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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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CHAPTER 3 – High Tide of Nationalist Portrayal 1930s–1960s 45


45 CHAPTER 3 High Tide of Nationalist Portrayal 1930s–1960s I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror – The wide brown land for me!1 In political and social terms the decades from 1930s to the 1960s were full of tumultuous events. As a result of the greatest global financial crisis the world had ever seen, from 1929 Australia was plunged into a deep economic depression and a period of bitter political divisions. The hardships created by the Great Depression were not fully allevi- ated until the advent of another world war in 1939. The Second World War stimulated the economy and demanded national unity as never before, under the unprecedented threat of territorial invasion of mainland Australia. As Moran has noted, the war: […] precipitated a populism in the Australian people that was highly nationalis- tic. Citizens were Australian first and Queenslanders, Victorians or whatever next. The states were seen as parochial […] State rivalry had to be overcome if Australia and its people were to win the war and the peace.2 As will be shown, this nationalism was mirrored especially in Austra- lian documentary production about schools, but could also be seen in 1 Dorothea Mackellar, ‘My Country’, in Joan S. Mackaness and George Mackaness, eds, The Wide Brown Land, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1934, 1959 reprint, p. 143. 2 Albert Moran, Projecting Australia: government film...

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