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Reel Schools

Schooling and the Nation in Australian Cinema

Josephine May

Reel Schools takes a fresh look at the history of Australian schooling through the lens of Australian cinema from the silent era until 2010. In exploring the relationship between cinematic representation and educational history, Josephine May shows how numerous Australian feature and documentary films offer access to powerful vernacular imaginings about school education in Australia.
May argues that the cinematic school is a pervasive metaphor for the Australian nation. She demonstrates that, while Australian films about schooling have consistently commented on the relationship of schooling to the Australian class structure, they also increasingly explored gender, race and ethnicity at school, especially after the 1970s. From then on the egalitarian dream of school education and the nation’s capacity to generate meaningful futures for the young became increasingly contested.


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Preface and Acknowledgements


This book is the result of an obsession. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a ‘magnificent obsession’ but it has certainly been a constant one now for a number of years. In looking for an interesting research pro- ject in the History of Australian Education utilising visual evidence, I thought of the many fine Australian films featuring schools, one of the first among them, Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, 1971). This started speculation about the meaning and purpose of the school in the nu- merous quality school films of the 1970s Australian film revival. I then began to look at other decades and to make a list – a sure sign of obsession taking hold. I noticed the ubiquity of schools in Australian films either as main or ancillary components. What could this pres- ence mean? How far back in Australian film making history did it go? I turned to the historical and critical literature to help me understand the role of the school and schooling in Australian cinema, to find that the topic was not addressed in any sustained manner. There was an absence at the heart of this almost continuous presence of the school film. This absence of scholarly investigation was particularly the case for historians of Australian education who had not systematically en- gaged with the visual realm as evidence until recent years. So there it is – something interesting was going on in Australian film regarding schools and schooling. Reel Schools is my answer to...

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