Russel Ward, The Australian Legend - Book Review

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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 w... ... middle of paper ... ... Although partially true in its time, the Australian bush legend fades more and more as time progresses. The Australian identity of the 1890s was not the same as it was in the 1950s, 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 acurate portrayal and recount of one part of society, from a specific era, ie. the Australian bushman of the 1890s. 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.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that historians often overlook or exaggerate certain aspects of australian history to make their point. discuss with reference to one of the recommended texts.
  • Analyzes how the book 'the australian legend', written by russell ward and published in 1958, speaks mainly of australia's identity. it looks at nationalism and what has formed our self-image.
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