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Aussie bush mythology

Much has been written about the Australian landscape painting tradition. It is fair to say that painted works concerned with the Australian bush myth often take their lead from their literary counterparts in the form of poetry and prose. It has often been noted that tales of the rugged and hard working Australian bush pioneers are often highly romanticised ones. For some reason it has struck a cord and remains perrenially and deeply a part of our Australian consciousness. Ironically, during our short history, notable Aussie poets and painters often lived in urban areas, often quite close to the coast. Even though Fred Mc Cubbin was the son of a baker, pioneering characters like those pictured in 'Down on his Luck' are straight from the literary imagination. They are as much romantic constructs as they are reflections on real people and events. It is with an awareness of our inclination to sentimentality that we endearingly hang on to the bush myths and their earthy and pragmatic associations. The characters, if anything, appear to personify attributes that are aspirational in the Australian character. Apparently the model for the somewhat saturnine bush character in this painting is the artist's friend and fellow painter Louis Abrahams.

Fred McCubbin, Down on His Luck (1904), oils on canvas, 600 x 446 cm

Recently I was reading about Coral Landsbury's (interestingly, both Malcolm Turnbull's Mum and cousin of the actress Angela Landsbury) views on the evolution of the 'bush myth' and its staying power in the Australian consciousness. A scholar of Victorian literature, Coral Landsbury wrote about the relationship between the industrial revolution in Britain and the loss of an idyllic lifestyle. Writers of the time, according to Landsbury looked to a romanticised arcadian Australia to rejuvenate the myth of a life lived with a more immediate connection with the landscape. Landsbury's Arcady in Australia: The Evocation of Australia in Nineteenth Century English Literature examines the relationship between Victorian literature in the 1800's and the creation of images and sentiments central to the Australian national character. In it she writes; "The popular image of Australia in England was arcadian: in turn it dominated the thought and tradition of writing in Australia."

Landsbury argues that the romanticising of the bush tradition and its defining role in the shaping of our national character was problematic for Australian writers as they were pulled between the cultural heritage of the bush myth and the less aesthetic yet more authentic narrative of real bush life.

I wonder if the conceptual gap between the images created by the literary imagination and the lived reality has been a space that our creatives return to in an attempt to reconcile the myth and the real. It is possible that we continue to be drawn back to these 'arcadian narratives' and the bush myths in order to navigate and attempt to make sense of the anomalies between fact and fiction. At once both weaving together and teasing apart recurring themes to test their validity and veracity. The space is fortunately inexhaustible as the examination is worth renewing in each contemporary cycle of our culture. It is also perennialy salient because with the re-telling of fictions they slowly become facts, as we look to adopt the traits that we aspire to embody.

Imants Tillers, Mt. Analogue, (1985) oilsticks and acrylic on 65 canvas boards, 279 x 571 cm

Such is the mechanism of culture. It is at once both imaginary and real, where one becomes the other. The fact is we live in the fog of fictions.

Imants Tillers, Melancholy Landscape IV (2008), acrylic and gouache on 72 canvas boards, 230 x 284.5cm

The article which inspired this blog was published in 'The Weekend Australian' on the 19-20 December, 2015. If you wish to read it for yourself the article is titled"The Literary Mother who shaped Turnbull's Thinking". It is written by the eminently readable Glenda Korporaal.


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