Rosie in the Empire: Gender in British and Australian Film Propaganda during the Second World War

Australian National Identity: The Bushman

Instead of the Victorian gentleman, Australia has the figure of the bushman in its history—a lone man who roams the Australian Outback in search of work. Unkempt and ragged, this figure is complete with a scraggly beard and weather-beaten face. He looms large in Australian national identity and is the central figure in the iconic song “Waltzing Matilda.” In the song, a bushman wanders through the Outback, his only companion his backpack, which he refers to as Matilda. He is part of a frontier that emphasizes the roughness of the penal colony, where women are marginal. He is independent and solitary and forms strong bonds with other men in a space that excludes women. When caught stealing a sheep, the bushman in “Waltzing Matilda” chooses to die rather than live behind bars. Recordings of "Waltzing Matilda" from the 1940s show that the bushman imagery existed in wartime Australia.

Where is the figure of the bushman or his values in wartime propaganda? Certainly not with the very feminine Gwennie or the lifeguards at Terrigal Beach! Instead, traits of the bushman appear in Australian films about men, especially soldiers. The 1942 film "Kokoda Front Line!" focuses on Australian soldiers fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. The film won an Academy Award for best documentary, making it the first Australian film to receive an Oscar. “Kokoda Front Line!” emphasizes the “spirit of the troops,” showing how they are united through both heroism and suffering. Like the bushman, the troops form strong bonds with other men—and in isolation from women. Also, the settings of the jungle and the Outback are similar. Both contain rough terrain and wilderness and exclude women. As a later clip about the Papuan people (the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea) shows, the film is even more problematic for its depiction of race.

What does it mean that national ideals of masculinity were applied to women in British wartime films, but Australian masculine ideals were not applied to Australian women?

This page has paths:

This page references: