The Drover’s Wife
This story centres around the strength and stoicism demonstrated by a bush woman – the eponymous ‘Drover’s Wife’. Lawson opens his narrative by describing the harshness of the environment in which the woman finds herself – ‘Bush all round – bush with no horizon, for the country is flat.’ The woman and her children are described as having internalised that ruggedness, as seen in ‘Four ragged, dried-up-looking children’ and ‘The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman.’ The central moment of conflict or tension in the text is the arrival of the snake; it is spotted first by one of the children, and is then attacked by the family dog, Alligator. It disappears, but eventually reveals itself, and is killed by the woman and the dog. The experience serves to unify the mother and her son, as he declares that he ‘won’t never go drovin’.
Cultural assumptions examined
The beauty and poeticism of life in the bush
Lawson paints a picture of the rugged, hostile landscape of the Australian bush. The woman sees no beauty in it. Rather, for her it is a place of isolation and hardship, qualities that force her to be constantly vigilant about her children’s safety. While she does find a degree of comfort in it all – she is ‘contented with her lot’ – she nonetheless possesses a cynical outlook: ‘Everlasting, maddening sameness of the stunted trees.
The role and value of women in late-19th century rural Australia
Lawson’s story provides a complex examination of the competing factors that shaped identity and gender roles in the bush setting. While at first glance it seems as though he affirms the assumption we – and his contemporary audience – have and had of the confinement of women to the domestic sphere as a result of the misogyny and disenfranchisement they faced during this time, as reflected in the title ‘The Drover’s Wife’ and his depictions of that character fulfilling her motherly duties, he simultaneously challenges those assumptions by depicting the woman protecting her family and surviving alone in the bush setting. Indeed, the woman ultimately comes to play the role traditionally reserved for the man.