The University of Sydney's Chair in Australia Literature, located in the Department of English, is the country’s oldest, established in response to a fund-raising campaign in 1962 at a time of intense public commitment to the idea of fostering university study of the national literature. At that time, the department was located in the University’s historic Quadrangle. It moved to its present home, the John Woolley Building, in 1975. The earliest wing of the John Woolley Building was designed by the Government Architect Col. Walter Liberty Vernon in the style of the arts and crafts movement, and built in 1906-1908. The foundation Professor of Australian Literature was G.A. Wilkes, who held the chair from 1963 until 1967, when he became Challis Professor of English Literature. From 1968 until 1989 the chair was occupied by Professor (later Dame) Leonie Kramer, who was subsequently Chancellor of the University. From 1990 to 2007, the chair was held by Professor Elizabeth Webby, who was succeeded upon her retirement in 2007 by Professor Robert Dixon. Past members of the Australian Literature staff have included Ivor Indyk, Brian Kiernan, Adrian Mitchell, Noel Rowe, Vivian Smith and Penny van Toorn.
John Woolley Building, circa 1940 and 2009
Research and teaching are supported by the Australian Literature Resources Centre, Fisher Library at the University of Sydney, and the Mitchell Library at the State Library of New South Wales, which holds one of the world’s most important collections of material relating to Australia and the Pacific. Australian Literature maintains a long association with Australia’s oldest literary journal, Southerly, first published in 1939, whose editors have included G.A. Wilkes (1963-1987), Elizabeth Webby (1988-1999), Ivor Indyk (1989-1993), Noel Rowe (1999-2007), David Brooks (1999 to the present) and Elizabeth McMahon (2008-present).
Australian Literature at the University of Sydney hosts the annual Blaiklock Memorial Lecture, the first of which was delivered by A.D. Hope in 1971. Later Blaiklock lecturers include Judith Wright, Thea Astley, Elizabeth Jolley, David Malouf, Brian Castro and Kevin Hart.
Australian Literature also hosts an annual symposium, attracting scholars from Australia and abroad. Themes include Resourceful Reading: e-research, the New Humanities and Australian Literary Culture (4-5 December 2008), and Reading Across the Pacific: Australian-United States Intellectual Histories (14-15 January 2010).