The notion of the Australian cultural cringe is one of the myths that undermine the vigour of our social and intellectual life. According to legend, Australian colonials were ‘inert, deferential and passive’ before the overseas powers, especially Britain, but this dismal state of affairs changed for the better during the 1960s and early 1970s.
The late L.J. Hume’s painstaking analysis of the myth shows it to be based on ignorance, selective quotation, and misreading of documents. Hume argues that progressive intellectuals have fostered the myth of the cringe because they like to think they have escaped from it and are robust and assured enough to rekindle the fires of nationalism. But nationalism is itself a product of insecurity and self-doubt because communities that are truly sure of their place in the world do not embrace nationalistic postures of feel a need to assert their independence.