Great Literature Of The 20th Century: Spotlight On Australia

Today we explore a classic tome from the The Outland Institute library – Spotlight On Australia, by that acclaimed and impartial author “the Australian Publicity Council”. This handsome coffee-table book is an exciting snapshot of an emerging nation, and is lavishly illustrated through-out.

Oddly, there’s no copyright date printed anywhere in this book, but through careful deduction we can determine the year of publication. The book starts with a message from Prime Minster Robert Menzies, placing it somewhere between 1949 and 1966. The Melbourne Olympic Games have already occurred, so we know it’s post-1956. There’s no talk of decimal currency so we know it’s pre-1963. Searching the text, we find this: “In 1788 British colonisation was begun. The whole of the current civilisation of Australia has been created in 174 years”. So mathematically we can determine that the book was published in 1962.

Also, “Xmas 1962” is written in biro on the first page.

Although this would appear to be an addition to the book, and not part of the original printing. (Additionally, the original volume was probably not bound with silver gaffer tape, as shown above).

Robert Menzies – who the Australian Liberal Party still consider to be a mix of Jesus and Santa – tells us, “We cannot stand still. We must grow, for growth with stability is the only answer to our need for an increasing population to develop the untapped resources of our continent.” He also celebrates “the men of primary and secondary industry” – there are no women in 1962, apparently. Although occasionally they visit, as this caption tells us – “a lovely overseas visitor inspects a modern confectionery plant in Melbourne”.

I couldn’t find any information about the Australian Publicity Council, and the book simply tells us they’ve made this book to promote “Opportunity for Trade – Capital Investment – Tourism”. The Council isn’t fussy. The book is obviously intended as an advertising tool, and occasionally it over-eggs, with claims that Chadstone is “one of the finest shopping centres anywhere” or that “Queen Elizabeth II has emphatically stated her preference for an Australian sherry”. It’s also interestingly puts a positive spin on World War II, claiming that wartime shortages forced Australia to move from being a primary producer to a secondary one.

There is a slight Life On Mars feeling when you read that nuclear power will make the deserts bloom, or that asbestos is the industry of the future. Or when you see this model of Melbourne’s proposed Arts Centre:

It’s interesting to see what early-1960s eyes saw as the best, most-sellable features of our country – Essendon Airport, the South Melbourne Housing Commission, the Southern Cross Hotel. “Mugga Way is one of the most pleasing of all Canberra’s highways”. Melbourne’s heritage buildings are mentioned in passing, but aren’t considered interesting enough to photograph. Spotlight On Australia is looking strongly to the future, and the expression of the new. Incidentally, the New South Wales section includes this tiny illustration of some new music hall they’re planning to build in Sydney…

It’s also interesting that many things we would consider as fairly recent developments are already mentioned here – the international success of our wine industry, the appeal of our universities to Asian students, the importance of our nurses to the UK health system.

This is a book of boundless optimism. Years before economic rationalism took over as our national religion, Spotlight On Australia suggested a nation should be proud of what it could make – reading it now you wonder how much we’ve lost. Do we still make nylon gears and turbo-jet engines? Manufacture Volkwagons in Clayton? In the end, did we sell ourselves out?


“Australia can today be reached within two days by jet aircraft from any part of the world.”

Population: 10-and-a-half million

Average wage: £23 a week.

One Australian pound is worth $2.24 US.

“Ten Universities have been established”.

One person in four owns a motor vehicle, the same number a radio licence, and one in five has a telephone.

“Sliced pineapple is included in most Australian menus all through the year.”

Previous entries in Great Literature Of The 20th Century:

Passport To Survival

The Doctor Who Cookbook (plus further reading)


11 Responses to Great Literature Of The 20th Century: Spotlight On Australia

  1. Dan Cardone says:

    I can imagine Queen Elizabeth II banging her fist on the table now, emphatically demanding another Australian Sherry…

  2. Tim says:

    With a side serving of pineapple!

  3. Edward says:

    I’m bookmarking this one for my Citizenship Test revision next year. It’s all I’ll need – pineapple rings and radio licences.

  4. outlandinstitute says:

    Edward, if you get stuck on any questions, just write “Bradman” and you’ll be fine.

  5. Dave AA says:

    Back in 1962 pineapples were still rationed in 1962, so it was a good selling point for Australia.

    Also, I believe John Howard dreamed up most of his policies after a nostalgic evening spend reading this book.

  6. Edward says:

    Bradman. Good tip. Perhaps I’ll just write another of my favourite pieces of artistic shorthand, from Planes, Trains and Automobiles:

    “How about that local sports team?”

    I’ve used this constantly since arriving in Melbourne whenever someone asks me about AFL.

  7. outlandinstitute says:

    That’s funny, I use that phrase too but I didn’t know where it was from!

    Dave AA: I’m thinking you were going to say “were rationed in the UK”, maybe? Do you think we were enticing people to move to our country with the promise of sexy, sexy pineapple?

  8. Anne-Marie says:

    Perhaps sliced, tinned pineapple would add a little something extra to a delicious serve of cauliflower cheese.

  9. Dave AA says:

    1962, yes that’s what I 1962.

  10. Narrelle says:

    I need this book for Research Purposes. Also for fashion and culinary tips. And they didn’t need to import a nice lady to look at the confectionary factory – I’d have done it myself for free. Well, not in 1962, obviously, since I hadn’t quite arrived yet, but for sure, anytime after 1965.

  11. Roy says:

    What a shame the Theatres building of the Arts Centre didn’t end up looking like that …

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