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Australia Imagined: Views from the British Periodical Press.

AUSTRALIA IMAGINED Views from the British Periodical Press 1800-1900 Perth, University of Western Australia Press, 7005

You could not be more nineteenth century Australia than this book. Periodicals or Magazines were a most important part of British culture during the century. British ideas and culture from 'home' were exported to the various British colonies round the world at regular intervals. Australia was no exception and most of the well to do residents had their subscriptions to periodicals like Household Words, Edinburgh Review, Fraser's Magazine The Athenaeum and Fortnightly Review to mention a few of the better known periodicals.

The editors of this book Judith Johnson and Monica Anderson must have had great fun searching and reading this wide range of articles both serious and amusing on many subjects related to Australia. There are seven or eight articles on each subject ranging from transportation, The Aboriginals, British emigration and letters home to Colonial life, women and men, the Chinese and Federation. In effect the selection of articles presents a picture of Australian society as seen by the British (English) during our Colonial period. The inclusion of some articles on the move to Federation brings to a satisfactory conclusion the view of colonial Australia.

The introduction states that the articles are given full bibliographical details making it relatively easy for any reader to follow up particular articles. There is a listing of further reading and a limited index. The names of many Australian writers appear in the list of further reading which does include John Lang which was naturally the first part for me to look up but not through the index. In fact the index contains few names. It is easy to criticise things left out but it is more important to praise the things that are included.

One is an article by Catherine Helen Spence, for example 'An Australian's impressions of England, 1866.' Interestingly she states that 'Although our [Australian] institutions are different, and our social distinctions less marked, we are still emphatically English and it will take several generations before we can have a distinct national character of our own.' This is in 1866 and a national character was emerging in the Australian born in New South Wales, but as Catherine Helen Spence said it would take a couple of generation for it to become universal.

One of her comments is on the enormous size of the towns and the city of London and the contrast between the elegantly dressed riders in Hyde Park with the ragged beggars on every street corner. She emphasises the differences in scenery the trees and mountains often to the advantage of her Australian home. This is an article all Australians should read because it points to the variety of English life and dispels many of the stereotypes so often depicted.

It is impossible for a review to discuss every article. Two articles I must mention. One is an article by Louisa Lawson 'The Australian Bush woman 1889' and the other by Ellen Clacy 'An Australian Home 1863' giving an Australian view of women's role to English readers. Not all the articles are by or about women although there are many, but the men do appear. Some of the extracts from articles are puzzling. One by Charles Kingsley, not his brother Henry, seems pointless because it is an attack on the unatheletic British youth and Australia is mentioned in passing at the end with a comment that the Britisher would cut a sorry figure in Australia or India.

There is much to enjoy and amuse the reader in this collection. I hope that it is only the first of a series of anthologies giving Australians a few insights as to how we were viewed by nineteenth century readers of the periodicals in both Britain and in our homeland.

The book is attractively produced with a few illustrations one of which adorns the cover which I reproduce below. The University of Western Australia Press has done a good job but it should have had an index of names. Buy it and read it or if you cannot afford it ask your local library to buy a copy.
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Publication:M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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