That there is an identifiable Australian
culture is now widely conceded. But it was not always so. During the 19th
century Australian culture was essentially a pale imitation of its middle-class
British source. From 1880 to about 1895, the period during which federation
was most strenuously advocated, there developed an observable Australian
ethos that was expressed widely in the literature of the time and became
ennobled as the spirit of mateship, or faith in one's comrades.
The two world wars, the depression that intervened, and the great influx of European immigrants after 1945 modified the earlier, somewhat provincial and imitative culture. A second cultural flowering has occurred since 1945. It has shown greater vitality, variety, and promise than the first, and Australian philosophers, artists, and writers have become known abroad. The influence of the United States on Australian culture has been increasing and is perhaps closely related to the growing U.S. investment in Australian industry and the increasing tendency of university graduates to pursue higher education in the United States. American actors, popular music, television programs, dress styles, books, magazines, and pastimes have all become part of the national cultural pattern.
Perhaps the greatest weakness in Australian society is the low priority it has given to education. Community leaders have emphasized the virtues and needs of the practical man, and most Australians tend to prefer outdoor living and sports to the pursuit of learning and the arts.
In Australia "free, compulsory, and secular"
education is provided by each of the state governments. Each state has
a department of education which is charged with training teachers, building
schools, and teaching the state's children. Education is compulsory from
age 6 to 15 or 16, depending on the state. Primary schools emphasize basic
subjects. The most common type of secondary school is a comprehensive high
school offering a wide range of subjects. Most secondary schools are coeducational.
Most Catholic children attend religious schools, which charge low fees.
Affluent Protestants often send their children to expensive schools run
by the various denominations, but most non-Catholic children attend the
Education beyond high school is provided by state universities, colleges of advanced education (for the most part, former teachers' colleges), institutes of education, conservatories of music, and agricultural and technical colleges. Churches operate theological colleges independently, cooperatively, or in association with the universities. Institutes for art and dramatic training are of high caliber. The universities of Sydney (1850), Melbourne (1853), Adelaide (1874), Tasmania (1890), at Hobart, Queensland (1909), in Brisbane, and Western Australia (1911), in Perth, are the oldest in Australia. The Australian National University, located at Canberra, has established a fine reputation since its founding in 1946. The University of New South Wales was founded in Sydney after World War II and modeled on U.S. institutes of technology. Other new universities have been established in Armidale (University of New England), Sydney (Macquarie University), Melbourne (Monash and La Trobe universities), Newcastle, Adelaide (Flinders University), Townsville (James Cook University), Brisbane (Griffith University), Perth (Murdoch University), Wollongong, and Geelong (Deakin University). All universities have been free since 1974. Courses range from three years for B.A. and B.Sc. degrees to six years for a degree as a physician or surgeon. Melbourne, New England, and Queensland universities offer some degrees by correspondence. Rising costs have dictated the rationalization of university offerings, and competition is intense for admission to prestigious institutions such as Sydney, Melbourne, and the Australian National University. While almost 60 percent of U.S. high school graduates attend college, in Australia the figure is about half that. In 1985, 1,530,500 students were enrolled in primary schools and 1,271,500 were enrolled in secondary schools. There were 370,300 students enrolled in universities and other institutions of higher learning.
The federal government, which helps to finance the state universities, maintains the Royal Military College, the Institute of Anatomy, and the National Library in Canberra. In addition, it supports the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the foremost research body in Australia, and the Australian National University.
