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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 7 – The School Film in the Late 1980s 149


149 CHAPTER 7 The School Film in the Late 1980s All this education makes you want things.1 The wide variety of representations of schools in the films of the sec- ond half of the 1980s reflects the increasing experimentation and out- ward looking nature of the Australian film industry at the time, spon- sored by the 10BA funding regime, as well as the increasing diversifi- cation of the Australian schooling landscape. For example, the school- ing career of Danny Embling traced in two semi-autobiographical films written and directed by John Duigan, was in many ways a repre- sentative experience of the children of aspiring parents in Australia who had come to believe that there was a breakdown in school disci- pline in the public high schools. Danny attends public schooling in The Year My Voice Broke (1987) while in Flirting (1989), he is sent to a private boys boarding school to complete secondary schooling be- cause of his parents’ anxiety that he does not become a delinquent. A more serious film, and an unusual one for the time in that it concerns homosexuality, The Everlasting Secret Family (1987), has as its open- ing setting an elite private boys school where the adolescent members of the secret male homosexual ‘family’, are recruited with the help of an art teacher. The Fringe Dwellers (1986) is an exceptional film of the era not only for the way it portrays rural public schooling, but also primarily because it is one of the very few...

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