Mateship in Australian Literature & History

Literature is rather a particular topic to write on because it presupposes that the person who writes on it has a profound knowledge not only of the topic he or she deals with but also has a great amount of background knowledge of a certain country’s history, culture customs, and traditions. Literature of every particular country involves lots of specifically national lexical units and cultural realia which are hard to understand without special knowledge about this or that phenomenon. Every particular literary genre has its own peculiarities, it either describes reality (present, past, or future) or invents some unreal events in order to predict the future or just to entertain the reader.

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For instance, historical literature is only factual literature that can sometimes employ some distortion of reality for a better artistic effect but nevertheless operates with pure facts. On the contrary, science-fiction or fantasy genres of literature present the picture of the desired state of things or just model the future of mankind as it seems to the author. Although this kind of works can have some factual or scientific data, the basis of fantasy is the author’s imagination. As we see, there are lots of peculiar features possessed by every literary genre and without knowing them it would be hard for any of us to understand the explicit and the implicit, underlying, the information conveyed in this or that book.

To speak specifically about the Australian literature we can not but pay our attention to all the factors enumerated above and, in addition, we should keep in mind that Australian literature can not be viewed out of the context of this country’s history. Besides, a multicultural and multiracial society formed with the flow of centuries in Australia predetermined specific ways of the country’s literature development. In this essay, we are going to study basic features of Australian literature paying special attention to the expression of the concept of “mateship” in the works of Australian authors.

To be most specific we are going to support the statements and thoughts expressed in this essay with quotations from the works by such representatives of Australian literature as Miles Franklin (“My Brilliant Career”), Rosa Praed (“The Bushman’s Love Story”), Henry Lawson (“The Drover’s Wife”) and Barbara Baynton (“The Chosen Vessel”). In order to make our essay, more information we should at first provide certain brief background information about Australian history and culture. This will allow us to understand better the essence of the literary works we are going to address in this essay and realize better the main ideas of the Australian literature on the whole.

Australia is the continent discovered only in the 16th century by the Dutch seamen. In 1770 British fleet headed by James Cook reached Australia and made it the territory of Great Britain under the name of New South Wales. From that time on Australia became the penal colony owned by the United Kingdom. The indigenous people who had inhabited the country long before Europeans discovered it had no alternative but to become suppressed by the more powerful and modernly equipped European invaders.

With the time spent, the penal colony where lots of convicts from Great Britain and all its lands were sent for imprisonment, became a trading and economic region with great prospective so the metropolis started paying more attention to the development of the colony, especially when great deposits of gold were discovered in the land and the golden rush of the 1850s began. Since then the development of Australian culture on the whole, and literature, in particular, started at high rates.

Australian literature is rather a peculiar phenomenon that comprises the features of several cultures and is concerned with some specific topics which are not typical of any other country’s literature. Here such topics are meant as the problem of national identity of the representatives of various ethnic minorities Australia is inhabited with, cultural identity, belonging to a certain place of living, feminism, and the issue of a place of a woman in the society.

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Aboriginal prose and poetry comprise another wide area of the Australian literary legacy, it expresses the pain of the indigenous population of Australia caused by the takeover of their motherland by armies of aliens. It is, as well as all other issues, based on the history and culture of Australia. The topic of “mateship” is one of the basic in the Australian literature, many other concepts are based on it and the authors like Miles Franklin and Barbara Baynton profoundly explore the topic in their works.

“My Brilliant Career” by Miles Franklin is a story about a young girl whose understanding of the notion of mateship is quite different from what it generally means for humans. The story is autobiographical, so we can say that the views of Sybylla Melvyn are the views of the author herself. Miles Franklin (1879 – 1954) was a famous Australian writer known for feminist ideas and struggle for a uniquely Australian manner of writing.

The heroine of her novel also expresses a kind of feminist attitude towards life and mateship as its integral part. Sybylla displays controversial feelings towards others, she looks at the world as at the entity of people who try to prevent her from reaching her goals, she lacks self-conscious and this results in her being envious: “…she is one of the most insipid-looking people I had set eyes upon” (Franklin, 137). These words are describing Miss Derrick, one of her friends, whom people consider being more beautiful than Sybylla, and the girl was jealous about it because she”had no charms to recommend me-none of the virtues which men demand of the woman they wish to make their wife. To begin with, I was small, I was erratic and unorthodox, I was nothing but a tomboy-and, cardinal disqualification, I was ugly” (Franklin 143).

Her relation towards man is not distinct also. On one hand, she is looking for a man who would compensate her need in a strong personality like her father was, and she finds it in Harold Beecham. But on the other hand, she will not allow him to express his intentions and laughs at him when he tries to get her answer: “Is this not rather sudden? You have given me no intimation of your intentions” (Franklin 140). From this, we can conclude that Sybylla’s attitude towards mateship is rather controversial and her point of view can not be taken as the proper one.

Rosa Campbell Praed (1851 – 1935) expresses an absolutely opposite attitude towards mateship, towards her motherland, and the values of genuine Australians. The writer whose almost whole life was spent far away from her native country, in England, never forgot Australia and what it meant to be an Australian. All works by Rosa Praed are concerned about the issue of national identity, the life of indigenous people, and those who left Australia for this or that reason. “The Bushman’s Love Story” is not an exception to this rule, it is the story about a couple of young people, bushmen, an Australian aborigine inhabitant, and a white woman, who are far away from their native land.

They reminisce their motherland trying to create the Australian atmosphere in London: “We were trying to imagine that it was an Australian verandah – the bushman, the Sydney-townsman, and I. But it was only a narrow London balcony in which we were sitting – the balcony looking out on a London square so that imagination had et herself a somewhat difficult task. Nevertheless, we had done our utmost to conjure up the old bush atmosphere. We had talked in the bush vernacular – which as all true Australians know, is a language by itself” (Praed, 202). These lines exemplify clearly that the heroes of the story know what true mateship is, they feel their roots even being so far away from their motherland.

Henry Lawson’s (1867 – 1922) works also present some different aspects of the notion of mateship in Australian literature. The author was known as a prominent humanist and suffragist (supporter of women in their struggle for getting voting rights). His works combine the topics of ethnic identity of Australians and such burning issues of the 19th century as equality of rights for both sexes.

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Lawson’s work “The Drover’s Wife” is a bright example of his writing reflecting the vast majority of the topics this writer and poet was concerned with. The main idea of the story lies in describing the life of bushmen, all their emotions and feeling they have for the members of their family, the virtue of family as it is and love as the base for building the whole life. The following lines reflect the essence of mateship as it was understood by Henry Lawson: “And she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over the bush.” (Lawson, 10).

Barbara Baynton (1857 – 1929) is a well-known Australian short-story writer who was always concerned with the issues of mateship which was popular in Australia in the 19th century but did not have any practical manifestations in the real life of people. The rights of ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and the rights of women were violated, and the author tried to fight this by means of her literary activities. The story called “The Chosen Vessel” touches on the problem of racial and sexual inequality and the contradiction of reality to the claimed ideals of Australian society.

So, the conclusion is that the Australian authors expressed differently the idea of mateship in their works. Although all the cited authors lived at almost the same time, their ideas vary in reflecting the issue of mateship.

Works Cited

Franklin, M 2006 “My Brilliant Career”, Filiquarian Publishing, USA.

Praed, R 1987 “The Bushman’s Love Story”, Fitzroy, Vic.: McPhee Gribble, pp. 202 – 219.

Lawson, H 1901”The Drover’s Wife”, Blackwood, Edinburgh, and London.

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