Australian Literary Classics – Why should we read them?

three old paperbacks

Good reads – three old Australian books.

Do we care enough about our Australian literary classics?  Publisher, Michael Heyward, thinks our literary canon is sadly neglected.  He says that Australian literature is neglected in courses at Australian universities and many Australian novels which were celebrated in the past are now out of print. This discussion coincides with the re-publishing of thirty Australian classics by Heyward’s company – Text Publishing.

It is easy to agree with Heyward’s concerns.  Last year students at the University of Melbourne were so frustrated at the lack of Australian literature taught by the English Department that they organised for local authors to deliver weekly talks to the students about their work.  Twenty of the fifty-three books that have won the Miles Franklin Award are now out of print.  We read more literature produced by authors from other nations than Australian literature.  Think about your own reading.  What percentage of books you read are Australian works?

It is easy to agree with those who are troubled by this issue, but I don’t think enough attention is being given to the central premise upon which this debate is founded.  At the outset we need to ask ourselves, ‘does it really matter whether we read Australian literature’?  If we can’t satisfactorily answer this question then no amount of reprinting Australian literature or university courses will attract increased interest in Australian literature.  Continue reading