An Australian Type?. Selections and the Bushman Myth. By 1880 many colonists had gained land (or selections) from pastoralists due to a series of Selection Acts in the 1860s. By 1890 selectors alone held 2 million acres of cultivated land
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Selections and the Bushman Myth By 1880 many colonists had gained land (or selections) from pastoralists due to a series of Selection Acts in the 1860s. By 1890 selectors alone held 2 million acres of cultivated land Working the land was hard – many lacked farming experience, had low productivity and output whilst facing a life of isolation. Australian in the 1890s was undergoing an economic depression which led to a mystique of men working the land. Urban Australians would celebrate this manufactured ideal of independence, mateship and egalitarianism.
The Bush ‘The bush’ was described in literature with romantic connotations and was intimately linked to the uniqueness of Australia. The ‘bushman’ became the ideal or mythical Australian; celebrated in literature and art as the ‘real Australian’. The image was masculine, independent, hardworking, classless and confident. It distinguished itself from being British.
Art and the Bush The ‘bush ethos’ that rural life was more authentically Australian to any other form of Australian life was present and celebrated in the artistic works of the Heidelberg School – Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Charles Condor. These artists focused on the light, heat, space and ruggedness of the Australian bush. Tom Roberts’ ‘Shearing the rams” painting was intended to capture the “meaning and spirit of strong masculine labour”. Even the sheep being shorn were rams – most wool came from female sheep.
Art and the Bush The Heidelberg School did indeed celebrate the bush yet most did not personally experience rural life. They lived largely urban lives – Roberts painted ‘Shearing the Rams’ in his city studio after a short country trip while many other Heidelberg School artists did not venture a few kilometres from their urban homes to create their impressionist paintings (Macintyre, 2009). Poems and novels by Henry Lawson, ‘Banjo’ Patterson and Joseph Furphy (aka Tom Collins) celebrated rural life – its hardships and unique characters it generated.
The ‘Bushman’s Bible’ or The Bulletin • The Bulletin was a radical socialist weekly newspaper that declared itself as the ‘bushman’s bible’ with a masthead that read, ‘Australia for the White Man’ • The Bulletin was quite outspoken in what it stood for: • A republic, one man/one vote, state revenue from the Land, secular education, a “United Australia and Protection against the World” • And against: • Religion in politics, “the Chinese”, “Imperial Federation”
The Bushman’s Bible Est. 1880, by 1900 a circulation of 80,000 and was the most popular with itinerant miners, shearers, timber-workers – many of these men contributed poems, short stories and cartoons. It did promote a narrow form of nationalism but its influence has been questioned by historians of late. Most of The Bulletin’s writers and editors lived in capital cities rather than in the bush. Their squalid and cramped living conditions were in direct contrast to rural life. Subsequently it is little surprising that the bush would be so idealised by a group of men who had never lived their for long periods of time.
The Bushman’s Bible The Bulletin was most popular in NSW and Queensland. It promoted and celebrated their narrow interpretation of national sentiment that excluded women, non-whites, Christian churches, Judaism, capitalists and British loyalists. Subsequently The Bulletin was a significant player in shaping the national identity of Australia.
The Rise of Unionism By the 1870s unions had become well organised and militant (using aggressive strategies like strikes, occupations, boycotts) and were successful when the economy was thriving. Trades and Labour Councils were established in nearly every colony that represented a large number of unions. Intercolonial trade union congresses were held with the express purpose of excluding Asian labour, establishing a basic wage and having union reps elected to colonial parliaments.
The Rise of Unionism 1890s saw Australia experience a severe economic depression. Australian Shearers’ Union founded in 1886 representing shearers in NSW, Victoria and SA. Shearers suffered some of the worst working conditions in Australia. Falling wool prices internationally led pastoralists to drop shearers already low wages in 1891. Queensland shearers went on strike – almost all shearing sheds in Qld closed. The union leaders were arrested and jailed and the strike collapsed by mid-year.
Rise of Unionism Further strikes and battles between labour and capital continued. 1890: ship officers sought to associate with the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. Shipowners tried to stop it – the officers and crew striked, miners at Broken Hill and 16,000 shearers also went on strike in solidarity. At the time unemployment was high so there were many willing to work at these jobs while the regular workers went on strike. This was known as being a strike breaker or a ‘scab’.
Rise of Unionism Strike breakers or scabs had to be protected by various security forces – mounted troops, armed soldiers and/or police. 1892: miners at Broken Hill went on strike over wages. Many of these miners were reduced to debilitating poverty. The strike collapsed eventually and its leaders arrested. The repeated losses of these strikes convinced many workers that improvements in their wages and conditions could only be won through political as well as industrial (strikes, protests, etc.) action.