Early Australian poetry suffered from a too
ardent passion for poetic diction and was too greatly influenced by minor
18th-century romantic verse. As a result, the early lyricists, such as
Barron Field (1786-1846), William Charles Wentworth (1790-1872), and Charles
Harpur (1813-1868), though technically competent, saw Australia through
English eyes and wrote about it in English poetic language. The first Australian-born
poets of importance were Henry Kendall (1839-1882) and Adam Lindsay Gordon
(1833-1870), who popularized the "bush ballad" or ballad addressing Australian
country life. By far the most important writers of poetry in the now-famous
"nineties" of Australian literature were Andrew Barton ("Banjo") Paterson
(1864-1941) and Henry Lawson (1867-1922). Paterson wrote the final form
of the world-famous ballad "Waltzing Matilda." Lawson and Paterson were
encouraged in their literary pursuits by the founding of the Sydney Bulletin
in 1880 by J. F. Archibald and by its long-time editor, A. G. Stephens
(1865-1933). Paterson's treatment of Australian outback life is essentially
optimistic; Lawson's is pessimistic, socialistic, and realistic. Lawson's
short stories, in such collections as On the Track and Over the Sliprails
(1900) and Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901) have an affinity with Bret Harte's
The Luck of Roaring Camp . Perhaps the best of Lawson's short stories is
"The Drover's Wife," which realistically depicts the life of a family in
The Polynesian stories of Louis Becke and the humorous ones of Steele Rudd provided a transition to the more contemporary writers, as did those of Barbara Baynton, who wrote tales of women's struggles in the inhospitable environment of Australian bush towns. After World War II the principal Australian short story writers were Dal Stivens, Gavin Casey, Jon Cleary, Vance Palmer, Judah Waten, and Hal Porter. Some critics consider Porter the most distinctive of these writers. His style is rather convoluted and labored; his attitude is nonchauvinistic (he refers to the "sinister poverty of purpose" of his country); and his subject matter is wide, often involving cultural confrontations. More recently, Christina Stead (1902-1983) made notable contributions to the short story form. And with the collections The Burnt Ones (1964) and The Cockatoos (1974) Patrick White established himself as a master of the story of eccentrics leading lonely, frustrated lives.
Not so well known are Australian poets Victor Daley (1858-1905) and Christopher John Brennan (1870-1932). Daley wrote romantic verse, but it is better verse than almost any other poet's of the time. Brennan was one of the first writers in English to show the influence of the French symbolists, particularly in his Wanderer sequence, a distinguished allegorical and philosophical work. Bernard O'Dowd (1866-1953), much influenced by Walt Whitman, wrote democratic poetry of exhortation. John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942) and Hugh McCrae (1876-1958) were two of Australia's greatest poets. But few poets have exceeded the technical proficiency and depth of feeling of Kenneth Slessor (1901-1971), whose "Five Bells" has a unique place in the national literature. Other poets of stature are James McAuley, A. D. Hope, Judith Wright, Gwen Harwood, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, and Les A. Murray.
In the drama two names stand out: Louis Esson (18791943) and Douglas Stewart. Esson, impressed by the work of John Millington Synge and William Butler Yeats, tried to achieve similar results in plays with Australian settings. Stewart's Shipwreck (1947), Ned Kelly (1943), and The Fire on the Snow (1941) treat events in Australian history. Many critics compare The Fire on the Snow, which deals with Scott's South Pole expedition, with the very best verse dramas that have been written for radio. The success, in London and Australia, of Ray Lawler's The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1955) and A Piccadilly Bushman (1959) greatly stimulated the writing of plays in Australia. Other playwrights are Richard Beynon, Patrick White, Ric Throssell, David Williamson, Peter Kenna, and Alexander Buzo.
Before 1880 some 300 works of fiction appeared, but they were principally "guidebook novels" on the themes of pastoral life, convictism, and bushranging. However, Australia had produced at least three major novels by 1900. They are Marcus Clarke's For the Term of His Natural Life (1874), a startlingly realistic account of the convict settlement in Tasmania; Rolf Boldrewood's (T. A. Browne) Robbery Under Arms (1888), a story of bushrangers and outback settlers; and Such Is Life (which did not appear in final book form until 1903), the work of Joseph Furphy, who wrote under the pseudonym Tom Collins. Such Is Life is both an authentic account of country life in the state of Victoria and an important contribution to narrative technique.
Other important novelists are Henry Handel Richardson (Mrs. J. G. Robertson), author of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (1917-1929), a trilogy on immigrant social life; Katherine Susannah Prichard, whose Coonardoo (1929) is an excellent study of the relationship between an aboriginal woman and a white man; Louis Stone, whose Jonah (1911) is a moving study of slum life; and Patrick White, author of Happy Valley (1939), The Living and the Dead (1941), The Aunt's Story (1948), The Tree of Man (1955), Voss (1957), Riders in the Chariot (1961), The Solid Mandala (1966), The Eye of the Storm (1973), A Fringe of Leaves (1976), and The Twyborn Affair (1979), who won a Nobel Prize in 1973. White's subtle, symbolical narratives are both rich in meaning and complex in technique and are perhaps the most important works of 20th-century Australian prose fiction. Recent novelists include Thomas Keneally, Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Shirley Hazzard, David Ireland, and David Malouf.
