In this paper Clay Djubal argues that too much weight is invariably given to literature and other "legitimate," non-popular texts by cultural historians and theorists attempting to interrogate aspects of national identity. One particular aberration, he cites, has been the use of The Bulletin as a source for research into late nineteenth and early twentieth century Australia. This magazine, often referred to as "the bushman's bible," must now be viewed as having little relevance to the popular culture demographic, he argues.
In focusing on the pivotal First World War era, Djubal examines the construction of the larrikin comedian on the variety stage (and in particular revusical comedians such as Nat Phillips and Roy Rene (Stiffy and Mo), Bert Le Blanc and Jake Mack (Ike Cohen and Morris Levy), Jim Gerald, Paul Stanhope and others. He also looks at the construction of this character within the pages of popular cultures texts such as variety industry and soldier magazines, as well as mass market publishing phenomena such as C. J. Denis' Songs of the Sentimental Bloke. He proposes that while these texts had much greater relevance to the broader public of the era but have been ignored by contemporary academics because they are seen to have little aesthetic or literary value.
In order for historians and cultural theorists to better understand cultural and national identity, Djubal further argues that they also need to more vigorously interrogate the sources they use - not only the texts but also the authors of those texts. The types of questions he refers to include: 1) was the work written specifically for (and hence did it appeal to) any particular demographic market; 2) were there economic reasons underpinning the approach taken by the author; 3) were the observations made by the author undertaken from an "outside looking in" perspective or from intimate, empirical experiences; 4) what personal issues and biases might the author have had in relation to his subject matter; 5) if based on "real" experiences, how long after the event were these memories recalled; 6) what input did the editor or publisher have in the end result; and 7) how did the work resonate with the broader general population at the time of publication.2011
Published between 1880 and 2008, the Bulletin's crowning years are considered to have been the 1890s, a period also generally regarded as Australia's literary renaissance. During this decade the magazine encouraged a new generation of writers, illustrators, critics and journalists to voice their protest at the dominant literary forms and social attitudes while at the same time promoting strident nationalist sentiments.
The considerable literary reputations established by the Bulletin writers has resulted in the magazine becoming arguably the most commonly cited magazine in the literature pertaining to Australian drama, sociology, politics, journalism and literature between 1880 and the 1920s. However, recent research into pre-1930s Australian popular culture entertainment is beginning to cast much doubt on the methodological approaches taken by historians and social/urban biographers, particularly their reliance on literature as a means of gauging or explaining socio-cultural attitudes.
In this paper Clay Djubal uses the Bulletin as a sample case in order to demonstrate the flaws in a methodology which all too often fails to question the veracity and appropriateness of particular sources in relation to the wider Australian community. The paper further questions the belief that literature and other high art forms of creative expression accurately reflect on or speak for the broader popular culture demographic.2017