Author(s): Peter Conrad
Peter Conrad’s special gift is that of the great writer - to make the particular of intense personal concern to each of us. Here he gives his own deeply felt account of a nation’s history and his brilliant word-pictures are inspired by over 200 photographs from the collections of the National Gallery of Australia. In the 19th century the camera recorded the clearance of the bush and the construction of huts for homesteaders, and documented the exploration of the remote outback; it also accompanied the building of new cities, bravely determined to look European despite their position. Photographers helped Australians to make themselves at home in their strange, beautiful land. This is a many-layered story that depicts the making and the remaking of a nation; a social history extending from the trials of the frontier to the hedonistic urban society of the present day; a psychological history describing how the mass or the mob gradually permitted individuals to challenge the country’s inherited values; and a cultural history that begins with the harsh, arid earth and shows how that stark reality has been transformed into art thanks to the creative skills of generations of Australian photographers. This is also a personal journey of rediscovery undertaken by a writer who quit Australia at the age of twenty and has now come to see it again, with fresh, wondering eyes, through these extraordinary images.
"He is one of our most acute cultural critics: he is cruelly perceptive, frighteningly intelligent, and overwhelmingly eloquent."
A family album (personal relationships to photographs); earthworks (documenting the land); which gods? (Australia's Aboriginal and colonial heritage); tree people (the "civilizing" of the bush); spiritual homes (structures); national characters (what personifies an Aussie?); artworks (creativity); remaking the map (Australia's present and future).