Australia to Z by Armin Greder
Allen & Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781760113186
(Age: all) Highly recommended. Australia, Racism, Icons. The image of the globe with a magnifying glass being held over the continent of Australia, warns us that this is not the usual A-Z of Australia, with its koalas and Opera House but an acerbic positioning, a sharper view of the cultural icons of Australia. And with these cultural symbols under such a spotlight we are forced to look at them in a different way, to look at things we hold dear with questioning eyes.
Greder uses his black edged illustrative technique to great effect, making many images standing out against the white background, with seemingly few deft strokes encompassing all that needs to be said.
The first two, A and B herald the tone of the book, as A is Aborigine showing a lone figure standing on the headland watching the approach of a sailing ship, and B is Boat People, with a small boat of refugees crossing the expansive ocean. What a contrast. Two different groups of people approaching Australia for quite different reasons. And anyone seeing these images will question Australia's attitude to the three groups today.
To point out only a few amongst the smorgasbord of razor edged images is difficult. Many made me stop in my tracks, N, Nationalism shows a large, booted male individual caped in an Australian flag, reminiscent of the Cronulla riots ten years ago, and R, Rupert shows the eyeless man whose influence over the land of his birth seems never ending.
No matter what the image created, each impels the reader to think more about what is shown, from Yakka for hard work, Vegemite with a child eating the stuff that visitors are always enjoined to try, Waltzing Matilda, with the swaggie' s hat in the middle of the billabong. Several are laugh out loud, Esky, Gold Coast, Ikea, for example, while others bring a lump to the throat, Digger, Pokies, Kangaroo.
A mirror is held up to our society, pointing out things about us which are hard to digest, but necessarily need to be discussed, especially when our National Anthem forms an appendix underlining the difference between some of our icons and the words we sing at occasions of importance. We all know the words parrot fashion, but reading them shows the divide between what we sing and what actually happens.
This is a brilliant piece of theatre, one which classes can unpick, discuss and debate, looking at the icons presented from a fresh perspective, reading our national anthem with greater care, and pondering how we can be changed for the better.