While the relationship between humans and environment in Australia stretches back some 50,000 years, the colonization of the continent by Europeans in the late 18th century dramatically altered Australia’s ecology. Creative literature has responded variously to the encounter that colonization precipitated. In particular, modulations appear through successive epistemological and ideological paradigms: Enlightenment rationality, romantic sensibility, nationalist celebration, and ecological alarm. While early conservationist impulses are visible in the colonial period, in the middle of the 20th century, the birth of the modern ecological consciousness understands that not only particular species or habitats are at risk, but the entirety of nature seems to suddenly face a historically unprecedented vulnerability. In this sense, it is methodologically useful to separate Australian environmental texts between those that are “pre-ecological” and those that are “post-ecological.”
A history of reading in Australia needs to go beyond the question of what Australians have read in the course of their history (though this question in itself is important) to tackle the more elusive question of how they have read. This question implies a recognition that reading is not a single, uniform activity but a congeries of “literate techniques” that are spread unevenly across the reading population at any given moment, and that are themselves subject to evolution and change as new cultural, political, and educational pressures exert their influence on how people read. The multiplicity and heterogeneity of reading practices are especially evident in the first half of the 20th century, particularly between World War I and World War II when reading itself came to be problematized as never before by the rise of advertising, cinema, popular culture, and political propaganda. It is important too to consider the ways in which reading as an institution in its own right, something above and beyond both the texts being read and the activity of reading them, has developed historically. Here the question is not so much what people have read, or how, but why. What values—positive and negative—have been attributed to reading, by whom, and in association with what social ideals, purposes, and anxieties? Also relevant here is the changing place of reading in Australian society more broadly. In particular, its changing relationship with writing as a valued component of Australian culture is of interest.
Susan K. Martin
Reading practices and tastes were transported to colonial Australia along with European colonists. Access to and circulation of books and newspapers in the colonies were subject to the vagaries of distance, travel, and transport, and these had a concomitant impact on reading patterns and access, as well as on the development of local writing and publishing. Trade routes, and the disjunction of inland versus sea routes, may have had some influence on localized reading and distribution. The early history of libraries and booksellers in the Australian colonies, publication patterns, and marketing give clues to reading patterns. Examining the reading accounts and movements of individual readers, and individual texts, provides further detail and context to the environment and situatedness of reading in the Australian colonies, as well as the impact of transport as an idea, and an influence on texts and reading.