The table wasn't actually "round", but the debate was challenging. Left to right, Elizabeth Weiss, Allen & Unwin; Prof. Robert Dixon, University of Sydney; Bronwyn Lea, University of Queensland/Literature Board; Bob Sessions, Penguin; The Hon Bob Carr; Jill Jones, Literature Board; Dr Peter Holbrook, University of Queensland/Literature Board; Dr Imre Salusinszky, Literature Board; Josie Emery. Literature Board; Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Webby; Emeritus Professor Peter Pierce (back to camera).Photo: Jeremy Fisher.
I was invited to attend the Australian Literature in Education Roundtable in Canberra, ACT, Australia, on 6-7 August. The Roundtable was organised by Dr Imre Salusinszky, Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, and Dr Peter Holbrook, Literature Board member, to review the position of Australian literature in secondary and tertiary education.
The Roundtable on 7 August, 2007, began with positive news. The night before, the federal Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, had announced the endowment of a new chair of Australian literature. While the name and location of the chair has yet to be determined the move was welcomed. There are only two other chairs of Australian literature (Sydney and Queensland universities).
Both of the Professors occupying those chairs (Robert Dixon from Sydney and David Carter from Queensland) were present at the Roundtable.
David Carter gave a presentation looking at the number of Australian novels and literary novels published over he past few years. His figures did not cheer us much. The research can also be read in the April issue of Australian Author (available from the ASA).
Robert Dixon presented a paper that looked at the books and authors studied at Sydney in Australian literature from 1967 until now. In the past few years both the number of books and authors has declined, as has the number of students. All in all, dispiriting stuff.
So it was a relief to debate the communique that was made public after the event (available from the Australia Council).