“Women have been systematically excluded from myths of national identity in Australia. Where do women figure in the parade of bushmen, Anzacs, lifesavers, ‘ordinary blokes’, even poets and painters?‟ (Whitlock & Carter, Images of Australia, 1992).
This exclusion of women (and migrants and Aborigines) from the national narrative has long been resented, and has led feminists to claim that women are not represented in our national literature except as wives and helpmates and further, that the traditional Australian story is men versus the Bush, where the Bush represents the feminine, raped and abused by men.
In fact, Australia has a long history of women’s writing and representations of women but they have largely been excluded from the canon, probably due to the overrepresentation of male returned servicemen in education departments and universities after the First and Second World Wars.
When John Howard said of the 2006 Beaconsfield mine rescue that “It has been a triumph of Australian mateship” he was making, at one level, an unexceptional restatement of the ongoing themes of mates helping mates and of cheerfulness in adversity that are often taken to characterize Australian narratives, and which is the thesis of Russell Ward’s seminal The Australian Legend (1958). But, at a deeper level, was the unstated assumption that “mates” are men, and not just any men but white, Anglo, heterosexual men, that Todd Russell and Brant Webb were just the latest in a long line of suntanned, laconic, resourceful bushmen and Anzacs.
The Legend grew out of the Bulletin’s aggressive pro-Australian stance at the turn of the twentieth century, with writers like Lawson, Paterson and Rudd, but its persistence in national debate derives from its ongoing relevance – hence the hordes of gray nomads who can’t wait to “discover‟ the outback; from its confluence with the Anzac legend, the myth of the brave, larrikin soldier; and from its utility to politicians who use it as code for racism, sexism and militarism.