Recollections Through English Spectacles

In a word, let us look at our country and its fauna and flora, its trees and streams and mountains, through clear Australian eyes, not through bias-bleared English spectacles: and there is no more beautiful country in the world. It will be the fault of the writers, not of the land, if Australian literature does not by-and-by become memorable.

When A. G. Stephens wrote these words, in 1901. all but one of the Australian Literary Reprints series published by Sydney University Press (see the list in the Note below) were in existence in some form: even the exception, C. J. Brennan's Poems (1913), had partly emerged. Stephens' exhortation is understandable, given the century or so of cultural transportation that lay behind him and although not all would agree when he proclaims that 'Every man who roams the Australian wilderness is a potential knight of Romance', one can understand his enthusiasm; after all it was 1901, the early days of Federation, and the hey-day of the Bulletin. Looking back past the Nineties there is little to celebrate so far as an indigenous vision is concerned; all of the writers suffered in varying degrees from artistic myopia. What is important. I think, is not so much the quality, since there was so little literary work that was of substantial value, as the nature of the Nineteenth Century vision in Australia, and in this latter respect the Australian Literary Reprints are invaluable. Apart from Brennan, the texts are of such a quality that they were either not published in book form or forgotten after they were; only one of them, Boldrewood's The Miner's Right, had any lasting popularity. Yet the lower quality is in one way a blessing, for the artistic intentions of each writer are more easily discernible than if they were drawn with a greater skill and complexity.

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Published 1 October 1979 in Volume 9 No. 2.

Cite as: Hanna, Cliff. ‘Recollections Through English Spectacles.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 1979. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.7c8db37a1a.