“When a gentleman sounds his own trumpet he ‘blows’. The art is perfectly understood and appreciated among the people who practise it. Such a gentleman or a lady was only ‘blowing!’ You hear it and hear of it every day. They blow a good deal in Queensland – a good deal in South Australia. They blow even in poor Tasmania. They blow loudly in New South Wales, and very loudly in New Zealand. But the blast of the trumpet as heard in Victoria is louder than all the blasts – and the Melbourne blast beats all the other blowing of that proud colony. My first, my constant, my parting advice to my Australian cousins is contained in two words – ‘Don’t blow.’”
– Anthony Trollop (The Birth of Melbourne ed. Tim Flannery, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, Australia p.283)
I am sorry to report that over a century later Melbourne is still loudly blowing its trumpet. There is a belief that a bigger local noise must mean a significant culture. I forget how many times have I heard that something in Melbourne is amongst the best in the world. World’s first feature film, world’s best drinking water, the world’s richest horse race, the finest fashion, world’s most liveable cities…
It just goes on and on – I hear street artists declaring that Melbourne street art is amongst the best cities in the world. Musicians talking about Melbourne’s little bands and its electronic music, from Percy Granger to the present day. The whole Melbourne and Sydney rivalry is part of this phenomenon.
Australian culture is obsessed with its own feedback but only stories that praise Australia are feed back into the loop, criticism is dismissed as ill-informed. It is just embarrassing to hear especially when you know that it is not true. Southern Cross Station even has signs that say: “world class station” – it is far from it but they won’t hear of it.
Australians are insecure and do all this blowing to be reassured. Australians have long felt insecure, as far back as the first colonial settlement and this colonial inferiority complex has many significant cultural and political implications. The Australian “cultural cringe” coined by Melbourne critic, A.A. Philips in 1950 describes the attitude of inferiority to Europe in all areas except for sport. This insecurity has also lead to sycophancy in politics and an inability to accurately assess or deal with criticism.
I feel that the constant sound of this blowing has deafened Melbourne’s public to any criticism. So I’ll say it again on behalf of Anthony Trollop because it obviously needs repeating – Melbourne please don’t blow.