The March to Nation: Citizenship, Education, and the Australian Way of Life in New South Wales, Australia, 1940s-1960s

By McLean, Lorna | History of Education Review, January 2008 | Go to article overview

The March to Nation: Citizenship, Education, and the Australian Way of Life in New South Wales, Australia, 1940s-1960s


McLean, Lorna, History of Education Review


In March 2005, a half-page article appeared in the Australian newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald, highlighting the expanded use of the term 'un-Australian'. (1) The photograph of four school children proudly hoisting the Australian flag that accompanied the story clearly signals that these students represent 'Australian' identity and patriotism. As the caption states, 'Whatever else may [be] tagged as be[ing] un-Australian, national pride is not flagging at Haberfield Public School'. Although the report addresses the increased usage of the term un-Australian, the staged performance of the white, uniform-clad students--two boys and two girls--posing alongside the disproportionately large, centrally placed, colourised flag harkens back to an earlier period in the 1950s, when nationalism, patriotism, and identity were seen by many politicians, educators, and reformers as central to the formation of a modern citizenship within a newly defined Australian way of life.

The new ideas of citizenship that were seen as integral to the imagined Australian way of life shaped government and education policies and publications that formed the basis for government initiatives. As Australian scholar Richard White asserts in Inventing Australia, the new concept of 'the Australian way of life' that emerged in the late 1940s and became popular in the 1950s was 'central to any discussion of Australian society'. (2) Assimilation was required of both 'new Australians' and Indigenous people so that all might share a common homogenous way of life. (3)

This article probes the dimensions of a newly constructed, modern citizenship within the context of post-war tensions between a national history that recognised and asserted sexual, racial, and cultural differences and an assimilationist state drive that enshrined one law and one way of life. (4) In particular, I address the question of what we can learn about gender and race relations and their relationship to national identities and citizenship by studying government and educational policies and publications. As recent scholarship on education and citizenship has observed, issues surrounding national identity/identities, citizenship, and education in Australia were critical to state formation from the late 1940s to the 1960s. (5) This research has done much to expand our understanding of the pedagogical and curriculum components of citizenship education and the central role of teachers within the education enterprise. As well, other scholars have informed our understanding of the related processes of post-war social adjustment of young people. (6) However, little is known about how these complex and multiple strands of nationalism, citizenship education, gender, and race worked historically to create modern citizens in Australia, and, equally important, how fundamental education was to promoting the 'Australian way of life' in New South Wales (NSW). As Richard Waterhouse has noted, 'contemporary Australian society and culture are the results of a continuing series of cultural imports constantly reworked to meet local circumstances, and of a dynamic set of internal trans cultural exchanges'. (7)

To study this transcultural phenomenon, I drew on post structuralist insights, applying a discourse analysis to sets of records from the 1940s to the 1960s. First, I examined Education News, a monthly federal government publication, from 1947, when it originated out of the newly formed Federal Department of Education, to 1960. This national magazine was intended to inform educators and administrators of recent government policies and publications. (8) Second, I studied the NSW Department of Education (Public Instruction) Annual Reports from 1940 to 1965, focusing on features related to citizenship and the selection of photographs. Finally, I analysed the monthly NSW primary school reader, the School Magazine, sampling copies every three years from 1948 to 1965. In particular, I collected data on the selection of stories, poems, music, images, games, and activities that were included in each issue. …

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