The state of Australian culture

I am acknowledging an interesting post and thread on Jim Belshaw’s blog: That Australian Life – has Australian culture entered into decline? Part of what inspired that was the series Brilliant Creatures, which I saw when it was first shown. “Brilliant Creatures focused on four Australians ( Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James and Robert Hughes) who made their mark in London during the 1960s and 1970s.”  Jim may be interested in Myf Warhurst’s review: Australia’s brilliant creatures were not like us – and surely that’s the point?

When the small screen and broader media only reflects back at us who we already are rather than challenging or educating us, surely we’re in a spot of bother? If Brilliant Creatures has a message, it’s that ruffling of feathers and robust viewpoints will be remembered. The rest is wallpaper. And currently, we’ve got plenty of that.

Australians are in danger of disappearing up their own self-reflexive, but thoughtfully designed and padded, backsides. Sadly we’re all too high on the paint fumes of home renovation to give much of a toss.

I was 16 in 1960 in Arts 1 at Sydney University. The shade of Clive James was still apparent (where he studied English and Psychology from 1957 to 1960) and a few years later I encountered Germaine Greer, who rather terrified me. Les Murray was about, as was John Bell – but they stayed on. Among my cohort were Dyson Heydon (Jack in those days) and Philip Ruddock, both of whom were my classmates in English or History. Given one name to occur in Jim’s post and thread I must mention that a classmate in English (I suspect the same class as Jack Heydon) was Melvin Morrow, father of Chaser Julian Morrow and sometime teacher of Nick Enright.

But when it comes to Jim’s question, which I have adapted for this post, I really shy away. I honestly have no idea, though I always suspect nostalgia can mislead us. I rather think Australian culture is doing fine.

I went to Wollongong Library yesterday and stocked up on quite a bit of Australiana, even if (like Beautiful Creatures) one is a Pom’s take on the subject. I refer to Tony Robinson in Australia (2011) which I had not seen as it was pay-tv only.


I have seen two episodes already and am amused and informed, as one might expect with Tony R.

I also borrowed Squizzy Taylor (1982) and a three-pack of The Sum of Us (1994), Sunday Too Far Away (1975) and The Shiralee (1987).  Note too re 2015:

Last year we didn’t want to know about Australian movies. This year, they set a new box office record. What’s behind the massive turnaround? …

What makes it truly remarkable is that just a year ago the local industry looked to be in terminal decline.

In 2014, Australian movies accounted for just 2.4 per cent of the total Australian box office. Only once since 1977, which is as far back as the Screen Australia database goes, has it been lower; the 1.3 per cent share in 2004 makes that Australian cinema’s annus horribilis.

What’s more, last year’s result ($26.2 million) came on the back of a poor 2013 as well ($38.5 million, 3.5 per cent share). Had it not been for The Great Gatsby ($27.4 million), 2013 would have been a complete disaster.

So what has happened? Why has Australian cinema bounced back, and is this recovery sustainable?…

With books I eschewed the all-Aussie theme – not for lack of candidates though. I did choose one: Linda Jaivin, The Monkey and the Dragon (2000). That choice was partly personal: you’d be surprised how many people in this book (including Linda Jaivin) I have actually met. See also my 2013 post Lost in translation–and also in time! You know something? She’s pretty much as brilliant as any of those brilliant creatures….

One thought on “The state of Australian culture

  1. I’m beginning to think the US is fading and fading fast – I am doubtful as to what shape we’ll be in by the end of Obama’s last year. Too bad we don’t all have the spirit that the Greatest Generation had!!

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