A Speech about the Australian Image
We are shown many varying images of Australia, all meant to represent some part of our character, our culture. In reality, like any multicultural society, each portrayal is more representative of an individual or collective dream. To actually portray a truly accurate Australian image, you would display any number of cultural symbols from the world that has come here. However, in the history of texts about the Australian Image, there has been a recurring figure. The Individual. The Wog Boy, Crocodile Dundee, Ned Kelly, Nikki Webster. All figures that represent something. In the case of those people, they also had friends, mates. They are also positive role models in one way or another. This individual, however, has a dark side. While there are many individual winners, there are also the lonely individuals. This lonely Australian with nightmares instead of dreams is a common visitor to our texts. (Thesis)
The Individual Winners
The traditional Australian image has developed into a friendly, welcoming one - for example Paul Hogan telling Americans to come down and we will put another shrimp on the barbie. This welcome had its ultimate celebration in the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. It featured the many colours of Australia, all coming together under a flying white symbol of innocence, Nikki Webster - the ceremony being all part of her dream of a united and friendly Australia. Here, with these texts, we not only get a welcome, but we get a glimpse of that great Australian icon, the Individual.
[topic sentence] The individual has been many things, such as a strong character, helping to build Australia. [example and discussion] One such example are the individual shearers painted by Tom Roberts. In this painting, Roberts demonstrates his vision of Australia as a vibrant place filled with heroic individuals. In this vision, the dream is for a progressive Australia. [technique and why it is used] He paints them in bright, vibrant colours - this choice of colour helping to underline the strength of the individuals inside it. In case you think these are a group, working together, Roberts uses various techniques to highlight the best shearer. These include having him at the front and in the middle, with all of the paintings vectors pointing towards him.
[optional paragraph here to show other examples of how to look at visual texts] Other examples of this strong individual can be seen throughout visual texts. "The Man from Snowy River" is another symbol of Individual Strength, in this picture pointing upwards to indicate human power combining with animal strength. The final example here could be the defiant Ned Kelly riding, stark in his metal helmet against the desolate Australian bush. This picture symbolises something else as well, but more on this later.
The Lonely Individual
However, in the history of Australian texts, the individual is often lonely. In the 19th Century, he (invariably in the 19th century, a he) is in the bush, struggling with life by himself. This is in evidence with much of the artwork by Frederick McCubbin. The first painting here has a boy, facing away right of centre, arm over his eyes to indicate his feelings of fright and despair. The dreams of this figure are more likely to be nightmares. That arm is also pointing away from the front. Having the boy facing away from the centre, arm and body facing away from the front has the deliberate effect of creating a sense of just how small the boy is, compared to the enormity of the bush surrounding him.
This image of the Australian individual being defeated in a bush setting is a continuous theme in the poetry of Les Murray. "The Widower in the Country" has a lonely man, having lost his wife, getting up late, chopping wood, making tea and watching the sun reflect from the roof. Basically, a man living from day to day - his dreams of a good and full life taken away. Then the sun will move on, and I will simply watch, or work, or sleep. The repetition of "or" indicates the boredom and disinterest in the choices, with "simply" reinforcing that this mans complex life has been taken away, replaced by the struggle of the day to day life.
[second paragraph on the same topic, highlighting a particular feature of text manipulation] The bush in this poem is a place that emphasises pain and desolation. Here, the Christmas paddocks ache in the heat, highlighting the windless trees and nettles all three being unpleasant features of Australian geography and botany. Murray chooses these features because he wants the responder to feel the pain of the widower, asking them to see the negative Australian bush.
Another feature of this lonely individual and their relationship with the bush is the role of technology in the bush. An interesting example is the Ned Kelly series painted by Sidney Nolan, especially the one featured. While Ned riding in the bush could be seen as defiant, it could also be seen as rather pointless and ridiculous. In all of Nolan's paintings of Ned, his humanity has been replaced by the metal helmet and suit. This emphasises that Australia's most enduring representation of Ned always has a man hidden by a metal hat and suit. When the hat, the suit and his horse are alone in a desolate Australian bush, away from its context (that of a criminal attempting to protect himself), it looks ridiculous. There is none of Ned's dream of Irish-Australian freedom in this picture. In this painting at least, Ned is shown as a lonely and stupid individual using technology for no real, practical purpose.
Les Murray has a similar view of the individuals who use technology and live in the country (or "bush"). "Driving through Sawmill Towns" has Murray painting a desolate country town. Here, the youths who work at the sawmill dont talk to strangers, ashamed of their lives. A woman of the town has a similarly dull life sweeping her front step looking for a city, indicating a desire to leave the country and go to the exciting cities. These dreams of escape from the bush are fed by song[s] of sidewalks - indicating an American influence over the portrayal of cities. Murray emphasises this loneliness by describing the evening as being very quiet, so quiet that a light going out in a window here has meaning. In this town, being an individual could be tough if you leave your light on too late, or turn it off earlier than usual.
In conclusion, these are various lonely individuals and the people they know. It is certainly not the dream of these people to be lonely, however, it is their lives. A very different one from what we see today as the dominant Australian image. These are the lonely Australians, in a foreign and harsh land. Instead of conquering the bush, like The Man from Snowy River, Crocodile Dundee, and the rest, these characters do not live in harmony and see it as spiky, filled with heat and nettles. For a great number of us suburban people, this is our true relationship with the bush. If it wasn't, we'd be out there, building a new Australia. We're not. That's probably a good reason why we need our texts to better reflect our suburban existence. That, however, is for a different time and a different speech.
The Artworks Discussed
|A Man Being the Man from Snowy River
|One of Nolan's Ned Kelly series