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Welcome to Australia - sheep are important
11 October 2011
The poster stack at the National Library contains many stunning and unexpected treasures, including the fascinating Australian Outline posters produced by the Commonwealth Office of Education between 1949 and 1956 for the purpose of adult migrant education. These colourful posters were designed to educate migrants to appreciate and participate in their new Australian lives. They carefully construct a broad guide to the essential details, practices and quirks which were thought important for a newcomer to know, and are therefore very revealing. Their topics include Education, Government, Mineral Resources, Tools, Food, Wool and a set covering miscellaneous aspects of Australian life including surfing, bushfires, protected wild flowers and plants, animals, birds, traffic, and licences. It is fascinating to ponder how some things have changed – and how others have stayed the same!
The set of posters dealing with food and mealtimes show a clear change in what we eat, when we eat, and how much less formal our mealtimes have become over time.
Thankfully the migrants for whom these posters were designed broadened our diet and food preparation methods
I am also struck by the impression that Australians eat a lot less meat and cake these days... and that the everyday lives of most Australians were very active by comparison to today!
It was also obvious that most migrants to Australia at this time were expected to take up manual work, as a set of six posters were devoted to detail the types and names of tools they might use.
A further set of posters concentrated on the education and vocational opportunities available to their children as Australian citizens
These posters reflect a very deliberate and specific representation of what life in Australia was like, and were produced around the same time as the Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1949 was passed (later re-named the Australia Citizenship Act 1949). This Act meant that rather than being identified as subjects of Britain, eligible migrants would become Australian Citizens - and indeed these posters take pains to impart an accurate view of Australia’s relationship with Britain.
It could be said that these posters offer insights into our national identity at the time, and what was then considered important and unique about Australian life. I think they offer an almost mesmerizing glimpse of how Australians thought of themselves back then....and how Australia was represented to the rest of the world.
Look beyond the mainstream