 'em all) to get her righted, and, if the chap, or
his people, won't come up to the scratch, Father Ryan'll frighten hell
out of 'em. I can't say as much for our own Churches."
"But you're in favour of socialism and democracy?" asked Joe.
"Of course I am. But the world won't do any good arguing over it.
The people will have to get up and walk, and, what's more, stick
together — and I don't think they'll ever do that — it ain't in
human nature. Socialism, or democracy, was all right in this country
till it got fashionable and was made a fad or a problem of. Then it
got smothered pretty quick. And a fad or a problem always breeds a
host of parasites or hangers-on. Why, as soon as I saw the advanced
idealist fools — they're generally the middle-class, shabby-genteel
families that catch Spiritualism and Theosophy and those sort of
complaints, at the end of the epidemic — that catch on at the
tail-end of things and think they've caught something brand, shining,
new; — as soon as I saw them, and the problem spielers and
notoriety-hunters of both sexes, beginning to hang round Australian
Unionism, I knew it was doomed. And so it was. The straight men were
disgusted, or driven out. There are women who hang on for the same
reason that a girl will sometimes go into the dock and swear an
innocent man's life away. But as soon as they see that the cause is
dying, they drop it at once, and wait for another. They come like
bloody dingoes round a calf, and only leave the bones. They're about
as democratic as the crows. And the rotten `sex-problem' sort of thing
is the cause of it all; it poisons weak minds — and strong ones too
"Why, you could make a problem out of Epsom salts. You might argue
as to why human beings want Epsom salts, and try to trace the causes
that led up to it. I don't like the taste of Epsom salts — it's
nasty in the mouth — but when I feel that way I take 'em, and I feel
better afterwards; and that's good enough for me. We might argue that
black is white, and white is black, and neither of 'em is anything,
and nothing is everything; and a woman's a man and a man's a woman,
and it's really the man that has the youngsters, only we imagine it's
the woman because she imagines that she has all the pain and trouble,
and the doctor is under the impression that he's attending to her,
not the man, and the man thinks so too because he imagines he's
walking up and down outside, and slipping into the corner pub now and
then for a nip to keep his courage up, waiting, when it's his wife
that's doing that all the time; we might argue that it's all force of
imagination, and that imagination is an unknown force, and that the
unknown is nothing. But, when we've settled all that to our own
satisfaction, how much further ahead are we? In the end we'll come to
the conclusion that we ain't alive, and never existed, and then we'll
leave off bothering, and the world will go on just the same."
"What about science?" asked Joe.
"Science ain't `sex problems'; it's facts. . . . Now, I don't mind
Spiritualism and those sort of things; they might help to break the
monotony, and can't do much harm. But the `sex problem', as it's
written about to-day, does; it's dangerous and dirty, and it's time to
settle it with a club. Science and education, if left alone, will
look after sex facts.
"You can't get anything out of the `sex problem', no matter how you
argue. In the old Bible times they had half a dozen wives each, but
we don't know for certain how THEY got on. The Mormons tried it again,
and seemed to get on all right till we interfered. We don't seem to
be able to get on with one wife now — at least, according to the `sex
problem'. The `sex problem' troubled the Turks so much that they tried
three. Lots of us try to settle it by knocking round promiscuously,
and that leads to actions for maintenance and breach of promise cases,
and all sorts of trouble. Our blacks settle the `sex problem' with a
club, and so far I haven't heard any complaints from them.
"Take hereditary causes and surrounding circumstances, for
instance. In order to understand or judge a man right, you would need
to live under the same roof with him from childhood, and under the
same roofs, or tents, with his parents, right back to Adam, and then
you'd be blocked for want of more ancestors through which to trace the
causes that led to Abel — I mean Cain — going on as he did. What's
the use or sense of it? You might argue away in any direction for a
million miles and a million years back into the past, but you've got
to come back to where you are if you wish to do any good for yourself,
or anyone else.
"Sometimes it takes you a long while to get back to where you are
— sometimes you never do it. Why, when those controversies were
started in the `Bulletin' about the kangaroos and other things, I
thought I knew something about the bush. Now I'm damned if I'm sure I
could tell a kangaroo from a wombat.
"Trying to find out things is the cause of all the work and trouble
in this world. It was Eve's fault in the first place — or Adam's,
rather, because it might be argued that he should have been master.
Some men are too lazy to be masters in their own homes, and run the
show properly; some are too careless, and some too drunk most of their
time, and some too weak. If Adam and Eve hadn't tried to find out
things there'd have been no toil and trouble in the world to-day;
there'd have been no bloated capitalists, and no horny-handed working
men, and no politics, no freetrade and protection — and no clothes.
The woman next door wouldn't be able to pick holes in your wife's
washing on the line. We'd have been all running about in a big Garden
of Eden with nothing on, and nothing to do except loaf, and make love,
and lark, and laugh, and play practical jokes on each other."
"That would have been glorious. Wouldn't it, Joe? There'd have
been no `sex problem' then."