Peer Review XIII




BLOG IV: The Pioneers

On the Wallaby Track [1896] is a classic Australian painting, which tells the story of pioneers in the bush, using the classic Aussie slang of that time. The artist Frederick McCubbin, a former bakery cart driver and apprentice coach painter (Thomas) had it posed by his own family {NSW Gallery}; his wife Annie Lucy nee Moriarty, and one of their seven children (Thomas).

For readers of The Tree of Man, you can see depicted the classic image of the bush, the first settlers to a new area. The man and woman could be Stan and Amy Parker, while the child she is holding could be baby Ray.

Therefore, McCubbin has depicted the pioneer family of the bush, on canvas. Just as Patrick White would depict them in print, sixty years later.

Both stories tie in closely to the classic legend of the Garden of Eden: man, woman and child alone together in nature, a garden if not a wilderness. Some call it actual historical fact, others a religious allegory, perhaps the best name for the story is Whitefella Dreaming.

The bushman could be Adam; providing for his family in an elemental way, by building a campfire. The woman could be Eve, or perhaps Amy Parker, the first woman in this Garden. Her child could be Cain, later a notorious murderer, but then an innocent baby. Just as Ray Parker was once an innocent child ‘the little, perfect boy, lying in the gold of the morning on the open bed. The sun glittered on his mouth and the first down of hair.’ (White 114). Later he will grow up to be a criminal, or sociopath, or perhaps his sister Thelma’s assessment: “Listen, Dad, about Ray, it has been terrible for you, I can see, but he is no good” (White 276).

If we look at the contemporary bush meaning of On the Wallaby Track, it refers to itinerant workers travelling through the bush, looking for work. This makes us even more sympathetic to this lady; trailing behind her husband, encumbered by both her long skirt and the little one clinging to it, whom she is required to bring up in a tent. Perhaps the child was born in one, like Henry Lawson. No wonder she looks so exhausted!

At least her bloke is a support, he is considerate enough to make them both a cuppa of billy tea.

Another McCubbin painting which is closer to the experience of Stan and Amy Parker, is The Pioneer [1904]. This is displayed in Melbourne, where it is part of the city’s history, just as The Tree of Man is really a history of Sydney’s Hills District (Durilgai sounds like a mixture of Dural and Mt Kuringai). However, the way both depict the bush pioneering experience so accurately, they could be anywhere.

The first image shows the couple arriving at their new home, among the thick trees.


August is a month when you feel that winter is over, but then find out that you are wrong.  Sure as the wind blows, as it does in all its frosty glory.


You have become used to the short days, the rare midday sunshine which is like precious gold.  Sometimes, you even become used to the way all the warmth leaves the air, when the sun goes to bed.  All you can do is pull that jacket tighter, as night falls.


You have seen the flowers that mitigate this:  first the camellias, then the waxy artwork that every magnolia is, the bright orange of Lady Bowen’s creeper, and then the superb golden sunshine that is the wattle, condensed into those fragrant blooms.  These are your consolations of the season.


Just as the naked twigs are beginning to be covered in baby green leaves, and spring blossoms, and you think it is all over, the winds start.  Everyone starts up complaining about the cold again.  You say, yes, that wind must be blowing right off the Antarctic icecaps, way down south, in fact right by the South Pole.


So button up your jackets, and fasten your scarves, then try not to be discontented.  It’s not quite over yet, folks.