Главная страница «Первого сентября»Главная страница журнала «Английский язык»Содержание №4/2007


Children’s Literature:

Vehicle for the Transmission of National Culture and Identity in Canada and Australia

A nation’s literature has traditionally been seen as a reflection of the values, tensions, myths, and psychology that identify a national character. Australia and Canada are many things to many people. They are places, nations and communities. They are also ideas that change constantly in the minds of their people and in debates about the past and the future. Benedict Anderson defines a nation as “an imagined community”. He maintains that the members of a nation never know each other, meet or hear each other, yet they still hold in common an image of who they are as a community of individuals.

How is a “common image” passed on to children (and to people in general) in Australia and Canada? One of the ways in which an image is transmitted to a nation is through literature. Sarah Corse (1997) writes that national literatures are “consciously constructed pieces of the national culture” and that literature is “an integral part of the process by which nation-states create themselves and distinguish themselves from other nations”. For young readers, national literatures play a crucial role in developing a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, of knowing who they are. In 1950, Australian author Miles Franklin argued that ‘without an indigenous literature people can remain alien in their own soil”.

The history of children’s literature in Australia and Canada charts trends in political and economic allegiances, reflecting both a colonial past and the development of individual national identities. For Australians and Canadians, national identity remains an important issue. Both countries are young, both have emerged from colonisation, both have unique histories and both see themselves as different or distinct from American global culture. Australians and Canadians have created images and symbols expressing how they see themselves and these too have changed over time.

The year 1949 is seen as a symbolic watershed in Australian historiography. War in the Pacific dispelled the last illusions of the British Empire. For Canadians, it was their increasingly strong tie to the U.S. economy, after World War II, that broke their strong relationship with Britain. New Australians and Canadians now create a new Australia and a new Canada, consciously formulated to accommodate and contain diversity within a vigorous national culture. Australia and Canada demand a future that is no longer derivative and dependent. Australia and Canada no longer regard themselves as an outpost of British culture and civility, but seek to promote a more “inclusive” notion of national identity appropriate to changing global imperatives.

Commonplaces of Australian and Canadian national identity

Is there a national way of life that characterises Australian and Canadian society? Do we have distinctive cultures and identities that distinguish us not only from each other but from other nations? Are there common conceptions or as Diakiw argues, “commonplaces” in culture and identity – shared values that most Australians and Canadians can identify with, values that bind us together? Diakiw believes, like many others, that through story and literature, the classroom becomes an important place to discuss and debate the commonplaces that characterise national culture and identity. Diakiw also believes that children’s literature, by including all racial and ethnocultural origins, will play an important role in affirming Australian and Canadian culture and identity. Many children’s books, particularly picture books, provide valuable insights into the commonplaces of Australian and Canadian identity. He identified 10 commonplaces about Canadian identity.

Diakiw believes that it is the layering of all of these commonplaces that produces a unique and distinctive Canadian culture. He also notes that some of these commonplaces are in opposition to others on the list and thus create a tension that is in itself a significant element of Canadian identity.

1. Wilderness Nations

Although the vast majority of Australians and Canadians are now largely urban dwellers (until very recently most Canadians lived in rural areas), both countries have vast areas of rugged wilderness that continue to dominate their histories, mythologies and psyches, forming an indelible backdrop to their cultures and identities.

2. Countries of Diverse and Distinctive Regions

Australians and Canadians have a strong identification with the land and it’s human history. Australian life and agriculture has been shaped by the opportunities and limits of the natural environment. In Canada regional loyalties are powerful, complex and distinctive. Australians and Canadians have a strong sense of place beginning with neighbourhood or community and extending to the distinctive bio-regions of each country. The deserts, the coastlines and the fertile plains of Australia to the Maritimes, the Prairies and Pacific Coast of Canada. Today people create new myths and form new attachments to the places that have become significant to them.

