Alan Atkinson reviews 'The Bible in Australia: A cultural history' by Meredith Lake

Alan Atkinson reviews 'The Bible in Australia: A cultural history' by Meredith Lake

The Bible in Australia: A cultural history

by Meredith Lake

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.

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Alan Atkinson

Alan Atkinson

Alan Atkinson is currently attached to the University of Sydney, where he is Senior Tutor at St Paul’s College. The third and final volume of his book, The Europeans in Australia, won the Victorian Prize for Literature 2015, and has been shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and for the Ernest Scott Prize. He is also the author of Camden and The Commonwealth of Speech.

Published in May 2018, no. 401

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