Clancy of the Overflow vs in Town by Dyson

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Australia in the late 20th century, was an important period when intelligentsia were seeking to define its nation and its national identity. One powerful communicator was in the writings and articles published in popular newspapers, which offered differing ideas and approaches on this subject. In this essay I aim to analyse two documents in the form of ballads that were published in this period, and to describe how they played a part in constructing an image that could be used to define the nation and create a national identity; in their historical, social, economic and political context.

Firstly, I will give a brief summary on each document. ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, written by Banjo Patterson was an Australian ballad about a droving bushman and the imaginings of his rural lifestyle. It was first published in 1889 in the Bulletin; a newspaper that supported radical nationalist ideologies. The poem romanticizes country life and shuns life in the city. The second document was written in 1896 by Edward Dyson, and is entitled ‘In Town’. This poem was written in first person and expresses a morbid image of city life and his depressing experience of it.

Patterson and Dyson were more conservative, nationalistic and anti-imperialist in their visions of Australia and its national direction, so they objected to any ties of British ownership and governing. It is therefore not surprising (especially when both poems emerged at a similar time) that the images of Australia that each piece of work constructed were very similar. Both lead its readers to two opposing images within the nation- the bush and the city, giving an over idealized view of the country and making the latter seem utterly unlivable. Both describe an Australian character or ‘legend’ in the poem, that is significant in personifying characteristics of their version of national identity.

Through this use of the legend, Patterson constructed an identity of the quintessential Australian as being a white,...
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