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Elements of Art in The Drover’s Wife


Henry Lawson’s short stories were the first to describe the Australian landscape realistically and depict characters as distinctly Australian with Australian voices and cadences.  Lawson also uses techniques such as humour and imagery to convey his message to us the responders, he is known for his gifted writings and truthfulness.

The Drover’s Wife runs a simple plot, yet elaborates with many elements of ‘loneliness and solitude’ while enduring ‘pain and suffering’ obstacles that the persona undergoes. For instance, the uninvited serpent endangering her family, reminds of a past – death of her child “nineteen miles for assistances, carrying the dead child”, feels self isolation “thunderstorm comes, and the wind… threatens to blow out her candle.”

The anonymous nature of the character told by an ‘omniscient narrator’ in third person, “bush all around bush with no horizon, for the country is flat” gives us an evocative view of only the drover’s wife. She is not given a name because the composer wanted his story to encompass all ‘bush women.’ Anecdotes, of such tales as “she fought a bush-fire once while her husband was away’ gives the persona qualities to her character and allowing her to ‘tell a story within a story’ creating empathy in the audience.   The pathetic life resonates, reverberates and resounds.

1.    Plain realistic tale of an anonymous bush mother instinctively protecting her children from danger -  a snake. The Drover’s wife embodies the spirit that is deeply universal and eternal in humans.

This is the flip side of the Garden of Eden; instead of the tree of knowledge with its forbidden fruit, we have stunted apple trees with a snake.  Despite the tragic realism of her predicament, the anonymous wife soldiers on stoically.

2.    True to life  “The bush consists of stunted rotten native apple trees. Nothing to relieve the eye....”

3.    Direct laconic homespun style – little embellishment.

4.    Almost artless – no discernable craft merely bush yarns- more of a sketch or vignette than a filled in portrait.  An anecdote.

5.    Surface simplicity is deceptive - Begins with a simple character of a bush woman but when he has exposed her past through her thoughts and memory flashbacks we feel as if we know her intimately.  The ending echoes, resonates and reverberates with poignancy.

6.    Isolation and loneliness represented by her remoteness;

“nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilisation – a shanty on the main road.”

Monotony of bush and lifestyle – all days much the same so she dresses up on Sundays and promenades in the bush to avoid staleness and counter sensory deprivation.

7.    Representatively Australian with a distinctive unique ring, yet somehow universal:


Complete break from the romantic glamorised depiction of landscape and environment

Economy of expression - Direct laconic homespun style – little embellishment.

Little authorial voice

Master of the understatement – nothing is exaggerated.

Simple Plot with the emphasis on character portrayal.

No heroes or villains

Connected to experience – the story is written in the present tense giving the story an immediacy yet uses flashbacks in the past tense to fill us in on her past.

Short sentences – few complex or compound ones.

Language is generally Australian  vernacular colloquialisms with some mild vulgate.  Any outright vulgarisms are generally blanks.

“Mother, I won’t never go drovin’; blast me if I do”

Tone is heavy and doleful but never defeatist, sentimental or fatalistic.

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