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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 5 – Nation and the Boys’ School in the 1970s 95


95 CHAPTER 5 Nation and the Boys’ School in the 1970s Who we see and who we do not see: who is privileged within the regime of specularity; which aspects of the historical past actually have circulating visual representations and which not; whose fantasies of what [are] fed by which visual images?1 Many ‘New Wave’ films of the 1970s, such as those already examined in the previous chapter, explore youth in terms of sexuality and com- ing of age. As has been argued however, they were also concerned with much larger concepts, especially with youth as a constitutive metaphor for Australian national identity, and with throwing off the old colonial culture.2 This chapter focuses on two coming of age, pe- riod films that concern the single-sex secondary schooling of young males: The Mango Tree (Kevin Dobson, 1976) and, more particularly, The Devil’s Playground (Fred Schepisi, 1976). These films, and those discussed in Chapter 4, were part of the cluster of nationalist ‘AFC genre’ films that also included such successful films about Australian childhood and adolescence as Storm Boy (Safran, 1976) and My Bril- liant Career (Armstrong, 1979).3 The ‘AFC genre’ films were identi- fied by Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka as overwhelmingly ‘liter- ary’ in style and origin, having been usually adapted from a novel, and 1 Irit Rogoff, from ‘Studying Visual Culture’, Chapter 2 in Margarita Dikovit- skaya, ed., The Study Of The Visual After The Cultural Turn, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2005, p. 15. 2 R. Caputo,...

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