In IMAGINING AUSTRALIA, Loretta Barnard and Ingeborg van Teeselling use Australian music, film, literature and art as a vessel to explore and illuminate Australia’s history since White settlement. 

Acknowledging that much of Australia’s recorded history is dominated by a White, patriarchal voice, Loretta Barnard and Ingeborg van Teeselling seek to broaden existing perceptions of our nation’s history. They do this by turning to eclectic perspectives offered by notable artists across a range of artistic realms, whose work serves to capture the spirit of the times in which they lived. 

IMAGINING AUSTRALIA recognises the value of art by celebrating the artists who have captured pivotal moments in our nation’s history. A conscious effort to ensure that a range of voices allows this book to supplement existing narratives that frame Australia’s history. The challenges faced by female, first nations and migrant voices interconnect to challenge more traditional notions of Australian Identity. With so many great artists to draw from, I imagine it must have been difficult to narrow the number of artists and to ensure a balance across the domains of music, film, literature, and art. But the range provided ensures that there is something for everyone. Some artists are familiar, others not so much. Each chapter offers insights and curious morsels of information that draw out the social and cultural factors that inform each artist in their quest to understand and be understood. Each story is relatable, expressing the sentiments of the artists as they navigate their own relationship with Australia and its people.

The writing style is reminiscent of Bill Bryson’s ‘Down Under’ or David Hunt’s ‘Girt’ in terms of its ability to ensure that detailed content is accessible, but it extends the reaction it elicits from the reader – at times humorous and surprising, but also unflinching moments of discomfort as social and cultural attitudes that we may find challenging by today’s standards are revealed.

In all, there are 82 Chapters, each a few pages in length. Organised chronologically, IMAGINING AUSTRALIA starts with The Charlotte Medal, Australia’s first piece of Colonial art produced by convict Thomas Barrett, who is perhaps better known for being the first convict to be executed in the new colony. From this rather grim beginning that depicts Australia as a land of both possibility and desperation, we plot an array of pivotal moments and artistic endeavours ultimately progressing to recognition of the heights that Australian artists have achieved on a global landscape through Clive James’ contemplative works like ‘The River in The Sky,’ that universally engage both intellectually and emotionally. 

The comprehensive scope of the book may entice some readers to dip in and out, concentrating on moments in history or artists that spark the most interest. While I understand the temptation to skip some chapters, I found what surprised me the most were the chapters I knew the least about. Some chapters had me searching more widely as I sought to extend my own appreciation for both Australian History and Art.