Strewth! A XXXX degree in 'Neighbours'

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The amber nectar may well be flowing at a Welsh college this autumn - all in the pursuit of academic inquiry.

A pioneering first degree in Australian studies, including the in-depth analysis of such antipodean cultural icons as Foster's Lager, the barbie and surfers, is being launched by one of Britain's oldest universities.

Crocodile Dundee, Mad Max, and the Sydney Opera House are also on the agenda for study in the BA degree course offered by the University of Wales, Lampeter. And the Scotts and Charlenes of Australian soaps may also figure in a course described by its validators as "exciting, innovative and original".

The home-and-away course - half of the third year is spent in Australia - comes in the wake of a cultural invasion of British TV by Aussie soaps, and it is expected that many of the would-be students may well have had their appetites whetted by the likes of Neighbours.

"This is the first and the only Australian studies first degree course you can do in Britain," says Dr Andrew Hassam, convenor of Australian studies at Lampeter, the oldest degree-awarding institution in England and Wales outside Oxbridge. "What we have done is to bring together a number of teaching areas and use the expertise we have in Australian studies at Lampeter. It is an interdisciplinary degree and will be very academically demanding.

"We will be looking at Australian images like the barbecue, and we will be interrogating representational cultural images about what they say and what they don't say. The film Crocodile Dundee, for instance, doesn't have a lot to say about urban Australia or Asian Australia, and there are not too many images of urban Aborigines."

The prospectus says students will study Australia though its culture, history, society, literature and environment.

"They will find out how Australian literature and films have been used to construct an Australian identity, and how particular images have come to dominate: surfies, the Sydney Opera House, Foster's Lager."

"It is an excellent course and there is a lot of interest among young people in Australia: Australia is utopia to the British," said Professor Stephen Knight of the University of Wales, Cardiff, who validated the course and spent 20 years living and working in Australia.

"The theory in Australia as to why the Brits like Neighbours is that it's because of the kitchens. They are very big and that, they believe, fascinates the poor old Poms who only have narrow cubby holes."

The course will include guest lectures by distinguished Australians. It is not known if Les Patterson, the Australian cultural attache, will be invited, but, strewth - anything is possible.

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