Joyce Eyre and Australian Literature at the University of Tasmania

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THE University of Tasmania conducted a year-long course in Australian literature for third-year English students from 1947 to 1950. It was introduced as a result of difficulties the University experienced in implementing the Commonwealth Literary Fund's annual lectures on Australian literature and because of the availability of an enthusiastic and experienced Hobart teacher, Joyce Eyre. In June 1939, Vice-Chancellor Edmund Morris Miller informed the University Council of the CLF's offer of an annual grant of one hundred pounds to support the presentation of ten lectures on Australian literature, preferably as an integral part of the study of English at the University. (1) Asked for advice, the Faculty of Arts recommended a course of public lectures under the auspices of the University, but did not support including them in the Arts degree (14 July 1939). The CLF agreed to fund the University on this basis and Council established a committee comprising Morris Miller, the Dean of the Arts Faculty Louis Triebel, and A.B. Taylor, Professor of English, to implement the program. The decision not to conform to the CLF's wish that lectures be included in a degree course was not unanimous, however, and at the Council's meeting on 11 August C.R. Baker from the Faculty of Law moved unsuccessfully that the Professorial Board report to the Council on 'the nature and extent of the encouragement given to students doing English to study Australian Literature'.

By virtue of his position, Taylor was responsible for organising the CLF program, and Nettie Palmer, F.T. Macartney, Frank Wilmot and Marjorie Barnard presented lectures in Hobart in 1940 and 1941. Limited audience response and difficulties in obtaining appropriate lecturers soon became obvious, and in April 1942 the Faculty of Arts moved unsuccessfully to postpone the program. In these years Taylor was working under difficult circumstances, serving both as head of his department and Acting Registrar, and responsibility for local CLF activities added to his burden. At its October 1944 meeting, the Council was informed that the Professorial Board supported the Faculty of Arts' recommendation that CLF lectures 'be discontinued for two years, by which time it is hoped that the public will have more leisure from war activities'. Again, this move was resisted by Baker and other Council members and Taylor had to explore more effective measures to attract audiences. In April 1945, he extended the lectures to Launceston, formed publicity committees to promote the program, and expanded the lecture schedule to include day-time lectures at the University.

Joyce Eyre, Lecturer in English and History at the Teachers Training College, was a member of the Hobart publicity committee. Eyre had been one of Taylor's most successful English students in the 1930s and completed an MA in Tasmanian history in 1939. (2) At the College she introduced a course on the Australian novel and built up a collection of Australian books in the library. (3) Eyre assisted Taylor with the organisation of the CLF lecture program, invited the lecturers to speak to her College students and gained their respect as a teacher committed to Australian literature. She also entertained them at her Battery Point flat and on one occasion holidayed with Nettie Palmer at Swansea. (4) Her contacts with local teachers and Education Department officers helped promote the CLF lectures. At the same time, and significantly given subsequent events, she proved an able part-time lecturer in English and History at the University on occasions when Taylor and Charles King, Professor of History, were involved in war-related duties.

Taylor's high regard for Joyce Eyre's ability placed her in a strong position when the University agreed to increase his lecturing staff. Until the beginning of 1945, when F.W. (Bill) Harwood was appointed lecturer, the English staff had comprised the professor and one part-time lecturer. The influx of returned servicemen to undertake studies added to student numbers and entitled Taylor to supplement his staff. …