A cultural history of Brisbane 1940-1970

Hatherell, William (William J.) (2003). A cultural history of Brisbane 1940-1970 PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Hatherell, William (William J.)
Thesis Title A cultural history of Brisbane 1940-1970
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2003-12-31
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Leigh Dale
Total pages 354
Collection year 2003
Language eng
Subjects 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
20 Language, Communication and Culture
Formatted abstract

The dissertation offers a cultural history of Brisbane between 1940 and 1970. It brings together an account of cultural activity undertaken at the time with an examination of later written and visual works about this period. It focuses on literature (particularly poetry and the novel) and the visual arts (particularly painting) as the dominant art forms in both the 'contemporary' and 'retrospective' work. This approach makes connections between contemporary activity and retrospective representation. It also raises the issue of the ways in which cultural images of places in particular periods are constructed over time. A secondary concern is to place Brisbane within wider debates about cultural history in Australia, which have been dominated by the Sydney-Melbourne axis.

The introductory chapter explains the approach to cultural history underlying the dissertation and places my work within the main traditions of Australian cultural history. The four major chapters that follow the introduction pursue the main threads of that history in ways that are primarily thematic, but which sometimes incorporate a chronological element. Chapter 2, 'War', discusses aspects of the cultural life of Brisbane between 1940 and 1945, and the Second World War as a theme that is reflected in both 'contemporary' and 'retrospective' works produced by Brisbane artists and writers. Chapter 3, 'A Cultural Desert?', looks at the post-war period 1946-70 as a whole, interrogating the 'cultural desert' cliché as a way of exploring both the particular conditions for cultural production in the post-war decades, and the origin of discourses about culture in Brisbane that persist to this day. One major focus is on the 'official' cultural institutions that arose, or mutated, during the period.

Chapter 4, 'Radicals and Bohemians', foregrounds resistance to 'official' cultural expectations in two distinct, but sometimes overlapping, traditions: the politicised cultural activity whose rich history in Brisbane extends from collective groups such as the Brisbane Realist Writers Group and the New Theatre in the early post-war years, to the charismatic figure of Communist poet and cultural activist John Manifold with his enormous influence on Brisbane cultural life in the 1950s and 60s, to the beginnings of a 'new left' cultural focus in the 1960s; and second, the 'bohemianism' that was particularly associated with the visual arts in the period and usually inspired by charismatic 'artist-hero' figures, particularly Jon Molvig. This history of bohemianism also finds a significant retrospective resonance in a group of novels about such 'artist-heroes' that I call 'the Brisbane Kunstlerroman'.

Chapter 5, 'Exiles and Nostalgics', foregrounds the 'retrospective' stance that is a theme throughout the dissertation, by dealing with the effects of distance, both in space and time, on representations of the Brisbane of the period 1940- 1970. It discusses the history of interstate and international 'exile' among cultural producers, particularly writers, who grew up in Brisbane; the resonance of memories of Brisbane in their work; and the particular tensions apparent in works that thematise a return to Brisbane. Finally, it explores populist works by 'exiles in time', particularly the memoirs of Hugh Lunn, whose nostalgic evocation of a simpler time can be compared with the use of the same period in retrospective works by 'literary' writers. The concluding chapter, 'The Real and the Imagined City', focuses on the issue of representation that underlies this approach to cultural history. The attempt to bring together a factual account of cultural activity and conditions in the city, and a discussion of (both contemporary and retrospective) artistic representations of the city, inevitably poses questions about the relation between representation and reality. This is particularly the case given the importance of the lens of memory and/or geographical exile in so many of the works discussed.

Keyword Literature and society -- Queensland -- Brisbane -- History -- 20th century
Brisbane (Qld.) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century
Brisbane (Qld.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century
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Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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Created: Thu, 26 Nov 2009, 16:43:33 EST by Ms Christine Heslehurst on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service