Henry Lawson and Barbara Baynton: a comparison of the treatment of women in the works of these two early Australian authors.

Essay by TullyUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, April 2002

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Henry Lawson, like most of his contemporaries gave little consideration to women in the majority of his poems and stories. The Australian myth almost totally excluded them. When Lawson does mention women they seem to be someone's wife waiting as in The Ballad of the Drover or someone's whore, (The Faces in the Street, The Captain of the Push). The Drover's Wife is unusual in that the central character is a woman. In few words it manages to capture the courage, humour and strength of a woman of the early Australian bush. Without naming her and with almost no physical description he manages to give us a rich, detailed and well-rounded character.

The Drovers Wife has many similarities to The Chosen Vessel by Barbara Baynton. Baynton was also a contemporary of Lawson but being female was not widely read or published. Both stories deal with nameless bushwomen left by their husbands to run the households in their absence.

The central theme of each is the same; lone mothers battling an enemy to save their children and themselves. In The Drovers Wife the enemy is a


snake, in The Chosen Vessel it's a swagman. Both women are vulnerable, neither is safe in their homes and are both forced to barricade themselves into one room.

Although the stories seem to revolve around the same theme, the survival of the women, there are considerable differences. The snake the drovers' wife battles against is representative of her enemy which is the bush. While she's waiting for the snake she reflects on past incidences, she recalls fighting bushfires, floods, mad bullocks and crows. The woman in Baynton's story is fighting man, the swagman and her husband. The way in which they struggle also differs, Lawsons' heroine attacks; she waits patiently for the...