Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Maddison, B. G. 2008, ''The Australian Legend, Russel Ward and the Parallel Universe of Nino Culotta'', Journal of Australian Colonial History, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 139-154.


For forty years 'The Australian Legend' was the textual hub on which an increasingly repetitive discussion about Australian 'national identity' revolved. Historians were key participants in this debate, their most prominent role being to contest or support Ward's claims about the political, economic and cultural significance of the nineteenth-century bushman's origins and ethos. These interventions advanced our understanding of both nineteenth-century history and the limitations of Ward's argument, and in doing so contributed to the book's displacement during the 1990s. Yet for a debate awash with claims about historical methodologies and sensibilities, surprisingly little attention was given to investigating the relationship between 'The Australian Legend's argument and the historical context in which it was written. The core of the argument presented here is that the contemporary assimilationist context exerted a more powerful structural influence on Ward's argument than is usually acknowledged and more than he was probably aware. For the most part, evidence of this influence lies buried. However, it becomes far more visible when the book is read 'through' another classic contemporary text John O'Grady's 'They're a Weird Mob' (1957), with its protagonist Nino Culotta. 'The Australian Legend' and 'They're a Weird Mob' shared a root-stock of beliefs about Australians, but each emphasised and extended different aspects of this common heritage. Aspects that remain underdeveloped in one text are often elaborated on in more detail in the other. As the discussion below indicates, the texts can be treated almost as companion pieces two halves of a conceptual whole that made possible the parallel universes inhabited by Russel Ward and Nino Culotta.