Reflections of British influence on Australian Literature [2014]

Nov 30, 2014

Bridgett Leslie

Judges’ comments: 2014 saw two joint-winners: “A beacon of light in a sea of darkness” by Jake Breheny of Victoria, and “Reflections of British influence on Australian Literature” by Bridgett Leslie of New South Wales. Highly commended was “British Heritage and the British People: Going, Going, Gone?”  by J. Smith of Adelaide.


Reflections of British influence on Australian Literature, by Bridgett Leslie (New South Wales)

When I was first introduced to Bridget Jones, she resonated with me. Like her, I was a shelved, single, thirty-something, living in a small apartment in London, with a group of equally single friends drifting hesitantly along. We laughed and cried with each other through the pages as I discovered how alike our middle class mannerisms were. Such is the power of story. One dives into the mind and body of a character and is transported through imagination into another world. Experiences with characters are real. We feel what they feel and speak as they do. The power of British story through the centuries has maintained a profound impact on Australian literary audiences.

Since I788, Australians have allowed British English to mentor the Australian English language. The richness of language is often an inward investment that allows human beings to communicate anything they imagine. Language gives expressions to intangible thought and makes the wealth of literature possible. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, British literary ideologies heavily flooded Australian audiences and book markets. British literature reflects evolving British identity. Upon this rock, Australia started its literary world.

Australians have long enjoyed the depth of British literature through classics such as the Bronte Sisters, Charles Dicken even J .K. Rowlings in recent times. These authors are wordsmiths who entice emotion and action. The best of British literature can reduce you to a tearful mess or encourage you to belly-grabbing laughter. Good literature can make you travel. You roam as you wish through the Yorkshire moors with Emily Bronte. She takes you through one man’s yearning for the love he should never have. Charles Dickens entices you to rich philosophical heights through his journey with an orphaned boy, Oliver Twist. The reader is implored to mystic adventure through The Lord of the Rings with Tolkien. All of this is done through the genius of literature. Lest we forget Shakespeare who wooed us to romantic themes and A.A. Milne whose imagination brought Winnie the Pooh to life for children.

Whilst Australian literary tradition began with links to British literature, evolution occurred over time, weaving in domestic themes such as mateship, Aboriginality and democracy. Australia started off as a literature immigration movement and integrated cultural nationalism over time. Award winning Australian authors such as Rolf Boldrewood showed obvious British literature influences in novels such as Robbery under Arms. The excellence of Australian literature has its initial roots in a parent tree that has never ceased to produce good fruit in literary excellence.

Having a firm literary foundation on which to build meant that Australia could establish a publishing industry and launch the works of promising Australian writers. Publishing houses such as Penguin Australia and Random House now serve the literary community with various literary flavours. It is interesting to note that even the Australian publishing industry has its roots in Britain. In the early l800’s Australia used to produce finished product of stories and texts in book form in Britain. Gradual reliance on British printing presses stopped between World War One and Two. Of course, commercial British interest maintained its presence in a booming Australian market. Present day, Australia maintains a differentiated industry, with a structured existence of distinctive fields.

There is also another noble, humanitarian aspect to British influence on Australian literature. British women fought to become literate in emerging modernistic times, creating a ripple effect on Commonwealth countries. In the years leading up to the First World War, the British militant campaign attracted Australian Women to its feminist revolution. Australian suffragettes learnt from the experiences of the British Suffrage movement and did what they could to effect changes.(1)  Vida Goldstein, a famous Australian Suffragette, became involved in the ways of her British sisterhood. Together with her fellow feminist fighters she distributed pamphlets outlining their grievances as well as their campaign. She was also deeply involved in helping her British sisterhood advance. Through literacy, suffragettes Worked towards the improvement of child health as well as becoming economically empowered members of society. Today, Australian women enjoy the benefits of the combined fight. We are much further than we were because of their bravery.

Whenever we consider British history, we have to consider its ruling influence on Commonwealth nations such as Australia. British influence on Australian literature is obvious and lasting. Britain has acted as teacher to Australia. A good teacher gives the student a foundation and instructs the student on expansion thereof. Australia’s growing and influential literary world proves that Britain has been a good teacher. Though accents divide us, our similarities in literature unite us. Now that’s a very good foundation for a literary friendship. In the spirit of mateship, let us continue to influence each other’s literary works with positive influence.

(1)  Australian Suffragettes, Retrieved from http:/ / about-australia/australian-story/austn-suffragettes

© Bridgett Leslie, 2014.