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Genius Of Australia2022-05-25T16:27:45+10:00
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The Australian Canon:
The Great Works of Australian Literature and the Arts

A nation without a past is a nation without a future.

The great works of Australian culture are essential to understanding our past and our present; but they are increasingly being discarded and/or denigrated in our schools and our universities.

Genius is defined as “the prevailing character or spirit of Australia”.

By exploring the works in the Australian Canon developed here at the Centre for the Australian Way of Life, new generations of Australians can connect to the classic works that tell us who we are; which made us who we are.

This site provides essays, commentaries and Podcast episodes to help Australians make those connections, as they read, watch, view and listen to the great works in the Australian Canon.

Each canonical work will be analysed

Over time an introductory commentary will be provided on every work in the Canon.

Go to the Index, below, and you will see links highlighted wherever these posts have already been published.

Key Essays on the Australian Canon

Why the Canon is needed; what’s in it; and what’s so good about it.

Relevant IPA Research

The Genius of Australia Podcast

(coming soon)

  • Episode One: An Introduction to the Australian Canon

  • Episode Two: Patrick White’s Voss and David Marr’s biography

  • Episode Three: Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson

The Canon of Australia Index

Marcus Clarke, For the Term of His Natural Life, 1870
Henry Lawson, The Drover’s Wife, 1892
Ethel Turner, Seven Little Australians, 1894
Ethel Pedley, Dot and the Kangaroo, 1899
Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career, 1901
Jeannie Gunn, We of the Never Never, 1908
Henry Handel Richardson, The Getting of Wisdom, 1910
Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, Vols. I‐III, 1917‐1930
Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding, 1918
Frederic Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune, 1929
Ruth Park, The Harp in the South, 1948
Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice, 1950
Patrick White, Voss, 1957
George Johnston, My Brother Jack, 1964
Thomas Keneally, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, 1972
David Malouf, Johnno, 1975
Xavier Herbert, Poor Fellow My Country, 1975
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe, 1976
Helen Garner, Monkey Grip, 1977
Robert Drewe, The Bodysurfers, 1983
Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda, 1988
Tim Winton, Cloudstreet, 1991
John Marsden, Tomorrow, When the War Began, 1993
Peter Temple, Bad Debts, 1996
Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap, 2008

Michael Powell, They’re A Weird Mob, 1966
Nicolas Roeg, Walkabout, 1971
Ted Kotcheff, Wake In Fright, 1971
David Williamson, Don’s Party, 1971
Peter Weir, Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975
Colin Thiele, Storm Boy, 1976
George Miller, Mad Max, 1979
Gillian Armstrong, My Brilliant Career, 1979
Peter Weir, Gallipoli, 1981
Peter Faiman, Crocodile Dundee, 1986
P. J. Hogan, Muriel’s Wedding, 1994
Rob Sitch, The Castle, 1997
Kate Woods, Looking for Alibrandi, 2000
John Curran, Tracks, 2013
Bruce Beresford, Ladies in Black, 2018
Kriv Stenders, Danger Close: The Battle
of Long Tan
, 2019
Robert Connolly, The Dry, 2020

Caroline Carleton, The Song of Australia, 1859
Banjo Paterson, Clancy of the Overflow, 1889
Henry Lawson, The Drover’s Wife, 1892
Banjo Paterson, Waltzing Matilda, 1895
Dorothea Mackellar, My Country, 1904
A.D. Hope, Australia, 1938
Ken Slessor, Five Bells, 1939
Dame Mary Gilmore, No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest, 1940
Oodgeroo Noonuccal, The Dispossessed, 1964
Les Murray, Noonday Axeman, 1965
Bruce Dawe, Life Cycle, 2009
Sarah Day, A Dry Winter: Some Observations About Rain, 2009

Trad., Wild Colonial Boy, 19th century
Skipper Francis, Australia Will Be There, 1915
Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, 1971
AC/DC, It’s a Long Way to The Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll), 1976
The Saints, (I’m) Stranded, 1976
Cold Chisel, Khe Sanh, 1978
Peter Allen, I Still Call Australia Home, 1980
Icehouse, Great Southern Land, 1982
Redgum, I Was Only Nineteen, 1983
John Farnham, You’re The Voice, 1986
Neil Murray, My Island Home, 1987
Slim Dusty, G’day G’day, 1988
Yothu Yindi, Treaty, 1991
Nick Cave, Red Right Hand, 1994

