Russel Ward, The Australian Legend - Book Review Essay

This essay has a total of 1234 words and 6 pages.

Russel Ward, The Australian Legend - Book Review

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 Authour 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 romanticised 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
Furphy. 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 1880s. 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 mateship,
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 generalisations 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.'


Continues for 3 more pages >>




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