Lawson is quintessential reading for anyone wanting to talk about the Australian bush. The ‘bush’ that he talks about doesn’t exist in quite the same way as it once was, but there are still examples of it, depending on how far out you travel. Lawson gained fame from some of his early sketches, as he called them. His sketches are basically character profiles, detailing a particular day in the life of an individual. In the story, The Drover’s Wife, the titular character is a woman who is left to raise four children, while her husband has gone off droving. They once lived together, but drought has ruined their small farm, and the husband now goes off for periods of six months or more to earn money for them.
The wife is the only adult around. The omniscient narrator advises that at one stage the woman had five children, but the child died while she was there alone. ‘She rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying the dead child,’ the narrator advises.
She is alone in the lonely countryside. She has battled floods and a bush fire to protect her house. “She loves her children, but has no time to show it. She seems harsh on them.’ The woman cries at times and laughs at others. But she continues on. The sketch contains a story, that of a snake that has made its way into the wood heap. The children are excited and try to kill it, along with the dog but it remains inside the heap. Later the woman is trying to get some wood but the heap collapses on her. She is injured. The snake emerges but the dog manages to kill it.
The story, The Drover’s Wife is extremely interesting. It reads like a piece of journalism, yet it contains a restrained emotion that goes further than objective fact. The loneliness and hardship of isolation are ever present. Most Australian’s already know the divide between Henry Lawson’s and Banjo Patterson’s portrayal of the bush, but it is worth noting again. Patterson tends to give a fun, sentimentalised version, while Lawson portrayed the difficulty of life. Lawson’s view is of course much bleaker. At the time, it was not near as popular. A century later however, it has become regarded as just as valuable a contribution to Australian literature.