3. Continue to Engage in Equity Struggles

Australians and Canadians often take their democratic freedoms for granted, but the histories of both countries are characterised by struggle. For Anglo-Australians, the struggle to come to terms with a convict past; for Canadians the struggle to equitably represent the diverse cultures, needs and interests of its peoples. For both countries, past imperialism, immigration, racism and the rights of women, labourers and Indigenous people are also part of the continuing struggle for equity.
While most Australians and Canadians reject the language of moral correctness, we recognise a strong strand of morality in the Australian and Canadian character. Australians are attuned to a sense of right and wrong not reflected in the morality that is supported by authority, law and rule. For Australians it is represented most clearly in public discourse as ‘a fair go’. For Canadians it is an earnestness that compels them to ‘keep on going’. Both Australians and Canadians are propelled by a strong sense of community expressed through the rights of individuals and groups.

4. Possess a Strong Sense of Social Welfare

Compared with many older European cultures, Australia and Canada have a relatively flat class structure. Social fluidity is apparent and widely supported. Egalitarianism is reflected in an acceptance of difference and a wish to encourage tolerance of diversity and pluralism. Not all Australians and Canadians, however, are strongly pluralist or supportive of diversity. This tendency towards levelling of differences is also reflected in Australia’s ready sympathy for the underdog. For Canadians it is a sense of social responsibility and seriousness. Current social trends which see a growing gap between high income earners and low income earners may, over time, erode this traditional element of Australian and Canadian identity.

5. Strong Indigenous/Aboriginal Heritage

Australian Aboriginal people have occupied Australia for at least 40,000 years, while Native Canadians are now believed to have migrated to North America more than 50,000 years ago. The influence of Indigenous people on European settlement in both Australia and Canada has become part of a collective heritage which is only now being recognised and valued.

6. Immigrant Nations

The expansion and modernisation of Australia and Canada was achieved through the arrival of many immigrant groups from England, Ireland, Scotland, and in Canada, from France. Successive ‘waves’ of Chinese, German and Italian immigrants, to name but a few, also contributed to cultural diversity. More recently immigrants from Vietnam, India, South America and the Caribbean have also arrived. Long before European colonisation, the indigenous peoples already co-existed as multi-cultural entities. Canada’s Multiculturalism Act, passed through parliament in 1971, promotes ‘diversity united by identity’.

7. Nations Founded on European Traditions

Australia and Canada both share a colonial past. In Australia with the arrival of the British, in Canada with occupation first by the French and then by the British. The “building blocks” of our cultures are firmly located in the traditions of European civilisation and Empire, and for Canada, in a nation that is officially bilingual.

8. Possess Enormous Resources and Maintain a High Standard of Living

Widely identified as belonging to “young” countries, Australians and Canadians show a readiness to embrace innovation not found in societies more closely bound by traditional codes and expectations. This quality brings a flexibility to the Australian and Canadian character. Australians and Canadians are seen to be buoyant and lively, with an eagerness to explore and adopt new ideas and innovations, with a penchant for risk-taking and adventure. Not all, however, have equal access to the national wealth, with many Aboriginal and Inuit communities in particular still living in conditions where their social and physical needs are not being met.

9. Are Rich in Cultural Traditions in the Arts, Sports and Popular Culture

National identity is shaped in significant ways by the way we use our leisure time. Traditionally, Australia has been seen as a sporting culture because many Australians use their leisure time to participate in sport as a player or spectator. Canadians are also involved in popular participatory sports such as ice hockey, curling, baseball and skiing.
While Australians have been ready to see themselves as athletic, we have been slow to recognise that we contribute significantly to a global intellectual and artistic culture. This view of Australian identity runs counter to stereotypes which sees Australians as anti-intellectual, or as merely bronzed “sun worshippers”. Canadians have always regarded their culture as rich in the arts, although many Canadians fear (as do many Australians) that the continuous barrage of mass media from the United States puts Canadian (and Australian) culture at risk.

10. Serve as Peace-keepers for the World

Australians and Canadians have willingly fulfilled their role as peacekeepers in the global community, feeling proud of their international stature as countries that can be trusted and relied upon, particularly in times of crisis. Australian and Canadian citizens also have a long tradition of involvement with peace movements, speaking out against war and militarism.

Dr Joyce Bainbridge
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
 Judy Thistleton-Martin
University of Western Sydney, Australia