Growing Pains: The Development and Appreciation of an Autonomous Australian Literature from the 1930s to the 1960s

The period from 1930 to the 1960s was one of rapid change and maturation for Australian literature, dictated primarily by the economic, political and social turmoil caused by events both globally and locally. The changing social and political landscape resulted in varied literary responses, including the socialist realism that emerged during the Great Depression, the influences of modernism and vitalism during the same era, and nationalism during and following World War II. The Cold War period saw an unprecedented level of political influence in the literary community, so these decades brought diversity, growth, challenges and opportunities to Australian literature. Literature’s social value was challenged by political events and anti-intellectualism, yet in some sense these hindrances also encouraged new developments to occur. The journey towards a more diverse and autonomous literature is one that occurred as Australia’s political and cultural values and institutions were also in flux. Australian literature emerged from this period with a critical view of society, increased study within the universities and a new level of global recognition, which helped to assuage Australia’s cultural cringe.

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The importance of colonial Australian women’s letters and journals

Colonial women’s letters and journals form a distinct literary genre that is an important component of Australian literature, providing unique insights into the challenges of settlement, domestic life, social and gender issues.

The letters and journals written by women in colonial Australia may not generally be thought of as an integral part of Australian literature, even if they are recognised for their historical importance. These texts were private in nature and neither formally published nor transmitted orally like the popular folk songs and ballads of the period. Despite this lack of wider recognition, these writings form a distinct literary genre and provide unique insights into colonial life which are often absent from the more popular works of the time. In particular, insights into the challenges of early settlement, domestic life, social and gender issues of the time.

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