As the largest and one of the oldest literary associations in Australia, and the peak body representing Australian literary studies, the Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) joins with its affiliated Associations in expressing the gravest possible concern about the non-appointment of the Chair of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney following Professor Robert Dixon’s retirement this year.
There is no ambiguity about the value and importance of this Chair. At a time when Australian literature and Australian cultural work are so strong and diverse, with such dynamic, sustained, and path-finding engagements from so many writers – especially Indigenous writers and those from diverse cultural backgrounds – we see that there is a matching and energetic interest from readers, students, and teachers across sectors and from academic researchers both here and abroad. For these audiences, the value, quality, and diversity of Australian literary writing and literary study are obvious. At this moment of strength and energy, therefore, the University of Sydney Chair in Australian Literature is a position of the greatest importance. Any delay in this appointment is simply difficult to understand.
Even more than the critical role of ethical custodianship of intellectual work and literary history, the University of Sydney Chair of Australian Literature is a key figure to focus the present momentum of Australian literary studies both inside and outside the University. As researcher, teacher, and advocate, this senior academic (as evidenced by the work of Professors Wilkes, Kramer, Webby and Dixon) can support, direct, and foster communication in ways that assist national and international dialogue in this significant field of enquiry. To lose this Chair, and indeed any Chair in Australian Literature, is to lose a leader who has the vital capacity for coordination, outreach, and consultation, and who may advocate for and represent this important work, which brings enduring benefit to both the nation and the world. We therefore join with our colleagues at the University of Sydney and across the field to voice our insistent support for the continuation of the Sydney Chair of Australian Literature.
This article first appeared on the ASAL website.