Activity 2: The bush experience in the nation's identity

(The following activities could also be used in an English class.)

Materials required

Extracts from Australian Readers Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Collection:


'Bush Heroes', introduction, page 33
'The Drover's Wife', pages 36 - 37 and questions 1 and 2 on page 48
'A Fortunate Life', pages 33 - 35
'The Burke and Wills Expedition', page 33
'The Drover's Wife', page 36
'The Pioneer', page 27


Materials for collage
Paper and pens

Key questions

  • How has the Australian landscape been used to establish certain ideas about national characteristics?
  • Do earlier ideas about Australian identity continue to be relevant today?

2.1 Introduction

Read the short introduction to 'Bush Heroes'. Discuss the students' experiences with the bush. Why would you need to be resourceful living in the bush? Why 'unsentimental'?

Together, students look at the paintings and identify the content. Is there anything recognisably Australian about the paintings? If so, what is it?

2.2 Exploring the bush experience through images and story

Students choose the two paintings that they see as being most 'Australian'. They develop two lists of words to describe the positive and negative emotions they might feel imagining themselves in the paintings. One list might express such emotions as loneliness, isolation and fear; the other such emotional responses as determination, independence and self-reliance. Trigger students' responses by asking: How would you feel if you were trying to build a home, explore the unknown or exist so alone, in these circumstances?

Read 'The Drover's Wife' extract aloud. Lead a class discussion using questions 1 and 2 about this extract on page 48. Students then read the extract 'A Fortunate Life' independently. (English teachers could use these extracts to introduce and explore the autobiographical genres required in the following writing exercise.)

Assuming the identity of an imagined Australian bush character, each student writes a short story, letter or diary extract to reflect the demands, sorrows and satisfaction that develop from their encounter with the Australian landscape.

Focus questions

  • Why were early Australians prepared to work so hard and face such difficulties?
  • Would we describe these people as 'battlers'? Why?
  • Do Australians admire 'battlers'?
  • Are there any challenges of modern-day Australian life that are as great as those faced by earlier Australians? If so, what are they?

2.3 Images of modern Australia

Students work in small groups to construct a collage representing those things they agree as being most valuable to and most representative of modern Australian life. They may represent city, suburban or country experiences. Each group presents and explains its collage to the class.

Lead a class discussion based on the collages.

Focus questions

  • What do modern Australians value most about living in Australia?
  • Are there any connections between the things that were important about Australian life in the past and Australian life today?
  • If stories about Australians at war and Australians struggling to survive in the bush were important stories about Australia in the past, what contemporary stories of Australians (told in music, painting, prose or poetry) should we be attending to if we want to understand how we see ourselves today?
  • Are we telling some new stories or are we continuing to see ourselves in the same old ways?

Introduction | Activity 1 | Activity 3