The first play presented in Australia was
The Recruiting Officer , a Restoration comedy by George Farquhar. It was
performed by a group of convicts in 1789, just a year after the first settlement.
During the 19th century the standard English repertory and popular melodramas
were the usual fare. In 1833 Barnett Levey opened his Theatre Royal in
Sydney to offer both music and drama. George Coppin, Alfred Dampier, George
Rignold, and J. C. Williamson, an American, became the important theater
managers. They occasionally offered local plays, but usually presented
works by Shakespeare and the major overseas playwrights.
Little theaters in Australia have specialized in the drama of the social realists, the experimentalists, and the avantgarde. The universities' drama festivals often introduce contemporary dramatists' work to the country. The Elizabethan Theatre Trust, established in 1954, subsidizes theaters, drama festivals, operas, and ballet. The Australian Ballet was founded in 1961 and has since toured overseas extensively. The Australian Council for the Arts, established by the federal government in 1968 (re-formed as the Australia Council in 1973), gives financial support to a wide array of arts groups.
Famous Australian actors are Oscar Asche, Judith Anderson, Cyril Ritchard, Errol Flynn, Merle Oberon, Rod Taylor, and Peter Finch. Robert Helpmann, the dancer, was born in Adelaide. William Constable, Frank Hinder, Loudon Sainthill, and Robin Lovejoy have gained notice in England and America for their scene design and costume work.
In the 1840's Vincent Wallace, Isaac Nathan, and other impresarios brought famous overseas vocalists and instrumentalists to Australia and sponsored oratorio, opera, and chamber music. At the turn of the century Dame Nellie Melba became world-famous as an opera singer. Other notable Australian musicians are Peter Dawson, Joan Hammond, Joan Sutherland, and John Brownlee (singers); Alfred Hill, John Antill, Percy Grainger, Arthur Benjamin, and Peter Sculthorpe (composers); Lauri Kennedy (cellist); Eileen Joyce and Roger Woodward (pianists); and Charles Mackerras (conductor). Richard Bonynge has gained international acclaim both as a musicologist and as a conductor. Richard Meale has adapted Patrick White's Voss as an opera (1986). New music centers in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney have encouraged vocal, instrumental, and orchestral music.
In the 1970's and 1980's the Australian film industry gained international stature with directors such as Peter Weir and Bruce Beresford. Major films include Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Breaker Morant, (1980) My Brilliant Career (1980), Gallipoli (1981) and Crocodile Dundee (1986).
The first important Australian artists were
Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, John Longstaff, and Frederick
McCubbin, men who, influenced by European tastes and practices in the 1880's,
introduced outdoor (plein-air) painting to Australia. Roberts was a realist
and a painter of genre scenes, as was McCubbin. Streeton set the pace for
generations of Australian landscape artists through his perception of the
subtleties of color and light. George W. Lambert (1873-1930) was Australia's
first member of the Royal Academy. Beginning as an impressionist, he soon
concluded that draftsmanship was the basis of art. He influenced the national
art schools deeply and made distinguished contributions to Australian portraiture.
Of more recent artists, James Gleeson is the foremost surrealist; Donald
Friend is the creator of stark, complicated landscape styles; Sidney Nolan
has developed a special method of presenting Australian mythology; Albert
Tucker has devoted his attention to social expressionism. Ivor Hele, William
Dobell, and William Dargie are the most eminent portrait painters. Margaret
Preston gained praise for her still lifes, and Hans Heysen for his paintings
of Australian trees. Sir Russell Drysdale was a pioneer of modern Australian
regional painting. Albert Namatjira, an aboriginal artist, became famous
for his central Australian landscapes. Sue Walker has developed tapestry
as an art form.
Sir Bertram Mackennal (1863-1931) was Australia's first significant sculptor. His works have an Edwardian charm. Rayner Hoff (1894-1937) and his pupil Lyndon Dadswell have been very influential. There has been interest in recent years in architectural sculpture, and the work of Clement Meadmore, Margel Hinder, and Lenton Parr is highly praiseworthy. Merric Boyd (1889-1959) used Australian animal and plant designs effectively in ceramic art.
