Australian Literature

Australian Poetry

From 1830, the distinctive voices that many associate with Australian poetry began to emerge. The poems they crafted conjure up images of the bush and he hard life in the colonies. Henry Kendall and Dorothea MacKellar are two of the most well known poets of the age – their poems chronicling the life and stories of early life in the colonies. Henry Kendall, born in 1839, and dying in 1882, was one of the well-read and well-known bush poets that Australia produced during the colonial period. During the 1870s, Kendall and his family lived in Gosford, and he wrote beautiful poetry throughout his life such as “Bellbirds.”

Moving through the nineteenth century, the allure of the bush and landscape, and the bushrangers informed many other poets. Australian poets from the 1890s onwards were inspired by a “literary nationalism”, and captured what their Australia was in their poems, espousing Australian values and using their imaginations to describe what was “real” around them.

There are a few key bush poets that informed the Australian identity and what it meant to be part of Australia through their experiences. Lawson was writing in the days before Federation, at a time when loyalty was given towards the colony one lived in, as Australia as a nation did not yet exist. As the first Australian born writer to look at the landscape of Australia through the eyes of an Australian, he was probably the first to write about the landscape without being influenced by others. Like others, Lawson experienced the hardships of life on the land, the bush and unemployment: themes he used in his writing that resonated with his readers.

Along with Banjo Paterson, Lawson was a regular contributor to “The Bulletin.” This publication would have helped in their future careers. One of Lawson’s most well known work is “The Drover’s Wife.” Paterson has many well known poems, such as “Waltzing Matilda,” a national icon and song, and “The Man From Snowy River,” both bush ballads reflecting the harsh life that these people lived and the extreme lengths the swagman in “Waltzing Matilda” went to in order to avoid being arrested. These works are seminal works within Australia, and show what it means to live off the land, perhaps a concept that these days we fail to grasp.

Australian poetry is more than the bush poets. Modern Australian poetry emerged from the modernist debate of the 1930s and 1940s. A marker of Australian poetry is said to be the richness and vitality that can be found in its diversity – in subject matter, characters, and poets. Following the debate in the 1930s and 1940s, two poetry movements emerged in Adelaide: The Jindyworobak poets and the Angry Penguins. Where the Jindyworobak poets encouraged Australians to express themselves in language that held up the essence of being Australian, the Angry Penguins wanted Australian poetry to become innovative and international through the use of surrealism. These two movements had a profound impact, creating a style that is uniquely Australian, and that explores national, urban and social issues – perhaps an extension of the bush poetry from Paterson and Lawson.

The poetry that appealed to the Jindyworobak poets explored not just the experience of white Australia and bush poetry, but elements of Aboriginal culture, landscapes and the natural environment. A step towards diversity and one might hope, diverse voices in poetry, these poets broke down the image of Australia as put forth by bush poets and added their voices to it. One Jindyworobak poet, Roland Robison, contributed his Aboriginal voice, through words and symbols from Aboriginal culture and the Dreaming stories during the 1940s and 1950s. It appears that the Jindyworobaks used traditional poetry styles to tell stories through poems with various themes. In contrast, the Angry Penguins wanted to challenge orthodox views of what poetry, and indeed literature, was.

Current Australian literature and poetry seems to have benefited from both these movements and prior styles. There is a place for both within the literary canon. Where one promoted a more diverse range of poetry, and brought about changes to poems only told by white settlers, the other offered an alternative way of looking at the world through the lens of being Australian. The role that all these aspects of Australian poetry has played in shaping the literary culture and world has been in allowing a range of styles and voices to be explored and heard through verse, exposing hardships and triumphs to the nation, and giving Australians a cultural identity to share with each other and the world.

Published by Ashleigh Meikle

Ashleigh is an aspiring writer and has been writing for many years. Her interests are varied and she has written in a variety of genres in fiction and nonfiction.

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