The Drover's Wife : A Study Guide

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The Drover's Wife : Transcript

The Drover's Wife and its sequels by Dr Meg Tasker

Henry Lawson: Australian writer

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The Drovers Wife : Russell Drysdale

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Henry Lawson English Essay
Citation :
10 April 2007

While there are many trials and tribulations that pose a challenge to the inhabitants of Henry Lawson's Australia, by a great margin the most potent threat facing these men and women is the bleak reality of the bush itself. This is conveyed most effectively in the protagonists in 'The Bush Undertaker,' 'The Drover's Wife,' and 'Brighten's Sister In Law,' and the issues they are faced with.

The desolate wasteland that is the bush is compounded by the isolation of the Outback lifestyle; the mental effects that are a consequence of continued exposure to solitude is most accurately portrayed by 'The Bush Undertaker.' The central personality in this tale is a deranged bushman, whose mind has been warped by crippling loneliness. With no human interaction for what appears to have been a lengthy period of time, his ability to function coherently has been drowned in sorrow, and 'drink.' His only true companion is his mangy hound, affectionately referred to as 'Five Bob,' with whom he travels, and shares meals. This provides an insight into how the bush can taint not only the body, but also the psyche. Another clue into the Bush Undertaker's detachment from civilisation is his actions in the discovery of an old mate of his, named Brummy. Instead of tending to the corpse in a sympathetic, tragic way (as someone discovering a deceased cohort should), he opts to first take notice of a bottle of rum the cadaver has in its possession. Another important aspect of the Bush Undertaker's insanity is his obsession with death; his 'hobby,' is to seek abandoned corpses (especially those of 'blackfellows,') out of sheer curiosity. The Shepard probably has used this diversion as a counter-measure to the mind-numbing boredom caused by being without human contact; thus proving the detrimental psychological penalties induced by living in the bush.

Not only does the bush pollute the mind of its patrons, it pits them in an emotional struggle to cope with the unforgiving harshness of the barren, parched, sand-blown void. 'The Drover's Wife,' is a character, who has seen first hand the horrors that the 'romantic,' Outback houses in its sun-cracked earth. She is a gaunt, 'sun-browned' bushwoman - hardened by the struggles she contends with daily. The fundamental issue is that her husband is a drover, who is 'away with the sheep,'- meaning that the wife, is left alone with the children. This means that she has had to assume his role as the man - fighting the dangers that her husband should be fending off. She is alone, abandoned, and save for her children, she feels deserted. She has overcome many obstacles, such as a blazing inferno, a mad bullock, and a breached dam just to name a few. And yet, she perseveres - until a deadly snake besieges her household. It is throughout the night, while she watches for the fiend, that she reflects on her misfortune. The story reaches its climax in the morning, after she has finally released her anguish ('she cried then,') and her son comforts her. He assures her, that unlike his father, he 'won't never go drovin'.' The Drover's Wife, in her tumultuous journey, has embodied the emotional pain inflicted upon inhabitants of the bush.

Henry Lawson's bush contains both metaphorical and unseen dangers, however more noticeably it is riddled with physical challenges that those living within are forced to endure. One of said confrontations with the environment is the distance from civilisation, and thus help if something were ever to go awry. This disastrous situation is the plot of 'Brighten's Sister in Law,' - a bushman, who finds his son terribly ill. The boy suffers from dreadful 'turns,' which are near fatal. While the pair are travelling, he notices his son is acting a tad strange. He can sense an ominous event coming - and it strikes at the most inopportune time, when they are miles away from any medical aid. The man loads up his quickly fading offspring, and sets off in a panic. As he rides, he ponders the horror that would be the loss of Jim - and he thinks of the pain it would cause him. He rides on, and it is only by chance (or perhaps divine intervention) that a vision points him in the direction of his saviour. Of course, this was a romantic twist in what would have been a tragic tale - however, in the reality of the bush, the boy would have most likely met his end. It is a sad truth that the disease and illness thrust upon the innocent cannot be treated in a place such as the Outback. It is one of many physical threats that people are faced with in that environment.

The bush poisons the mind, body and spirit of those poor, unfortunate souls who choose (or often, are forced to) reside there. It is an enemy, an antagonist to honest, innocent people who try to tame the land. It is unfortunate, but truth that the greatest challenge posed to those who live in the bush, is the bush itself.