There is in the Australian culture an image of “the city-shunning man who is self-reliant and without affectation, who is laconic and skeptical, but hospitable too, and capable of blind devotion to a male mate.” We have a similar view of the cowboy, though in the movies the individual might be more loyal to his horse than a mate. Their views of the land, the animals they care for, and the elements they struggle against are somewhat parallel, but the methods of expressing themselves in this book are uniquely Australian.
The sayings come from various written sources, books and newspapers, from songs, from the editors’ experiences and things they’ve heard friends and family use on an everyday basis. Richard Woldendorp’s evocative, moving photography adds a resonance to what might otherwise be a laundry list of expressions. It’s a hard life in the bush, populated by men and women tougher than twice-boiled boot leather, as the saying went when I was growing up. They’ve a love affair going with the land, though she is a harsh mistress at best. “She holds my present, future, memory. What can I love, if not the bare brown land?”
Next to a good working dog, a good cook is a valued asset. And the definition of a good cook? “A man is not considered a good bush cook unless he can make tasty soup out of a pair of old socks.” Recipes are simple and to the point: “Place a small roast and a big roast in the camp oven. When the small roast is burnt the big roast is ready to eat.” And of course there is the famous tea made in a billy pot over the fire: “Billy tea is a milkless beverage flavored with eucalyptus and ants; it takes some ability to make and some agility to drink.”
They must come from a long line of make do, these Australians. From houses made from corrugated-iron looking rather like steel cardboard in Western Australia to cottages made from timber slabs there is a sense of pride in survival about these photographs. Religion is looked upon with a dubious eye – “The priest is boundary-ridin’ for the Pope” – but faith is not totally discounted for, as the saying goes, “Mebbe there’s a God that knows.”
This is a lovely book, filled with pride in the land and its people. I highly recommend it to anyone with the least interest in Australia or fine photography.