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Study English

Studying English in Sydney

Professor Bruce Johnson University of New South Wales


Why study in Sydney? Why not, when you can stimulate the senses as much as the mind? You can satisfyingly combine academic achievement of the highest order with pure pleasure in one of the world's most partying cities. 

The recent Olympics show-cased Sydney internationally as one of the great cities of the world, as well as one of the most beautiful. A city of nearly four million, it is the centre for Australia's communications and media activity, including satellite, coaxial and optical fibre links, and headquarters for major print, TV and film enterprises. It has an unsurpassed combination of urban  comfort and infrastructure with  hundreds of kilometres of coastline, from rivers, quiet bays and inlets, to outstanding surfing beaches like Bondi. University study in the city's eastern suburbs places you a walk away from some of Australia's best beaches, cliff walks and buzzing cafe culture.

Sydney's recreational facilities cater to every leisure interest. From traditional track, field and team sports, you can take to the air for hang-gliding or to the ocean for scuba-diving. The arts and entertainment scene is as extensive and sophisticated as you will find anywhere. The vividness of its pictorial arts, the vibrancy of the cinema industry, music, theatre and dance are built upon an unsurpassed combination of diversity and tolerance.  Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. There  are 282 languages spoken (including those of indigenous communities), and 92 religions practised in its households. Its cultural life reflects this range - few other places can match the diversity and hedonistic energy of its music. Its restaurants combine astonishing value with imagination, and a regional range that has produced what is now internationally regarded as one of the world's most exciting cuisines. 

Only ninety minutes drive brings you to the Blue Mountains, a breathtaking landscape growing out of a geology, flora  and fauna so distinctive that it was decades before the first European settlers could understand how to negotiate it physically and artistically. Sydney is also central to transport networks that can take you from rain forest to snowfield, from wetlands to desert, and bring you into contact with the world's most ancient surviving culture. 

Sydney is a gateway to a unique nation and the only urbanised continent whose political and physical borders so closely correspond, which gives it an unusually well-defined cultural character. This takes us back to the opening question: if the city is so deeply committed to the pleasure principle, why would you want to come here to study? In particular, why study English, with its distant and austere? One answer is because the convergence of that tradition with the technicolour modernity of Australia will show you 'English' literally in a new and unique light. The interaction between English culture and the history; geography and contemporary realities of Australia is producing a creative and critical literature as distinctive and vivid as Australian film.

A Unique Outlook

The meaning and character of any literary tradition are finally decided upon by the society that is reading it. 'English literature' has a very distinct resonance for Australians because of our history and geographical location. Consider: as a European settlement, Sydney was established as a prison whose guardians were members of a British establishment. The settlement was as physically remote from the 'mother country' as it was possible to be. The Australian landscape was, in the eyes of those early white settlers, incomprehensibly alien. 

What does 'English literature' mean in such a context? How is it to be interpreted? What role does it play in the imaginations of those who live in this strange place, which is both new, yet one of the oldest on earth. 

English literature in Australia is thus drawn into a swirl of paradoxes - the language of home, yet the language of a brutal and repressive governing class. It is simultaneously the literature of the country's new, conquerors, yet also of their imperial masters. In many ways, to study English in Sydney rather than in England is more illuminating to other former colonial countries - a way of coming to under- stand how we came to be who we are. 

lf you enrol in a School of English in a Sydney university, you will find yourself with a choice that goes well beyond the literature of England. Choices range through Australian literature (including indigenous cultures) and literatures in translation to theoretical approaches, including those that investigate historically relevant issues (such as postcolonial theory). Enrolling in 'English' will  also be a way of accessing a broad range of Australian studies, which visit other areas of culture such as film and music. 

Australian music has had a long association with some of its most characteristic poetic forms, such as the ballad. The setting of ballads to music in t e colonial period was a significant way by which early convicts proclaimed their resistance to oppression, and the singing of what the authorities called 'treason ballads' was one of the most cruelly punished of all convict offences. The tradition was later 'Australianised' in ballads about out- laws and bushmen which would be set  to music. Perhaps the one Australian song known allover the world is an example: 'Waltzing Matilda'. 

Australian film has also had a particularly strong connection to our literature. A number of early films were based on novels, such as 'For the Term of His Natural Life'. But in the 1970s, when the current Australian film renaissance  began, there was no tradition of Australian screenwriting, so film producers looked for stories already in existence. Consequently, an unusual number 1:1 of internationally-acclaimed Australian II films are based on Australian literature - not only novels like 'My Brilliant Career', but even poems as in 'The Man From Snowy River'. 

The range of English options in Sydney universities provides for every require- ment. These include creative writing, professional development for teachers, increased skills in the English language, English for various special purposes such as the preparation of professional papers, and subjects which overlap with media studies. The diploma and degree possibilities run from ~ undergraduate degrees with English  as a component or a major, and post- graduate programmes, from Graduate Diplomas to doctoral programmes in pioneering interdisciplinary fields. 

Whichever of these you take, you will find an approach to English studies which has a unique breadth and depth, and immerse yourself in a recreational environment that is now internationally famous for its scope, intensity, and its determination to mix business with pleasure.

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Tel +61 2 9385 1000
The University of New South Wales
NSW 2052





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