Ruins or Foundations: Great War literature in the Australian curriculum

Clare Rhoden


The Great War has been represented in Australian curricula since 1914, in texts with tones ranging from bellicose patriotism to idealistic pacifism. Like other literature, war texts on Australian curricula transmit cultural values, values that continue to evolve as successive generations relate differently to war, conflict and peace. Changes in ethical perspectives, aesthetic preferences and popular feeling have guided text selection and pedagogy, so that literature once accepted as foundational to Australian society seems, at later times, to document civilisation’s ruin.

In recent years, overseas texts have been preferred above Australian examples as mediators of the Great War, an event still held by many to be of essential importance to Australia, reinforcing ‘the “Englishness” of English curriculum history’ (Green and Beavis 3). This paper first considers arguments for including Great War texts on the national English curriculum, exploring what war literature can, and cannot, be expected to bring to the program. Interrogating the purpose/s of war literature in the curriculum and the ways in which the texts may be used to meet such expectations, the paper then discusses the limitations of war texts and investigates whether there is a case for including more texts by Australian authors.


Great War; Australian literature; curriculum

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