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Australian Society

I would like to begin by talking about the work of the Committee to review Australian studies on tertiary education and try to bring out some of the implications of our work for publishing and for teaching. I will look particularly at the question of resources for Australian studies.

The brief of the Committee was to examine ways in which students in tertiary education institutions – in universities, colleges of advanced education, and TAFE – learn about Australia in their tertiary studies, and to recommend ways in which these studies can be developed. We were concerned not only with the humanities, with history, and with literature, but also with science and with professional and vocational studies across the curriculum. In fact one of our major tasks became to look at vocational areas to see in what ways students who took those studies were prepared for the world in which they would be used.

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Following the enterprising publication of Michael Leunig’s drawings and of Arthur Horner’s ‘Colonel Pewter’ and ‘Uriel’ cartoons Penguin’s latest offering in illustrated publishing in a wonderful book of evocations – a selection of many hundred Australia ‘trademark’ symbols created to identify local products ranging across the one hundred years from 1860.

Symbols of Australia is essentially a picture book. It has no conventional text apart from the introductions and preliminary notes, but there are captions which attempt to date the examples and sometimes explain their history significance.

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This book of a dozen essays, with a foreword by Sir Kenneth Weare (his last substantial piece of writing before he died), concentrates on various aspects of the changing Anglo-Australian relationship.

It is an enlightening collection, for most of the essays test and in some cases challenge the ‘conventional wisdom’ which pervades recent analyses of Australian life. This is especially useful to this reviewer who, as an immigrant of two years’ standing, discovered on arrival a veritable industry of writers in various disciplines all concerned with the search for an Australian identity. Two essays, for a start, provide the leaven in reassessment of George Johnston’s literary quest for ‘the way home’, as well as Donald Horne’s ‘Lucky Country’ theme and Alan Renouf’s ‘Frightened Country’ analysis. The first is interestingly dealt with by Alan Lawson in his ‘Acknowledging Colonialism: Revisions of the Australian Tradition’, which challenges several half-truths which have become maxims. Horne and Renouf immediately spring to mind in J.D.B. Miller’s ‘An Empire That Don’t Care What You Do’. This essay is a ‘must’ for those people who view most past (and some present) Australian leaders as supine in their dealings with British counterparts.

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One late afternoon in early summer I went to the launching of Helen Arbib’s Looking at Cooking (Helen Arbib Publications, $3.50, 80 pp) in a beautifully restored and reanimated old house in the Rocks area of Sydney. On the way to Lower Fort Street I’d indulged in one of my favourite meanderings past sentimental landmarks. Among these is a section of Windmill Street, and the Hero of Waterloo Hotel.

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