Feminist Friday – Australia’s pioneering women

So lately I have been studying the works of some early Australian writers as part of my university course. Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson are much loved Australian poets who began publishing their work in the 1880s. Through the next few decades they and other similar writers came to define the ‘typical’ Australia. In particular they mythologised ‘the bush’ and ‘bushmen’ as rugged individuals stoicly facing and defeating nature in Australia’s pioneering days. But as I read more and more of the short stories and poems that come from this period I couldn’t help but wonder about the women that were missing from the stories. Weren’t the wives of Australia’s pioneers themselves pioneers? Women bore the bushland’s burdens on behalf of their men in the same way they bore their babies. By making a hut in the bush into a home women provided these mythical pioneering men with a place of refuge within the solitude of the bush. Women were meant to be stoic and cheerful, never bereft of hope, despite disappointment and misfortune, while taking care of the never ending tasks of cleaning, cooking, mending, or caring for the sick and children. Men got to rest at the end of their hard-earned working day. Always in the background, women were seen to provide the supporting role while the real work was being done in creating the nation. Or so the myth goes that was perpetuated by Australia’s early writers. The reality was that the nation could not have been created without the efforts of both men and women. So here is to all those early pioneers, regardless of their gender.

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