Michael Ackland


For a country spared the ravages of major wars, at least until the twentieth century, Australian creative works preceding federation exhibit a striking concern with martial prowess and the reality or possibility of physical conflict. 131oody encounters with blacks, convicts and bush-rangers frequently provide novelists with dramatic climaxes. Images of the settler literally battling natural d1sasters such as floods and fires. or of the man on horseback performing heroic deeds are iterated in the verse, while such scenes dominate the sprawling historical canvases of the period. Moreover, the spectre of armed struggle appears repeatedly in the political literature of the colonies, either as an Old World horror to be avoided or as a sacrifice willingly accepted for a free and democratic society. Henry Lawson for instance, at the turn of the century, evoked the famous patriot-image of blood staining the wattle, much as forty years before similar concepts occurred in the verse of currency lads like Charles Harpur who, in the space of a single poem, could oscillate violently between admonitions to ' spare to use the murderous gun, - /Nor meddle with the sword' and the ringing call of 'on, ye Red Republicans, /To Freedom or to Death'.1



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