What is Australian literature?

11 Oct

When I was in high school, our English studies focused on canonical texts.  For example, we studied a range of Shakespearean plays, Romantic poets such as Coleridge, Modernist poets such as Eliot, and classics by Austen and Dickens.  With a few notable exceptions, we learned about past fictional worlds far removed from our own.  In other words, we managed to study literature without really understanding that literature could be written by our fellow citizens about events, personalities and issues that formed part of the national consciousness.

With this in mind, I would like to construct a unit for a Year 9 or 10 class which engages with Australian literature.  What does Australian literature look like?  What does it sound like?  From whose perspective can it be written?  What issues does it address?  What do we gain by exploring Australian literature?  What do we lose by ignoring narratives that allegedly speak to our experiences?

As part of this unit, I would hope to give students an opportunity to access the myriad voices of Australian literature.  In particular, I would want them read texts by and about ATSI people, and understand how narratives differ when a person is author rather than subject.  I would also like them to engage with the narratives of migrants and to understand how these groups are represented in texts, and how they have come to use literature to assert their own identities.

There is also scope as part of this unit to explore attitudes to the land.  In this sense, the curriculum requirement of engaging with sustainability could be meaningfully met.

In fact, the more I think about this, the more I am inclined to suggest that the project of exploring Australian literature should be a year long activity.  Perhaps, in Year 9, students could undertake this exploration and then, in year 10, they could branch out into world literature thus further expanding their engagement with their multicultural world.


2 Responses to “What is Australian literature?”


  1. Refugee Poets | Once uPUN a time... - October 12, 2015

    […] I wrote recently about my desire to create a Year 9 program which explores Australian literature.  With this goal in mind, I have been on the hunt for interesting texts which explore the various faces, facets and voices of Australia.   As part of my search I came across this article, which introduces a number of refugee Spoken Word poets.  I feel that YouTube versions of some of these poets’ poems would add interest and diversity to a poetry unit. […]


  2. New Aussie texts | Once uPUN a time... - October 17, 2015

    […] as flagged previously (here and here), it is so much more than that.  As part of a year of Australian texts, I would like to […]


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