University of Tasmania
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Learning to read the nation in twentieth‚ÄövÑv™century Australian school readers

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posted on 2023-05-26, 04:49 authored by McGennisken, J
School Readers, once ubiquitous and indispensable elements of the Australian educational apparatus, contributed significantly to the development of a national imaginary. In analyses of Australian culture though, this contribution has been under‚ÄövÑv™recognised. This thesis argues for a re‚ÄövÑv™reading of, and sustained critical engagement with, early twentieth‚ÄövÑv™century Australian school Readers and their encoded metanarrative of national growth. It examines a selection of first edition Readers from the Adelaide, Queensland, Tasmanian, Victorian, Western Australian and New Australian School Series (NSW). The shape of the Readers' metanarrative about origins, development and maturation, is reflected in the shape of the thesis. Addressing the question of how Australians learned to read (and imagine) the nation, this thesis argues that the various stories, poems and images of the Readers comprise a shifting and contradictory metanarrative. As literary and cultural analysis, this study is attuned to the ways in which these texts, as metanarrative signs, are formally and historically specific, how they appear, reappear and circulate in a network of meanings operating within and outside of school Readers. The analysis is alert to aberrant or elided aspects of these signs, as well as to those that fit neatly within dominant and appealing thematic strands. The first chapter examines the Readers' representation of children and childhood, arguing that the figure of the child is imbued with the nation's innermost cultural anxieties and desires, where childhood can be read as an (already corrupted)metanarrative sign of a youthful, innocent nation. The second chapter is a reading of the imperial curriculum that simultaneously privileges and suppresses concerns about legitimacy and inheritance. Another effect of this pervasive ambivalence in school Readers is uncovered in the third chapter, where signs of an Australian Aboriginal presence are read as resistant, even as metanarrative codings insist on absence and silence. According to the reading of this repressive logic, in chapters 4 and 5 the focus shifts to the imitatory white indigene. Chapter 4 concentrates on iconic elements of the national imaginary: the pioneer, the bushman, the digger. Chapter 5 analyses intertextual visual signs for this white Australian legend, the Readers' frontispieces, photographs and illustrations. The thesis concludes by arguing for a retrieval of the school Reader via a genealogy of reading books that uncovers and examines a colonial and Australian educational apparatus specifically in terms of its literary products. After all, school Readers institutionalise a vital part of an Australian literary imaginary.


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