Uploaded by Jennifer Lai


How successfully does the composer affirm, reveal, challenge or disrupt prevailing
assumptions and beliefs about individual and cultural groups in your text?
Henry Lawson successfully invites the audience to understand how adversity and
overcoming hardships within the rural Australian landscape powerfully affirms, reveals,
challenges, and disrupts prevailing assumptions and beliefs about the Australian identity.
As the Federation dawned, national identity was being defined in art and literature
produced by Australian composers. In his (2009) collection, The Penguin Henry Lawson
Short Stories, Lawson presents sketches representing the personal struggle of his
protagonists, which stand as metonyms for bush life and experience. In 'The Drover's
Wife' Lawson presents the powerful interplay between unwelcoming landscape and
steadfast protagonist, which highlights the pioneering spirit and determination to
overcome adversity, which extends to a consideration of what it is to be Australian at the
dawn of a new era. Alternatively, 'The Union Buries its Dead' explores a fatalistic
consideration of the delicate connections individuals have with each other and with life
itself. Ultimately, Lawson's short stories convey a realistic, unsentimental representation
of what it means to be an Australian in the 1890s, which asserts our understanding of
contemporary Australian identity.
The Composer's powerful language choices reveal a realistic portrayal of the unrelenting
and inhospitable landscape in 'The Drover's Wife' which subverts romanticised versions.
Lawson’s repetitive use of the word 'no' in "No horizon", "No ranges in the distance",
"Nothing to relieve the eye…" and his use of diction "stunted, rotten…" amplifies the
emptiness and lifelessness of the Australian landscape, and highlights the fact that the
description is framed in terms of negatives. He describes the bush as featureless and
lonely, and induces a sense of sensory deprivation. The deficit is offered through an
absence of verbs, with the only action being "she-oaks… sighing", which personifies a
sense of exasperation from nature, unveiling the heartless and exhausting nature of the
Australian bush. The drover's wife explores her own memories of facing hardships
presented by bush life through Lawson's use of temporal shifts "she fought a bush-fire
once while her husband was away," "she fought a flood during her husband's absence,"
she also fought pleuro-pneumonia", "she fought a mad bullock". This reiterates the harsh
nature of the bush and the situations that may initiate from the boundless and desolate
attributes of the bush. The harshness of bush existence has forced her to acquire survival
skills and independence that other settings do not offer. This strengthens the Australian
identity of overcoming the barren landscape and powering through challenges using
pragmatic methods. Furthermore, the anonymity of the children and the hyphenated
adjective strings "Four ragged, dried-up-looking children", constructs a clear image of
poverty, neglect, and hardship. The ruggedness of the children is a result of the barren
and bleak landscape. The hyphenation of the "dried-up-looking" gives a strange addition
to the description of the children, which offers connotations of being worn out by the
environment and the endlessness of their existence. Thus, Lawson's use of form and
stylistic features illustrate the sterile and isolated picture of the Australian bush, which
establishes the responder's representation of the bush.
The construction of human interactions affirms the importance of the drinking culture in
'The Union'. The significance of alcohol and the drinking culture is elevated through the
use of parallelism in “Unionism is stronger than creed. Drink, however, is stronger than
unionism”. This emphasises the strength of alcoholism as a bond between men by
drawing a comparison (parallelism). It draws on how unionism provides bushmen with a
sense of community and belonging stronger than who religion does. However, alcohol is
bound even stronger than even unionism. This maintains the Australian culture of men
who adore drinking and hanging out with their mates. Moreover, in "One was drunk—
very drunk… He straightened himself up, stared, and reached helplessly for his hat,
which he shoved half off and then on again. Then he made a great effort to pull himself
together—and succeeded. He stood up, braced his back against the fence, knocked off
his hat, and remorsefully placed his foot on it—to keep it off his head till the funeral
passed", he asserts that drink is the dominant value of the bushman in this story and the
procession is measured in these terms. The funeral and indeed respect for the dead
becomes a farce as the reader is offered the comic depiction of an almost Vaudevillian
characterisation of the man struggling to stand and pay his respects. In addition,
Lawson's use of diction as he describes the bushman's activities "Next day a funeral
gathered at a corner pub and asked each other in to have a drink while waiting for the
hearse. They passed away some of the time dancing jigs to a piano in the bar parlour.
They passed away the rest of the time skylarking and fighting." offers a connection to
the dead from the repetition of "passed away", with the phrase being both a signifier of
time and being a euphemism for death. The juxtaposition of the actions of the bushmen
as being destructive "they passed away the rest of the time sky-larking and fighting" but
also entertaining "dancing jigs to a piano", alludes to the dual nature of alcohol and its
integral part in the Australian identity. This supports the importance of drinking culture
as an intrinsic part of the Australian identity.
Subsequently, literary representations of individual and community experiences affirm
the hardships and loneliness in both texts. In 'The Drover's Wife', the title character
adapts to the harshness of the Australian bush after a long period of time in isolation.
The vision of the drover's wife is one of a protective mother and a hardened battler
against the disasters of the Australian bush. Lawson's consistent use of commas, action
verbs and asyndeton in "The gaunt, sun-browned bush woman dashes from the kitchen,
snatches her baby from the ground, holds it on her left hip, and reaches for a stick."
displays the physical appearance of the protagonist that has been altered by the bush life
and her adaptive nature. This accentuates the dauntless characteristic and the prowess
of the bush women and proclaims that she is a woman of action and a woman of
protection and does both simultaneously. Similarly, in 'The Union Buries its Dead',
Lawson’s purposeful use of authorial intrusion “it didn’t matter much - nothing does' '
coupled with anonymous narration reinforces, not only a sense of fatalism but rather the
insignificance and pointlessness of everything. Lawson suggests that the union, rather
than religion, act as the force which binds outback culture and provides some remnant of
meaning within a barren and nihilistic landscape. This represents Lawson’s central idea
that it is human resilience, especially the Australian spirit, which fills this void and gives
meaning and life to the emptiness. Hence Lawson successfully represents an Australian
identity marked by a tenacious spirit void of sensitivity that could diminish one's ability to
cope in an unforgiving location.
In this way, Henry Lawson in 'Drover's Wife' and 'The Union Buries its Dead' conclusively
affirms, reveals, challenges or disrupts prevailing assumptions and beliefs through
characterisation and setting on how adversity and overcoming hardships within the rural
Australian landscape creates a distinct Australian identity.