Edited by Robert Manne and Chris Feik
Black Inc, $29.99
IT'S been said that a leading part of the Australian national character is that we are always trying to define the Australian national character, and this book gives us some of the founding texts of self-definition. There is Keith Murdoch and Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett on the Anzacs; the Frenchman Alfred Metin and D.H. Lawrence - at his most shrill and repetitive - on Australian egalitarianism; A.A. Phillips on the cultural cringe; and Robin Boyd on the Australian ugliness.
Manning Clark questions the convict myth; Menzies' forgotten people make an appearance, as does their unforgettable incarnation, Sandy Stone.
The writers speak to each other, implicitly or otherwise: Russel Ward on the Australian legend is talked back to by Anne Summers and Miriam Dixson pointing out how mateship also involves misogyny and latent homosexuality; Geoffrey Blainey with his speech about the black armband view of history lines up against W.E.H. Stanner and Bernard Smith.
It's worth noting that while some essays are given in full, others are extracted and the editing is invisible. The passage from Dixson's The Real Matilda, for instance, reprints eight pages taken from a chapter of 31 pages in the original. As far as it's possible to judge, this has been done adeptly enough.
This is a handy introduction to the themes of Australian identity: one thing it can also do is help us rediscover writers such as P.H. Stephenson and Maybanke Anderson.