Architecture in the early days of Australia was purely utilitarian. During the administration of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, Francis Greenway (1777-1837), a convict, was appointed colonial architect. Several of his buildings are still in use and are highly regarded by Australians. William Wardell (1823-1899) and Edmund Blacket (1817-1883) were the main exponents in Australia of the gothic revival. Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937), a Chicagoan, planned the capital city, Canberra, and remained in Australia, where his influence is considerable. Largely because of economic considerations, severe functionalism has been the prevailing trend in public buildings, and it is only in recent years that building regulations have been eased to permit buildings above 150 feet (45 meters). Curtain walls, aluminum sheeting, and prestressed concrete are standard features of large buildings, while red-brick bungalows in the city and ironroofed cottages in the country are the norm. Roy Grounds and Harry Seidler are major contemporary architects. Danish architect Jørn Utzon designed the controversial Sydney Opera House, a radical departure from traditional style.
The State Library of Victoria (Melbourne), the National Library (Canberra), the State Library of New South Wales (Sydney), and the Fisher Library of the University of Sydney are the largest in Australia, with more than two million volumes each. The Mitchell Library in Sydney is the principal source of Australiana and has an invaluable manuscript collection. The National War Museum is in Canberra, and the Museum of Antiquities is at the University of Sydney. Local flora and fauna are displayed in the Australian Museum, Sydney. The National Art Gallery in Melbourne has an excellent collection.
The earliest scientific efforts were descriptions
of the plants, animals, and geology of the continent. It was not until
after establishment of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organization by the federal government in 1926 that highly specialized
research was undertaken. The federal government also maintains the National
Standards Laboratory, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, the Commonwealth
Serum Laboratories, and other specialized agencies.
Two privately endowed research organizations are the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (Melbourne) for medical research and the Waite Institute (Adelaide) for agriculture. The director of the Melbourne institute, Sir Macfarlane Burnet, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1960. Other Australian Nobel laureates for medicine are Sir Howard Florey, for his part in the development of penicillin, and Sir John Eccles, for his work on nerve cells.
Because of the small population there is
little publishing in Australia, although Melbourne University Press issues
many important scholarly works, and Angus and Robertson, Ltd., of
Sydney, has been responsible for issuing most of the important creative
writing done in Australia. The University of Queensland Press is the most
innovative academic press.
The principal newpapers are the Sydney Morning Herald , the Melbourne Age, the Canberra Times , and the Australian.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization publishes numerous journals. Meanjin, Southerly, Overland, Australian Letters , and Westerly are the main cultural periodicals.
Broadcasting and television are operated
in Australia both by private companies and by the federal government. In
1983 there were 131 stations run by the Australian Broadcasting Commission
(ABC), which also operates Radio Australia, the shortwave station; there
were 136 privately operated stations. There were also 76 ABC television
stations and 51 commercial stations in 1987.
Australians are avid moviegoers. Films from many European countries are shown, but most films come from the United States, as do the majority of television programs.
Australians pride themselves on their sporting
prowess, especially in tennis, golf, and swimming. They have frequently
won the Davis Cup and the Wimbledon tennis tournaments and have won medals
in numerous swimming contests, including the Olympics. Both tennis players
and swimmers are carefully selected and strenuously trained. Other popular
sports are surfboarding, waterskiing, and boating in coastal areas. Rugby
and Australian rules football are played in winter and cricket in summer.
Skiing in the Australian Alps is popular in winter. Horse racing is popular,
and the Melbourne Cup, a two-mile horse race run in November, attracts
nationwide interest. Annual agricultural fairs are held in the major cities.
The winning of the America's Cup by Australian yachtsmen in 1983 created
a national sensation.
Almost all public holidays are celebrated on the Monday nearest the actual occasion being celebrated, to make a long weekend possible. The standard public holidays are New Year's Day, Australia Day (January 26), Easter, Anzac Day (April 25), the Queen's Birthday (June), Labour Day (October), Christmas, and Boxing Day (December 26).
Australians tend to drink beer and wines rather than liquors and eat an average of four pounds (1.8 kg) of meat a week per person -- mainly beef, poultry, and lamb. Meat pies, pavlovas (meringues filled with cream and fruit), fish and chips, prawns, scones, and fruit salads are popular foods. A typical country breakfast for workingmen will consist of eggs, steak, tomatoes, and bacon. There is a uniformity of menu, sometimes extending to Christmas dinner, which is commonly a ham or a roast. Houses generally lack central heating even though light snow falls in some areas. Traffic moves on the left side of the road.