The Bible in Australia: A cultural history
NewSouth, $39.99 pb, 439 pp, 9781742235714
The Bible in Australia is an unpretentious title for a remarkable book, and yet it is accurate enough. The Bible has been an ever-present aspect of life in Australia for 230 years, but no one has ever thought through its profound importance before. By starting her argument in a place both strange and obvious, Meredith Lake comes up with startling possibilities, and they keep surfacing all the way through the volume.
Just sixty years ago, in 1958, Russel Ward published his equally important text, The Australian Legend. No account of the Australian collective character and experience has, I believe, remained so long in print, and none has been so thoroughly influential in explaining Australians to themselves. The Australian Legend was always a more accessible book than, say, Manning Clark’s History of Australia, though the latter was designed to be read as a legend in itself. Australians, said Ward (and Clark more or less agreed), are, and always have been, sceptical about ‘religion and of intellectual and cultural pursuits generally’. The Bible in Australia turns this long-held understanding inside out. In fact, Lake makes a good case for thinking that the Bible, as an amalgam of stories, has had a power like Ward’s legend, and a similar nation-forming impact.