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The Problem of Australia’s Unique National Identity Essay

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Updated: Aug 10th, 2022

Kay Schaffer’s critique aims to examine the formation of a national character, taking into account the concept of the typical Australian and the associated woman through the example of historical and literary texts. According to the writer, one of the most common constructs entrenched in people’s minds and influencing their perception today is the image of the Australian bushman in opposition to nature. These images of Australian identity and statehood as social and cultural constructs are rooted in myths, traditions, and literary works and have shaped ideas about gender and its differences since discovering the continent.

Providing food for the concept that Australia was founded as a nation in the bush by strong male labor, Francis Adams praises the bushman and mentions bush is no place for a woman. According to Schaffer (1989), this idea gives rise to excluding women from the representation and formation of the Australian nation. Schaffer examines a dominant representation of the Australian landscape, the fantasy of the bush as a consuming landscape, that can draw up its inhabitants.

The first point Schaffer (1989) makes is that in the early days of discovery, travelers saw nature as a playground for entertainment, describing it as playful and capricious. After scientists had shown interest in the natives of the new lands, aboriginal women were perceived as damned. During exile, women who ended up in a correctional colony were considered trash and devils. Charles Eyre recognized his obsession with this landscape / this woman, then, to explorers, the land seems veiled, seductive, and exotic. As the land was developed and settled, nature began to be viewed as harsh, rough, and cruel, as the bush was described in Lawson’s stories. Schaffer (1989) concludes that there is a phenomenon of the ambivalence of the concept, rooted in the population’s perception.

Shaffer, referring to the film Picnic at Hanging Rock, based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, emphasizes the fantasy of earth as an absorbing presence that exists in society. Nature absorbs three young girls and a teacher, reinforcing ideas in the national tradition. Schaffer argues the bush can be seen as “the original mother” as it devours the schoolgirls, showing there is no place for women in the bush. Thus, cultural and literary narratives could form a distorted perception, but this gives uniqueness to the national character, making it authentic in the discourse on national identity.

Reference List

Schaffer, K., 1989. ‘Women and the bush: Australian national identity and representations of the feminine’, Antipodes, 3(1), pp.7-13.

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