Australia and the International Entertainment Industry*

Article excerpt

Theatres - the buildings and what is in them - are often regarded as metonyms for nations: the idea of the world held within the stage is a powerful one. This was never more so than on British stages of the nineteenth century, when the implicit assumption of the theatre was that it spoke also for the British Empire. Yet the late nineteenth century saw the development of national theatre cultures in settler colonies (Australia, New Zealand, Canada) which demonstrated a sometimes uneasy relationship between the centre and the margin, the coloniser and the colonised, the old world culture and the new. In Australia, while celebrating the special qualities of 'Australianness' in theatre with stories of the bush and bushmen (rarely women) and of the perils of the huge 'sunburnt country,' a staged version of Australia emerges which is at once strange but also oddly familiar to the English eye. Australian melodramas and pantomimes used local stories but balanced delicately (and sometimes ominously) between their audience's desires to see their own their stories on stage, and a sense that there was still a need to include the 'mother country' in these stories. In the 1890s, however, 'radical nationalism' attempted to counter the legacies of the colonising and dominating culture of the 'mother country,' to establish an aggressively Australian cultural ethos which was masculine, republican, rural, nationalist, and anti-imperialist - typified by J. F. Archibald's iconic magazine, the Bulletin. In doing so, cultural nationalists wiped out of Australian cultural memory the popular and the international elements of Australian culture, and most historians since have accepted this narrative of Australian cultural history.

This special issue of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film brings to an international audience of theatre historians some of the important recuperative work being done in Australian theatre history. …