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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 8 – Multicultural Nation at School in the 1980s–1990s 183


183 CHAPTER 8 The Multicultural Nation at School in the 1980s and 1990s You come out here a wog. You stay one or you don’t. It’s as simple as that.1 At its most profound level, Australian cinema has always been dias- poric, concerned as it was from the start in establishing and legitimis- ing the ‘Australianness’ of the Anglo-Celtic colonising culture in a conquered land. Australian school films of the earlier periods reflected these concerns. However the school films of the 1980s and 1990s began belatedly to ‘recognise the integrity of other diasporas within Australia’.2 These films responded to, and reflected upon, the public policy of multiculturalism and the social reality of Australian ethnic diversity. Nevertheless some groups, including Australians of Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds, were not well represented in these cinematic schools despite their long presence within the society. By the 1990s some school films with characters of Vietnamese back- ground were made, and one of them, No Worries (1993), is discussed below. Overall though, it is fair to say that the school film took some time to catch up with Australia’s multicultural reality. For example, only in the 1980s did filmmakers begin to examine the experiences of the children of two important post World War Two migrations: those from Italy and Greece. This chapter focuses mainly on four school films: the first two – Moving Out (1982) and Street Hero (1984) – foreground stories of male Italian-Australian youth. The second two films centre on Greek-Australian issues, mainly for young...

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