When writing the 'big picture' histories, historians often overlook or exaggerate certain aspects of Australian history to make their point. Discuss with reference to one the recommended texts. The book 'The Australian Legend', written by Russell Ward and published in 1958 speaks mainly of 'Australian Identity'. It looks at nationalism and what has formed our self-image.
There are many aspects that are left overlooked however, as the Author makes his assumptions. Significant parts of society are neglected consideration, these include those that weren't from the bush, non-British immigrants, the Aboriginal people and women. Also the use of romanticized and exaggerated evidence causes an imbalance in his conclusions. Ward's main reason for writing 'The Australian Legend' was to portray the typical Australian's perception of himself.
He admitted that the book was not intended to be a history of Australia, and it wasn't. What the narrative does do however, is trace and explore the source of what he referred to as the 'national mystique'. Ward bases his work on the opinion that the 'Australian spirit' is somehow intimately connected with the bush and that it derives rather from the common folk than from the more respectable sections of society. He treats this assumption methodically, using literary and historical evidence. The majority of the evidence, are extracts taken from the Sydney Bulletin, a paper edited by J. F Archibald.
Writers included 'the three greatest 'nationalist' writers of the 'nineties', as Ward called them. They were Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, and Joseph Fur phy. Ward believed that their works were hard fact - a reflection of the emergence of a distinctively Australian way of life in the outback. This evidence however is rather selective. It appears that Ward has only chosen to include the works that support his version of the 'Australian identity', intentionally leaving out works by the aforementioned writers that gave reference to anyone not fitting his description of 'typical', ie. women, foreigners, aboriginals and city-dwellers. The Australian bush legend, Ward believed, came to its climax in the 1880's.
He mentions that it was during this time that the majority of the population were native-born, white males who enjoyed the works of writers such as Paterson and Lawson. It was men like these, he says, that brought the city and the country closer together by their romanticism of the bush ethos. Russel Ward generalised Australians, granting us attributes such as mate ship, egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism:' According to the myth the typical Australian is 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, but willing to be content with a task done in a way that is near enough. [... ] He swears hard and consistently, gambles heavily and often, and drinks deeply on occasion [... ] he is usually taciturn rather than talkative. [... ] he believes that Jack is not only as good as his master, but, at least in principle, probably a good deal better, and so he is a great knocker of eminent people.
[... ] He is a fiercely independent person who hates officiousness and authority. [... ] will stick by his mates through thick and thin, even if he thinks they may be in the wrong. ' This extract shows the extent of the stereotyping that is evident in Ward's text. He makes very broad generalizations and portrays them as fact.
Notice the masculinity within this extract as well as the absence of groups within the population other than white men. This is a one-sided portrayal of the Australian people which is far from balanced. Although most of the population lived in the city, Ward stated that 'a specifically Australian outlook grew up first among the bush workers in the Australian pastoral industry, and this group has had an influence, completely disproportionate to its numerical and economic strength, on the attitudes of the whole Australian community'. This statement is only half-proven. His book does provide evidence that a 'specifically Australian outlook' rose from the bushmen, but provides no evidence to confirm that it has had an influence 'on the attitudes of the whole Australian community.
' Ward underplayed the contribution of women to the Australian identity. One only needs to browse over the chapter titles to see this. Headings like 'The Founding Fathers', 'The Bushrangers', 'The Bushman Comes of Age' and 'Two Noble Frontiersmen' indicate that the mention of women is. The 1970's saw several books coming out of response to Russell Wards neglect the include women, with probably the most notable being Anne Summers', Dammed Whores and God^aEURTMs Police: the colonisation of Women in Australia. This book attempted to fill in the blanks left by Russel Ward and other nationalistic writers of his time. Another section of society Ward neglects to mention is the Aboriginal people.
He believed that their women were useful to 'keep the sodomy out of mate ship', but acknowledges no influence in the construction of our national identity. The inclusion of Aboriginals within his book is minimal and Ward overlooks important bush stories, such as the 'lost children', that were detrimental in the shaping of our self-image. He, as well as the other nationalistic writers of his time, overlooked very important history. We know from recent historians such as Stuart Rantoul, that from 1885, Aboriginal children were taken away from their families and forced to work as domestic servants and to live on the white peoples' government-controlled missions and reserves. This huge part of Australian history has almost completely ignored by Russell Ward. According to Ward, we have inherited many attributes from our convict decedents.
These include resourcefulness, adaptability, solidarity, and disrespect for authority. He believes that these values had been enhanced by the difficulties of life in the bush. Ward also believed that by following our cultural links back to the convicts, was an explanation the new organisations of unionism and parliamentary Labor. This was the basis of argument for many historians such as Humphrey McQueen, concerning the social origins of Australian radicalism and nationalism. Although partially true in its time, the Australian bush legend fades more and more as time progresses. The Australian identity of the 1890's was not the same as it was in the 1950's, nor do we have the same self-image today, as portrayed in 'The Australian Legend'.
Recent statistics show that we work longer hours and drink far less then we used to. Many more Australians go to the beach than to the bush and despite the iconic male bushman, for most men and women in Australia the beach is far more central to our identity and lives, as the majority of the population lives closer to our coastal shores. ' The Australian Legend', in itself is an a curate portrayal and recount of one part of society, from a specific era, ie. the Australian bushman of the 1890's. Its exaggerations, however, such as the romanticism of the bush ethos by Australian writers, the unbalanced use of evidence, and the neglect to acknowledge the contribution to our national identity from certain sections of society, ie. aboriginal people, city-dwellers, women, and non-British immigrants, render this book to be flawed. For these reasons, it cannot be regarded as a complete and balanced account of Australian history.