Jane McGennisken's essay looks at mythologies of Australian childhood identity and practices of 'nation-building' as evidenced in some of the stories included in the First and Second Books of the Victorian and Tasmanian Readers. First published in 1928, eight books make up the collection of fiction and non-fiction stories that became the standard reading/literacy materials used to teach English up until the 1950s.
McGennisken argues that the texts construct a particular image of the Australian child which becomes 'the central element around which ideals of Australia and Australian nationhood are constructed' (5). She claims that in both the Tasmanian and Victorian readers, 'themes of national growth negotiate bwteen innocence and knowingness, informed by the figure of the [idealized] child, selective memories and collective imagining' (5). After analysing a number of stories in detail, McGennisken concludes that the representation of children that populates the stories in the Readers serve to reinforce notions of an ideal, uniquely Australian child' that is 'inevitably a child of the bush' (10).
According to McGennisken, 'themes of national growth in the Readers' work effectively to 'displace Aboriginal Australians and their claim to the country 'with a new generation of 'natives' whose presence will endure the nations' continuing development and its white national identity' (10). In this sense, the reader's functioned within educational institutions as prescribed material that looked to 'shape future Australian citizens through the ideological production of children by text' (11).