Abstract: Towards the end of his 2014 book The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia, Don Watson describes the quietening of evenings in the rural fringe just beyond Melbourne’s outskirts where all is stilled save for the tranquil browsing of kangaroos. The raucous laughter of kookaburras then begins to reverberate through this silence. “If nothing else will pin you to your native land,” Watson writes, “this will” (355). Watson’s appeal to the senses as revelatory of a quintessential Australianness by no means underpins or supports crude nationalism, but it does reference the centrality of “the land” or “the bush” in particular evocations of belonging and identity. Our reference to the bush as a source of identity has always been somewhat incongruous given that we are predominantly an urban population and much has been written about this. Curiously, however, nowadays voices from the bush are seldom heard and when so they often draw censure. The bush is spoken for and about but seldom listened to, a position it shares with the working class among others. Despite a suite of significant rural affairs programmes, ABC RN too frequently is dismissive of and condescending towards bush voices. Yet the bush is at the coalface of where so much of what is un-settling (and un-settled) Australia occurred, and because vicariously it is where we locate our essential Australianness, we should be seeking to better understand the lifeworlds of those who live there. Their lived experience, no matter how ostensibly distant from the more delicate or righteous sensibilities of the urban elite, often reveal complex and nuanced negotiations and intersections with Australia’s past and present, peoples and places.
Keywords: the bush; elites; working-class; lifeworlds; Aborigines; settlers