The Australian Bush Legend

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Since settlement, the Australian nation has been fixated on the question of “what defines us” as a people. From the bush legend of early settlement, to the beach culture of the 1980’s and 90’s, our search for a singular national identity has seen various failed attempts at pinning down ‘what it really means to be Australian’. National image and identity is a creation of the times, and as such, the pursuit for a defining any one national identity is an unattainable dream. In this essay I will endeavour to outline some of the flaws in previous attempts at defining Australia, as well as outlining the reasons why the notion of a single national image is unattainable.

To date, the bush legend is still the most thought-of, yet exaggerated, example of the Australian national identity. Ward writes of the typical Australian as “a practical man, rough and ready in his manners and quick to decry any appearance of affection in others. He is a great improviser, ever willing to ‘have a go’ at anything… He is a fiercely independent person who hates officiousness and authority… Yet he is very hospitable and, above all, will stick to his mates through thick and thin, even if he thinks he may be in the wrong” (1958, page 2). It was from the bush workers of early settlement that such assertions of the Australian character were originally created. However, it must be remembered that the status of the bush worker throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s were highly romanticized, especially through such literary channels as the Bulletin magazine, and through poets such as AB Patterson and Henry Lawson. And whilst they may have painted a fairly accurate portrayal of the Australian and bush ethos at the time, it is no longer consistent with the Australian identity of the present. In the early days of the formation of Australia, this country was largely (almost entirely) of British, Anglo Celt decent, of which it stayed for a substantial amount of time. However, Australia and its...
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