Revisiting the frontier, from Miles Franklin’s Brindabella to South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula

Jill Roe

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As a South Australian by birth and an early enthusiast for urban history, I was not deeply impressed by Russel Ward in my youth. However, that was a long time ago. Since then I have come to appreciate The Australian Legend (1958) and to feel that it could be better understood. No doubt my own work on Miles Franklin, and my days on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, some of which I will be referring to shortly, has had good deal to do with it; but so too has an increasing awareness of the challenges now facing rural and regional Australia. In what follows, I start with the young Russel Ward and what led him to focus on the pastoral frontier of eastern Australia. Next comes a consideration of the Legend's relevance to two very different regions, the Brindabella area in the southern mountains of New South Wales, and Eyre Peninsula, the western most peninsula of South Australia, both of which as it happens were first colonised by Europeans in the 1840s. Lastly, by way of conclusion, I offer some observations on the changing face of 'the frontier' since the 1950s, drawing on my own experience. That may sound rather presumptuous. But it is more or less in line with the task that Ward set for us in the final paragraph of his book, which reads in full: It is generally agreed that without a distinctive national tradition a people lacks cohesion, balance, and confidence. It is usually assumed that in a young country like ours, inherited attitudes exert less influence than in old one. The truth maybe that, because of its relative youth, our tradition is at once too dominating and too rigid, and that we tend compulsively to worship it as, so to speak, a fair though sacred cow. But nothing could be more thoroughly within the tradition than 'to give it a go' - to venture boldly on new courses of action, and so modify, and even create, traditions as the anonymous bushmen, and, later, the men of the 'nineties did. Today's task might well be to develop those features of the Australian tradition which still seem valid in modern conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-182
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Australian Colonial History
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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