NSW Art Gallery Visit

Image: NSW Art Gallery, Russell Drysdale ‘Shopping Day’ (1953)

It was a great opportunity to visit the NSW Art Gallery again. But this time it was so much better, because there was a purpose to it. Our literature class were required to choose a painting to write about, and discuss how literature can also be expressed through art.

The painting that caught my attention was Russell Drysdale’s, ‘Shopping Day’ (1953). The image depicted Indigenous women and children dressed in European clothes supposedly going shopping.

What struck me from this painting, was how distorted or blurred the faces of the people were. Everything else around them: the buildings, the statue etc, were defined.

Russell Drysdale was empathising with the Indigenous people in his artwork, conveying the dispossession of the people when they were forced to assimilate into white society in the 1950s. A time where most Indigenous peoples had lost their lands, and lived on the fringes of non-Indigenous society; many were not eligible for government benefits when in need; they were controlled by state laws; the stolen generation etc.

The dark colours of the Indigenous people against the warm and light colours of their surroundings, highlight their stand in the painting.

The blurred images of their faces portray a loss of identity. The fainted light colouring of their clothing emphasises this losing of identity through the integration into white society. However, the warm colours and the fact that they are not wearing shoes, somewhat tells us that there is still a familiarity or a connection to what they knew (their connection to their land).

The divided road, where it seems to mount on the right-hand side to where the Indigenous people are standing, conveys the dispossession of the Indigenous peoples; they were secluded. Their posture also makes you feel as though they are not relaxed or comfortable and are somewhat being controlled.


© 2007-2014, National Museum of Australia, Australia in the 1950s, www.indigenousrights.net.au; accessed online 3rd April 2019.

Dame Mary Gilmore

Image: banknotes.rba.gov.au

For someone to have their face printed on an Australian note of currency, you would obviously have to be a ‘big deal’. Dame Mary Gilmore is a big deal! And her face is printed on the reverse side of the Australian $10 note.

What makes her so important?

There’s many things Mary Gilmore was involved in, but I believe it was her power to influence in her radical writings, that makes her such an important person. She advocated for injustices in Australian society, particularly in feminism and the relationship and treatment of the Indigenous peoples.

One fun fact I learnt about Mary was that she followed William Lane, and other social idealists to Paraguay in 1986, to develop a communal settlement called New Australia. Although their plans did not flourish as they had hoped, Mary made her way back to Australia and continued her writings.

I think the thing that stood out for me though, after learning a bit about Mary Gilmore, was her passion for education and literature. She was qualified to teach at the simple age of 16!

Although living a nomadic early life due to her father’s employment at different places, Mary had an irregular formal education. For this reason, I felt that Mary’s education and the passion found in her writing grew from lived experiences. Having witnessed and/or lived for herself various injustices, she was then able to express these views so powerfully in writings of poetry and prose’.


W. H. Wilde, ‘Gilmore, Dame Mary Jean (1865–1962)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gilmore-dame-mary-jean-6391/text10923, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 April 2019.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Gilmore, accessed online 3 May 2019. fffff

Finding Joy in Stillness

One would perceive that Charles Harpur enjoyed the Australian landscape, and that it was his happy place for silence and reflection. In his poem, “Midsummer Noon in the Australian Forest” (1830s), he romantically describes his sense of wonder and awe, while “being still” in the Australian bush.

The first two stanzas illustrate the joy found in the quietness of the landscape, where everything, including the creatures of the earth, remain still.

            Not a bird disturbs the air!

            … grasshoppers keep

            … busy ants are found resting

            … locust clingeth now in silence

The repetition of vowel sounds and the positive language used is euphonic,

            “bird disturbs”… “keep/ sleep”… “found/ mound”… “stillness broods”

emphasising Harpur’s pleasing experience in the landscape where “over hills and over plains quiet, vast and slumberous reigns”.

There’s a shift in the 3rd stanza, where the sudden “drowsy humming” of a “dragon-hornet” catches the eye of Charles Harpur. A sight that he invites us all into “…see!”, when he wants us to recognise a distraction to the stillness he was describing earlier.

What first started out as an annoyance, later became a deeper interest to this little creature, as Harpur vividly talks about the dragon-hornet as being “bedaubed resplendently” and “gleams the air”, even in its “droning flight”.

Finally, it is in the last few stanzas that we see and understand Charles Harpur’s appreciation of the Australian landscape. A place where he can escape the Australian summer heat, resting in the cool shadows, pondering in silence;

            “every other thing is still,

            save the ever wakeful rill,

            whose cool murmur only throws

            a cooler comfort round Repose;

            or some ripple in the sea

            of leafy boughs, where, lazily

            Tired Summer, in her forest bower

            turning with the moontide hour,

            heaves a slumberous breath, ere she,

            once more slumbers peacefully.

            O ‘tis easeful here to lie

            hidden from the Noon’s scorching eye,

            in this grassy cool recess

            musing thus of quietness.

The Joy of Self-Discovery

Hi! My name is Malia, and I have recently enrolled in the Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) Clemente Program. This program is a “ground-breaking university course for all Australians experiencing disadvantage and social isolation”, providing the necessary resources and opportunities to help support making a difference in people’s lives through tertiary education (Australian Catholic University, 2019).

The unit we are currently covering is, An Introduction to Australian Literature; looking at the writings of various Australian authors and authors who speak about Australia and its culture in their work.

I would like to share with you, just a short reflection I had on Judith Wright’s poem, “The Wattle – Tree”, that we were introduced to in our class last week.
Upon reading this poem, I instantly reflected on the spirituality of the author, contemplating about the journey of self-discovery seen through the lens of a Wattle tree.

In the first stanza, the tree shares its knowledge of “the four truths” it needs to have life: “earth, water, air, and the fire of the sun”, and the “four truths” it holds within itself that gives it its identity: “root, limb and leaf unfold out of the seed”.
With this basic understanding of oneself, the tree “dreams it has a voice”, a voice that can be found when one molds the elements of what gives it life with its own characteristics into “one word of gold”, and that “gold” is joy.

The second stanza dramatically illustrates a yearning to find this “word” that would bring it joy. A joy that is everlasting.
And so begins a time of transformation, where the tree reflects on itself and gives itself time and love, “perfectly and passionately”, to renew itself into a greater sense of self-discovery.
This time of transformation takes place in the third stanza, where the author purposely adds spaces between each line, to emphasise the time the tree give itself for reflection on the elements that gives it life.

And then finally, in the final stanza, a different tone is felt as the tree finds joy in its journey of self discovery.
“Now from the world’s four elements I make my immortality;
it shapes within the bud.
Yes, now I bud, and now at last I break
into the truth I had no voice to speak
into a million images of the Sun, my God.”
This “word” the tree was looking for was a joy in itself. And it was found by reflecting on the things that give it life, naming what their desires were, and then with self-care acknowledging the many gifts and talents one can give to others when trusting in the one that creates the basic necessities for life… and that is God!

– Australian Catholic University website, accessed 8th March 2019.
– The Wattle Tree, Judith Wright.