Welcome to the Australian bush. We sure have plenty of it.
Many Australian myths and legends have emanated from the bush. Early bushranging – ranging or living off the land – was sometimes seen as a preferred option to the harsh conditions experienced by convicts in chains. Later bushrangers such as Jack Donohue, Ben Hall and Ned Kelly were seen as rebellious figures associated with bush life. Their bushmanship was legendary as well as necessary.
The bush has evoked themes of struggle and survival epitomised in tales of bushrangers, drovers, outback women and lost children. The bush has also been seen as a source of nourishment and survival. These two opposing elements were often brought together by the activities of the Australian 'black trackers'.
The skills of Indigenous people in 'the bush', especially their tracking abilities, was seen as miraculous and became legendary in the minds of European Australians. Indigenous people's knowledge of the land, at the core of their spiritual beliefs, is expressed in stories, arts and performance - music, songs, dance and ceremony.
Romantic idealism, 1890s – The 'bushman'
Around 1900, the bush was seen as the foundation of nation's greatness when the features of bush life - sleeping in the open air, learning to ride and shoot, fighting bushfires – were seen to prepare people for battle. This fused Australia's bush and military traditions when it seemed to prove itself with the ANZACs in World War I. The 'bushman' was seen as a resourceful, independent man who trusted only his mates.
The bush was a symbol for a national life and yet, by 1910, most Australians were urban. The bush myth has endured as novelists, poets, and artists continue to use it for inspiration. Elements of bush culture have been absorbed into mainstream Australian life through music, pop songs, clothing, slang, arts and architecture.
The 'plein air' painters, 1880s–1890s
The painters of the Heidelberg School – the likes of Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin Charles Condor, Hans Heysen and Arthur Streeton - were the first Australian painters to attempt to capture a 'momentary effect' in the Australian landscape with a 'general impression of colour'. They were seen to capture the light, colour and mood of the Australian bush. Along with the bush poets and writers, they formed a clear expression of Australian identity.
The story of children lost in the bush has had a long tradition in written and illustrated form. For example, McCubbin's painting Lost in 1886 was created after twelve-year-old Clara Crosbie was lost in the bush near Lilydale in 1885, but found alive three weeks later.
Poets and writers
Poets and novelists such as Banjo Paterson, Miles Franklin, EJ Brady and Barbara Baynton, among others, were inspired by the experiences of Australians living and working in the bush. Henry Lawson believed that an Australian identity must emanate from its own soil, not from the safe green fields of the mother country, Britain. He was not alone in this view.
Bush poets and bush songs
Bush songs devised by ordinary, everyday people are a record of the people's experiences of living, surviving and dying in the bush, as well as the colourful slang of bush life. The most famous of these bush ballads is Waltzing Matilda , Australia's unofficial national song about a swagman shearer. Many songs and lyrics, written down for private use, were later assembled and published by A B (Banjo) Paterson as Old Bush Songs (1905). Bush music was handed down as part of an oral tradition, similar to folk music.
The Weekly Bulletin
Australia's first national literary magazine, The Weekly Bulletin (later The Bulletin), not only described the bush, but also published bush writers. It was an influential publication which promoted a particular set of views – egalitarianism, unionism, and 'Australianism'. Both Lawson and Paterson saw the bush as central to 'identity', but in very different ways.
A debate about the real nature of Australian life, saw Lawson and Paterson write about their different perspectives on the Australian bush. This debate is, famously, known as the 1892-93 'Bulletin Debate'. In his poem Up The Country, Lawson claimed Paterson was a 'City Bushman' who romanticised the bush in poems such as The Man From Snowy River . Paterson countered with In Defense of the Bush by claiming that Lawson's view of the landscape was full of doom and gloom.
The argument was followed closely by the Bulletin's significant readership, reinforcing the bush as central to any discussion about national identity.
While Paterson was much more at ease with its wildness, Lawson saw the 'struggle' with the bush as central to our identity.
The bush legacy today
The idea of the bush as integral to Australian identity was reinforced in 1958 when Russel Ward published The Australian Legend. While some critics criticised his interpretation of what comprises a 'typical Australian', he argues that traits such as mateship, anti-authoritarianism, swearing and hard drinking came from the frontier experiences of real bush workers.
Bush ideals have been revered in recent years with television programs like Bush Tucker Man and films like Crocodile Dundee. Many well-known Australian films are built on stories from or concerning the bush. These include Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Eliza Fraser (1976), Breaker Morant (1981), Gallipoli (1981), Man from Snowy River (1982), Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Evil Angels (1988). Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) and Ten Canoes (2006) show how the bush is viewed as a source of nourishment for Indigenous people.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the bush become synonymous with drought, debt, depopulation and unemployment. Natural disasters and the natural cycles in the bush of drought, fire and flood have helped define Australian language, a sense of humour as well as comedy, music, poetry and literature.
Distinctive Australian architecture, with its roots in the bush, is recognisable in the rural icons of 'The Queenslander' house, the wool shed and the beach house. Characteristically, these designs used local materials as well as corrugated iron, and emphasised space and light as well as a connection to the landscape.
In his Australia Day address in 2002, author and ecologist,Tim Flannery, said 'Australians could only become a 'true people' by developing 'deep, sustaining roots in the land'. He said the land was 'the only thing that we all, uniquely, share in common. It is at once our inheritance, our sustenance, and the only force ubiquitous and powerful enough to craft a truly Australian people.'
Clancy's comment: I've spent a lot of time in the Aussie bush. I love its smell.