This essay seeks to contribute to further understanding of the emergence of the field of communication studies in Australia. It does this in a twofold fashion. First, it seeks to capture the discourse around communication studies in the 1980s. Reviewing 1980s debates regarding communication studies in Australia, it is possible to identify at least three rhetorical tropes which helped shape discourse about the field. The first trope is that of ‘two paradigms’: North American versus British/European, interpersonal communication versus cultural studies. The second trope is that the field lacks disciplinary justification; the third raised the issue of an Australian communication studies. I argue that these tropes continue to shape the articulation of the field in subtle ways. Second, this essay seeks to focus specifically on the work of Australian scholar Robyn Penman. As an exemplar of sustained thinking about communication, her scholarship forms an important case study in demonstrating the limits of paradigm talk as a way to construct debate over communication in Australia. Penman’s work ultimately tests the construction of the field offered by dominant tropes, but also offers an alternative vision for reconstructing the field.