Manfred the Poet

HISTORY of Bush Poetry

THE BULLETIN - Bushman's Bible


One of Australia's most renowned literary magazines, the Bulletin, was founded here in 1880 by J. F. Archibald and John Hayes. The early works of Henry Lawson and A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson were published by the Bulletin. The Archibald Fountain, built with money donated by Archibald, is located in Sydney's Hyde Park. The annual Archibald prize for a portraiture is also the result of Archibald's generosity.

The Bulletin began life in 1880, the brainchild of J F Archibald, as a city gossip sheet, full of news about the Sydney social scene, the despised NSW Governor and the less-than impressive Macquarie Street politicians. Staunchly republican, Archibald’s Bulletin castigated people who saw Australia as a "small slip of land lying between Tom Ugly’s Point and Barrenjoey", about the area the early paper covered.

Archibald’s ideal was to have the paper read for its honesty, intelligence and liveliness and read by men and women everywhere. It steadily became apparent that the bush was providing the best support base for new material to keep his publication alive – the growth of trade unions, moves towards federation and the growth in population all contributing valuable subject matter for discussion and publication.

The Bulletin did have competitors in the bush market, namely the Sydney Mail and the Town and Country Journal but the support base was steady enough that it grew from year to year and remained popular with the core readership of shearers, farmers and those in favour of a move towards an Australian republic.

J.F. Archibald and John Haynes, was in favour of the immediate end of constitutional connections between the Australian colonies and Great Britain, and virulently antagonistic to British, particularly English, cultural influence. In the Bulletin’s perception no progress worth celebrating had been made since 1788. The Bulletin’s centennial issue argued:


‘A century of grovel has almost abolished the virtue of self-reliance, and Australia has learned to put her trust in pawnbrokers until she has little that she can really call her own ...And it is in honour of these things that Australia rises to celebrate the great day when her ancestors were lagged. Another such century and it will be time for us to be transported to Patagonia’.


Bush nationalism is not new to Australia. In the late 19th century, writers like Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were promoted by the newly established Bulletin, in a strategy to counter the dominance of English culture. Blending a melancholy, even tragic, image of the land with an abrasive distrust of things foreign, the weekly journal fed a romantic tendency in the Australian consciousness that is still evident. But The Bulletin's founder, J.F.Archibald, was a Francophile (who changed his first names from John Feltham to Jules Francois), Lawson rarely left Sydney as an adult, and the majority of white Australians, even then, lived in cities and rural towns. For all its self-promotion as the Bushman's Bible, The Bulletin quickly became the most popular publication for city readers, as well as country people.


The majority of writers were, by the late nineteenth century, native born, and though loyalty to the British Empire could be counted on in crisis situations such as the Boer War (1899-1901), there were many expressions of republicanism e.g. Henry Lawson's first published poem in the Bulletin, The Song of the Republic. The 1890s were tough economic times marked by severe drought, economic recession and crippling strikes. Writing about the bush became more realistic and less romantic, as seen in Henry Lawson's stories about outback life. Even though Australian society was in reality becoming more urban, the 'bush' continued to dominate literature.

Verse generally showed the same preoccupation with bush themes. A. B. Paterson wrote The Man from Snowy River (1895), Clancy of the Overflow and Waltzing Matilda. Henry Lawson produced The Old Bark School (1897) among many other works. Bernard O'Dowd was one of the most radical nationalists, describing Australia in The Southern Call (1913) as a land of 'Love and Liberty', a 'Promised Land' that would welcome 'the wronged of ages singing songs of Human Rights.'

In the early twentieth century, urban themes became more common in Australian literature, as seen in the poetry of Christopher Brennan and in C. J. Dennis' verse about Melbourne larrikins.

Henry Lawson (1867-1922) was the best known of all the Bulletin contributors. His writing focused on the endurance of the people in the outback, both men and women, as in the Drovers Wife. He emphasised the heroism and mateship of the workers and the loneliness and isolation of bush life.

Steele Rudd (Arthur Hoey Davis) (1868-1935) became famous for his Dad and Dave characters which appeared in Bulletin stories from 1895. His humorous accounts of life on a small selection (farm), On Our Selection (1899) and Our New Selection (1903), were followed by Dad and Dave in Politics and Stocking Our Selection. The stories were turned into plays and eventually films and radio plays.

Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) was an artist and writer whose contributions to the Bulletin magazine covered a long period of time and whose influence was felt by other writers, especially poets such as Hugh McCrae and Kenneth Slessor. Norman Lindsay became a centre of controversy in the conservative cultural life of Australia. His flamboyant illustrations shocked many of his contemporaries. He provided support and illustrations for the work of poets like Hugh McCrae in Satyrs and Sunlight.

THE LOREMAKERS February 27, 2002

Mark Twain's genius was his ability to turn the words and
stories of ordinary Americans into literature. In the same way, The Bulletin writers Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson forged a new narrative of a nation. Les Carlyon looks at what made these men great storytellers.

Les Carlyon uses a new documentary on Mark Twain as a starting point for an essay on the birth of vernacular writing. Carlyon argues that Twain's approach to writing and storytelling was similar to that practised by The Bulletin school, Henry Lawson, A.B. Paterson and others.

Of course, Twain visited Sydney in 1895 as part of a round-the-world lecture tour to earn money to pay off debts which had bankrupted him. His experiences were recorded in Following the Equator. Twain was a raging success here and while in Sydney, he hooked up with The Bulletin's editor and founder J.F. Archibald.

The hardworking Archibald had few hobbies other than fishing, a pastime Twain had enjoyed in his childhood on the Mississippi and later immortalised in print. Pat Rolfe's history of The Bulletin, The Journalistic Javelin, tells the story of one of Archibald's and Twain's encounters. "When Twain was in Sydney, they went fishing together and it was said that Archibald had a lad posted below the cliff with supplies of freshly caught fish to make sure the American writer's line was regularly weighted."

Source: The Bulletin