3 Best Essays About Australia, by Australian WritersMay 20, 2014

3 Best Essays About Australia, by Australian Writers

Many of the finest works in Australian literature don't see the island continent as a tourist destination. The arid landscape tells stories that go back to the time of the first settlers, even give a hint or two on the Aussie character.

Compared to Europe, Australia is a young country. However, so much had happened between New Year's Day of 1901 (when the colonies of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania formed one nation) and the turn of the 21st century.

Simon Caterson, Kate Jennings, and Mark Tredinnick are three of Australia's top essayists. They also have their own perspectives about Australia, which are interesting, if not thought-provoking.

The Realities of Australia's Tertiary Education

Simon Caterson, a native of Melbourne, was a writer for art, ideas, history, literature, and popular culture for various newspapers and magazines. His essay "Building the Total University", published in 2003, was arguably his best, where he probed the country's tertiary system. His findings revealed that the state of education was far from ideal.

"The belief in scholastic tradition that informed the founders of Australian tertiary education has been replaced by a provincial anxiety about things being 'world class' or 'best practice', whatever that they mean. All this bureaucratic spin is just so much fiddling while Rome burns. The damage caused by the loss of institutional identity and memory and the wider society's diminished sense of its own history and culture is incalculable. The university is no longer the preserver, custodian and disseminator of our intellectual and cultural inheritance, but has in effect become its destroyer, thus fulfulling a totalitarian function not a million miles from the horrors of mass amnesia depicted in 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'."

Caterson's views were scathing, citing plagiarism from students to vice-chancellors. He even wondered if Australia truly moved forward after becoming a republic. One couldn't help but pause. There was one incident at the University of Western Sydney, which took place in July 2000, when ten thousand books donated by the Sydney University were secretly buried. It was hard not to be angry about it. This was one of the many facts that made this piece of writing more than persuasive.

The Depiction of Australian Character

Kate Jennings, a recipient of numerous literary awards, became renowned on essays on the state of fiction and feminism. There was one piece that was different, "Home Truths: Revisiting Wake in Fright", which was about a Donald Pleasance starrer, a seminal film in Australian New Wave. It was a film criticism made engaging by tidbits about her.

"Like John Grant, my mother had aspirations to culture. She read Tolstoy, quoted Cavafy, listened to Mahler and looked down on most everyone around her. Like Janette Hynes, she appreciated men. She wouldn't have put it in so many words, but I thought of her when Doc Tyndon asks a hung-over John Grant, 'What's wrong with a woman taking a man because she feels like it?' A difficult mother for a daughter to have, much less in a rural area where there is no anonymity. As Diana Vreeland, whose jolie-laide appearance was derided by her mother, said, 'Parents, you know, can be terrible.' Hardly least, I'm a recovering alcoholic. Last drink: 7 August 1982. I don't need anyone to tell me how easy it is to descend into hell, how hard to get out."

Outsiders see Australians as friendly and easygoing, but Jennings's piece showed a contradicting portrait. The Outback may look like it has no boundaries, but the people don't see it that way, having claustrophobic tendency. The nation may be progressive, but mateship prevailed, with the men's strong affinity with beer. (Some look at it as homophobic, not dismissing the homoeroticism behind it.) For Jennings, the movie prompted her to reconnect with her hometown, which she have been away for decades. She was guilty about it, watching as many Aussie films as she could.

The Bond Between Man and Nature

In "Mustering the Sky", Mark Tredinnick chose the relationship between man and nature, made popular by the likes of Henry David Thoreau. A fool for places, the native of Sydney admitted, his lyrical description of the Blue Plateau, found in Blue Mountains, earned raves.

"I looked up at the sky again and the darkening scarps as we rode through the home paddock, and I decided I’d been wrong earlier about the light. It wasn’t kind; it was, as ever, simply true. It touched the grasses and it brought out the drought in the clouds, and it didn’t care. It knew nothing about pity. But it seemed to me that we should. We need to be careful, though, whom our pity serves."

Walden Pond would come to mind, but Tredinnick was talking about something else. The setting is arresting, his story evocative. Not bad for a piece of writing several pages long.

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