UA1-WA:P1-p1 The Canon take 4

Previous posts on or around this topic:
17-Mar-2013 An initial attempt at understanding the concept and considering the implications
13-Apr-2013 Finding evidence of the canonical orders in Sydney, and considering the message being given by the planners and builders.
26-Apr-2013 This post was ostensibly about a trip to some exhibitions in Canberra and reflections on being Australian. With further thought I think that in part I was working through the relevance of The Western Canon to a modern Australian.

This thought crystallized when I read a quote from Tony Abbott (current Leader of the Opposition in federal parliament). “There is a new version of the great Australian silence – this time about the Western canon, the literature, the poetry, the music, the history and above all the faith without which our culture and our civilisation are unimaginable.” (1) (Partial disclosure, not wanting to get distracted by Australian politics, I will not be voting for Mr Abbott’s party in the coming election). So are we ignoring a significant part of our heritage in attempts to be multi-cultural and politically correct?

Further internet searching led me to the information that “the great Australian silence” was originally used in 1968 in reference to the virtual absence of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Australian “history” at the time.(2) ( is a source of “Australian independent journalism”, seen by some as myth-busting and giving the true low-down, by others less positively.)

I hadn’t realised that the Western canon was so topical, so did some more internet surfing. In an article on the English school syllabus I found “The retreat from the canon, while appearing to have social equality at heart, has disempowered a generation by divorcing them from the mythic reference points of our culture”. Also “As a people, to understand the story we are in, we must understand the story of where we have been, and the great narratives of the literary canon are vital to this understanding.” (3) Apparently the new curriculum has achieved a good balance, with a greater diversity in “canonical” texts.

A simple search on “Western canon Australia” turned up a lot more. Both the articles I’ve cited refer to school curricula, one history the other english. The political element is very clear, also perhaps a battle for the minds and hearts of the young (sorry about the twee expression). It also reinforced for me the ongoing importance of the Western canon in Australian life and the stories we tell about ourselves. I don’t believe that a single true history is possible or desirable – nothing is that simple. So it seems a canon needs to be constantly questioned and tested, to evolve, to merge different histories and cultures.

(1) Abbott, T. (2013?) Sir Paul Hasluck Foundation lecture. Cited in Baird, J. (2013) Don’t dismiss nation’s blemishes. The Sydney Morning Herald 27 April 2013 [online] Available from
[Accessed 28 April 2013]

(2) Knott, M. (2013) Tony Abbott talks God and Western values behind closed doors [Online] 5 April 2013 Available from [Accessed 28 April 2013]

(3) Hastie, D. (2013) Why great narratives must be passed on. The Sydney Morning Herald 4 November 2011 [online] Available from: [Accessed 28 April 2013]
UA1-WA:P1-p1 The Canon take 4
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one: Classical and religious art.
Project one: Ancient Greece.
Topic: Canonical Orders.

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April 2013

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