Eugene von Guerard, Mount Abrupt, the Grampians, Victoria, 1856
Tom Roberts, Shearing the Rams, 1890
William Barak, Corroboree, 1895
Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904
George Rayner Hoff, Sacrifice, ANZAC Memorial, Hyde Park, NSW, 1934
Sidney Nolan, First‐class Marksman (Ned Kelly series), 1946
Russell Drysdale, The Cricketers, 1948
Albert Namatjira, Central Australian Landscape, 1953
Margaret Olley, Susan with Flowers, 1962
GMH, Monaro, 1968
Fred Williams, Dight’s Falls, 1974
Brett Whiteley, The Jacaranda Tree (On Sydney Harbour), 1977
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Warlugulong, 1977
John Olsen, Lake Eyre Channel Country, 2011

Judith Wright, The Generations of Men, 1959
Clive James, Unreliable Memoirs, 1980
A.B. Facey, A Fortunate Life, 1981
Geoffrey Serle, John Monash: A Biography, 1982
David Marr, Patrick White: A Life, 1992
Raimond Gaita, Romulus, My Father, 1998
Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, 2016

Watkin Tench, Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, 1793
W.K. Hancock, Australia, 1930
Russell Ward, The Australian Legend, 1958
Mary Durack, Kings in Grass Castles, 1959
Donald Horne, The Lucky Country, 1964
Geoffrey Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia’s History, 1966
Michael Cathcart, Manning Clark’s History of Australia, 1989
David Kemp, A Liberal State: How Australians Chose Liberalism over Socialism 1926-1966, 2021

Questions We’re Frequently Asked

How did we select the Canon? Artistic and literary merit is of course a prime consideration, but not the only one. The great literary critic Harold Bloom said artists decide what should be in a Canon. Perhaps that is the case if all we want is literature for its own sake, but a national Canon must have more than that. And so we have also looked for works which speak to our national character, and may have helped form it.

In selecting works for the Canon longevity should also be a guide; it is a test of how a work resonates with the people. While Waltzing Matilda fades, as children are no longer taught to sing it in schools, we might note My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin was published in 1901 but has never been out of print. Other works may be added in due course, on the same criteria. No Canon can ever be truly definitive, but we have here captured the essentials. Another criterion is the hope that every Australian would be familiar with the work (which is one of the reasons why we have—for the moment—set to one side groupings of more specialist artistic endeavours like sculpture, architecture and the performing arts).

In selecting works for the Canon a test of how a work resonates with the people, in the hope that every Australian could be familiar with the work. This is one of the reasons why we have—for the moment—set to one side groupings of more specialist artistic endeavours like sculpture, architecture and the performing arts.

As we said when it was launched in the Spring 2021, no Canon is ever truly definitive.
We have been getting great feedback and great suggestions for alterations and additions to the Canon.
There will be future iterations, but as befits the project the change will not be frequent, or large.
Suggestions can be made to shargreaves@ipa.org.au

Yes you can.

The original article, The Genius of Australia, which introduced the Canon, is available here.

Or you can download a PDF without the introductory essay, here.

Another criterion is the hope that every Australian would be familiar with the work.

For a song like Waltzing Matilda, a poem like Clancy of the Overflow, or a short(-ish) and very entertaining read like My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, this is an attainable goal. We will literally be saying: “you must read this” (while in the case of the latter saying, at least watch the excellent 1979 movie with Judy Davis). For this reason too we have selected not books of poetry by our best-known poets, but rather particular poems. I would rather a young Australian read one poem by the ‘Bard of Bunyah’, Les Murray, than be daunted by a recommendation to read a publication from just one period of a long career, or even a collected works. I want Noonday Axeman to be a gateway drug to the sensibility of a very fine poet and patriot. But then as well as the very popular (and accessible) The Getting of Wisdom, by Henry Handel Richardson, we have also included that author’s epic trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, which chronicles the rise and fall of an Anglo-Irish doctor who travelled to Australia to seek his fortune on Ballarat’s goldfields.

The Genius of Australia is available as a Podcast or can be watched on YouTube.
Subscribe to the Podcast via these links:
Soundcloud
Apple Podcasts

etc etc

YouTube link here

The main image is from a larger illustration by the great illustrator, artist and cartoonist, John Spooner. It shows the “Jolly Swagman” of Waltzing Matilda fame, with his “jumbuck” (the sheep he had just stolen), reading contentedly under the Cooolabah tree the works of the Australian Canon.
You can see the whole image represented here.

If you are not already a member of the Institute of Public Affairs, join here.

You can make donations here.

For all other inquiries, please contact shargreaves@ipa.org.au.

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