Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Australia Book: How it should & should not be used

The "Australia Book" written by Eve Pownall and Illustrated by Margaret Senior is an Australian history book with quite a standing amongst older book lovers, teachers & librarians. Written in 1952, it's obvious to see why, its colourful, it doesn't hark back to Mother Britain. It attempts to capture Australia from an Australian perspective. And this is where my concern lies. 

It is white Australian in its perspective, assumptions and values.  Aboriginal people are romanticised in the beginning section, portrayed as savage, simplistic and even helpless in the middle, and have disappeared by the end of the book. And while New Guinea is mention, the Torres Strait Islands are completely invisiable.
This book should NOT be used as an accurate account of Australian history. 
  • The portrayal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is offensive;
  • New Guinea people are seen in the illustrations as simple village folk while in the text are hostile; 
  • South Sea Islanders are said to have "not always treated properly" but are afforded no other explanation of their presence on the continent;
  •  Chinese peoples and other nationalities are completely invisible (though there is a mention at the end how new immigrants to Australia don't always speak English.
At this point, one might argue, that I'm being a bit harsh "we didn't think of those things in the old days". And I absolutely accept that. And I'm not really questioning that. I question how we might use the book today.
The book should be used as a text to analyse how White Australia used to see itself - herioc, hardworking, stoic, rough & tumble. All of those adjectives that are visualised in the symbolism of our nation - Simpson on his donkey, the digger on his horse, the shearer, the drover etc.

Thee symbols of White masculinity are reaffirmed in Eve Pownall's book. It is an excellent study of Australia - though perhaps not how Australian's think they see themselves today. 

(Originally posted on InquiryBites blog on TypePad March 9, 2009)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...