The Australian Labor Party Labor Electoral Leagues joined forces to form the Australian Labor party (spelt ‘Labor’ to distinguish it from the British Labour Party). Members of this new party sought to represent worker and union interests in colonial parliaments. Electoral success first occurred in NSW 1891 where 36 of 45 ALP candidates won Legislative Assembly seats. The first ALP government was elected in Qld in 1899. When the Federal Parliament first met in 1901 there were 24 ALP members. White male workers now had a significant voice and influence in Australia yet the non-white and female population were still excluded.
An ‘Australian Type’? 1887 - The Bulletin defined ‘Australian’ as such: “All white men…with a clean record…[that] leave behind the memory of class distinctions…religious differences of the old world; all men who place happiness, the prosperity, the advancement of their adopted country before the interests of imperialism are Australian...No nigger, no Chinaman, no lascar, no kanaka, no purveyor of cheap coloured labour, is an Australian.” 1890 - James Hogan attributed three characteristics to the ‘The Coming Australian’: 1. An inordinate love of field sports; 2. An disinclination to recognise forms of authority; 3. A dislike for mental effort.
An ‘Australian Type’ Henry Parkes said this at the Australian Federation Conference in Melbourne in 1890: “Why should not the name of an Australian be equal to that of a Briton…Make yourselves a united people. Appear before the world as one…” The idea that Australians were developing physical and social characteristics superior to their British peers had gain traction with a number of groups and became a source of pride for many.
An ‘Australian Type’? The Boer War provided an opportunity for Australian men to prove their physical prowess. Writers like Rudyard Kipling described the Australians in glowing terms and in many ways superior to their British compatriots. However there were competing visions amongst colonialists of what Australians should be identified as. These competing interpretations manifested in various organisations established during that time.
Imperial Federation League (1884-1894) This organisation rejected the notion of being both Australian and members of the British Empire. Instead they desired an Imperial Federation that would unite Britain with all colonies of the empire into a single Federation. This single world colonial or Imperial Federation would act as an supreme policy-making body for the British Empire. Common defence and financial interests could be organised under this umbrella organisation.
The Imperial Federation League The majority of their supporters were wealthy squatters, bankers and businessmen. Enjoyed significant support in Victoria and Tasmania yet after 1890 supported declined greatly. According to Charles Blackton this decline was due to: (i) underestimating the extent of national feeling that did not want to be ruled by an external governing body; (ii) a widespread lack of understanding of the aims of the IFL; (iii) the differences over immigration policy; (iv) widespread opposition from nationalist groups like the Australian Natives Association and the popular press.
The Republican Movement The direct opponents of the IFL was the Republican Union formed in 1887. Strongly opposed the monarchy and aristocrats The vision for the nation was a republic that promoted egalitarianism, material wealth for all and a ‘workers Utopia’ and to break all ties with Britain. Republicans included bush workers, unionists, selectors and Irish Catholics Inspired by the American (1775-1783) and French revolutions (1789-1799). French revolution was based on freedom, equality and fraternity (brotherhood). Press that supported republicanism included the Bulletin, Boomerang and the Hummer.
Australian Natives Association One of the most prominent groups to argue for Federation was the Australian Natives Association. Est. 1871 membership was restricted to white males born in Australia with a motto of ‘Advance Australia’ Agenda: strengthening Australian defence, protecting industries through tariffs on imports, improving social welfare and achieving ‘White Australia’. Unlike republicans the ANA were loyal to Australia and the British Empire.
Australian Natives Association They wanted the colonies to federate into one nation yet also wanted to maintain their ties to the Empire. ANA had a deep pride in being ‘Australian’ “We need a vigorous and undivided Australian sentiment’ The ANA sought to celebrate and develop Australian culture in literature and other pursuits. They also sought to be outspoken on all matters relating to the direction the emerging nation would take.
Issues of Representation It is important to note that ANA appropriated the title “native” disregarding the forty thousand years of Aboriginal occupation. Diane McDonald notes that visions for national identity is problematic. According to McDonald Australian identity was being forged by groups through the context of their competing agendas. However as these groups contributed to Australian identity that there was not one singular identity. As McDonald argues students must be mindful not to focus on stereotypes and consider who was not represented, “where are the ‘absent voices’ of women and aborigines in the bushman legend?”.
Bibliography Macintyre, S., A Concise History of Australia, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2009. McDonald, D., “Australian Nationalism Until 1918” in Readings: Images of the Nation, HTAV, Collingwood, 1997.