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Australian Studies

The World Film Location series aims to articulate the ways in which physical environments shape the ‘emotional spaces’ of characters in cinema. For the Sydney volume, editor Neil Mitchell has corralled a selection of writers to contribute short entries (with a few longer essays) on the city’s various appearances on film.


Australia was colonised in the period of modernity, with the Industrial Revolution driving much of its development and a belief in improving technology and political progress underlying its public institutions. The society may have been modern but its culture, in particular its art and literature, has borne the recurrent charge of backwardness. The centres of innovation in twentieth-century art have been elsewhere, in the cosmopolitan cities of Europe or the United States of America, so that Australian critics and artists have carried a sense that to be distant from the centre also means to be behind the times. The gap between Australian modernity and its artistic partner and antagonist, modernism, has obsessed many Australian critics over the years; it is as if Australian art somehow ought to match the society’s technological progress as a matter of national pride.

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Westerly 58:1 edited by Delys Bird and Tony Hughes-d’Aeth

October 2013, no. 355

Westerly’s descriptive subtitle (‘the best in writing from the West’) is a modest claim given its national and international reach. A feast of poetry includes offerings by familiar locals like Kevin Gillam, Andrew Lansdown, and Shane McCauley alongside poets such as Kevin Hart and Knute Skinner. There are translations of Xi’an poet, Allen Zhu Jian, by Liang Yujing; and from Russian, by Peter Porter, of poems by Eugene Dubnov. The fiction includes work by Nepali writer Smriti Ravindra, and by Shokoofeh Azar, translated by Persian–English translator Rebecca Stengal, based in France. Hardly surprising, then, that the volume resonates with a sense of diversity and literary substance.

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Like the man with a hammer to whom everything looks like a nail, Xavier Pons knows what he is looking for in his monograph on sex in Australian writing, and makes sure he finds it. Pons, a lecturer in Australian studies at the University of Toulouse, is clearly expert in his subject, and renders his explorations lucidly, at times with great insight, and intelligibly to non-specialist eyes.

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For the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008, I was the professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University. This is an annual appointment, open across the range of disciplines that lend themselves to the study of Australia, so that my predecessor, Jim Fox, was a member of the department of anthropology, and my successor, Iain Davidson, is now working in the depart- ment of archaeology. I joined a large and vigorous department of history, which has about fifty members.

Some months before I left, the head of department asked me to prepare a course guide for my first semester of teaching. To help me, he sent a copy of one of his own recent course guides. It was quite adequate: the lecture pro- gramme, reading list and assessment procedures were all set out. But to anyone teaching in an Australian university it looked decidedly scant, the sort of handout that might have passed muster twenty years ago, before university learning and teaching committees began to insist that generic skills and key learning outcomes be specified for all subjects.

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Gerry Wilkes has done the state a great deal of service, and he should get full credit once again, as the eclipsed terrain of Australian literature emerges into the sunlight: which it seems to be doing right now, to judge from some recent movements in publishing. So let’s keep abreast of our language, all the while: that is to say, of our dominant or mainstream language, amid whatever others we have to offer.

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Ilana Snyder, an associate professor in Monash University’s Education Faculty, writes in The Literacy Wars of Paulo Freire speaking in Fitzroy Town Hall in the 1970s. I remember him too. In 1974 he spoke in a University of Melbourne lecture theatre crammed with Diploma of Education students. Snyder was ahead of my class of 1974: by then she was teaching English. ... (read more)

Advance Australia … Where? is such an eye-catching pun on Australia’s national anthem that it is no wonder that it has been used, with slight variations, as the title of at least eight books and pamphlets since World War II. Such publications have tended to express an individual author’s vision for the nation. In contrast, the latest Advance Australia … Where?, written by Hugh Mackay, mainly discusses current trends in public opinion, although it includes a few cautious predictions about the future and a number of suggestions for social reform.

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Margaret Simons is a writer familiar to her readers. There she was in Fit to Print: Inside the Canberra press gallery (1999), first driving with her husband and young children to the national capital, then following Michelle Grattan’s blue dress around Parliament House. Here she is again in The Content Makers: Understanding the media in Australia, telling us about her experiences in daily journalism, her move into freelance journalism, writing for the e-mail news service Crikey, and attending last year’s infamous 2006 Walkley Awards dinner.

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The central contention of Kim Torney’s Babes in the Bush: The making of an Australian image is that ‘the lost-child image continues to resonate with Australians’. The cover illustration is from Frederick McCubbin’s famous painting Lost (1886), which Torney elevates to ‘the iconic image of the lost child story’. The task set out in these assertions, and iterations of them, is to find why the image continues to resonate in Australia now that the phenomenon of children lost in the bush is such a rarity, compared with the nineteenth century. (Torney quotes the alarming statistic from the Melbourne Argus index for the 1860s of seventy children fatally lost in the bush.)

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