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Masculinity in Australian film, 1949-1962

posted on 2022-03-29, 03:08 authored by Chelsea Meredith Barnett
This thesis examines the representation of masculinity in Australian films released between 1949 and 1962. Rather than one distinct and fixed model of masculinity, this thesis argues that these Australian films from the fifties represented and negotiated predominantly – although not exclusively – between two competing understandings of masculinity. The first was a model best represented and advocated by Prime Minister Robert Menzies, whose explicit legitimation of middle-class masculinity marked an intervention into a longer national celebration of working-class values. The second, which itself represented a challenge to this middle-class intervention, was a distinct masculinity produced through the lens of radical nationalism. Connected to the working class, radical nationalism was a contemporary leftist intellectual movement that advocated a model of masculinity inspired by the Australian nineteenth century and challenged the ostensible synonymy of Menzies and the fifties. It is the longevity of Menzies’ prime ministerial reign that burdens popular images of the Australian postwar era. In both political discourse and popular culture, the fifties continue to function as a period of either stability and prosperity, or monotony and conformity. Existing historical literature has worked to dismantle this dichotomy, instead uncovering and drawing attention to the changes and transformations within both the social and political domains. Set against this backdrop of upheaval, compounded by the uncertainty of the Cold War, this thesis explores the transformations taking place in the cultural sphere of the postwar era. Rather than a passive reflection of social change, this thesis argues that the Australian cultural landscape, of which film was an important constituent, actively questioned and negotiated the competing and often contradictory meanings of masculinity that were in circulation in the fifties. Prioritising not the importance of a film’s author, but rather its meaning in a specific historical moment, this thesis’ exploration of fourteen Australian films through a variety of thematic analytical lenses demonstrates not only the multiple meanings of masculinity in circulation in this moment, but also film’s role in constituting these meanings. Indeed, that the tension between competing masculinities was unresolved not only across the fourteen films, but within certain films also, reveals the multiple understandings of culturally legitimate masculinity in the fifties while demonstrating film as both constituted by and constitutive of historically specific gendered meanings.


Table of Contents

1. The interval that wasn't? The Australian film industry, 1927-1963 -- 2. 'Australia upon those foundations'. Cinematic representations of national identity -- 3. 'The mail man has to be a male man here'. Masculinity and the narrative of work -- 4. 'Bring them closer to our way of living'. Masculinity, whiteness, and assimilation stories -- 5. Anything for the family? Fatherhood and the question of male responsibility -- 6. 'The spirit of mateship'. Heterosexuality, homosociality, and male love stories -- Conclusion.


Includes bibliographical references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Robert Reynolds

Additional Supervisor 1

Leigh Boucher


Copyright Chelsea Meredith Barnett 2015 Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (x, 298 pages) illustrations

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