Using this protest button as a starting point, Prichard's The Pioneers can be serve as an entry point into a broader discussion of Australia's colonial history and legacies of national identity. This particular graphic is poignant in the ways it speaks back to important themes in the play, especially the birth of a nation out of a penal colony and the erasure of Aboriginal dispossession. While the date 1788 is highly symbolic, so are the broken chains and the Aboriginal flag.
Bruce Robison is a well-known singer-songwriter from Bandera, Texas. A gifted storyteller, Robison captures a sense of despondency and loss in the tune "Larosse" that echoes the events of Armstrong's play. One important comparison that could be made between this song and Armstrong's play is the way in which the horses--Larosse and Greygown in the play--are representative of the settler families in the two works. They both have emotional attachments to family moments, they both worked in the settling of the land, and, in both cases, their loss represents a turning point in the relationships between husband and wife. It is worth pointing out that the song references a the horse 'flying' with an 'Indian yell'. This seemingly minor detail could prompt discussion on the romanticisation of Indigeneity in the US and how that measures up to representations of Aboriginality in Australia.
Josh Oliver is a folk singer from Tennessee. This song, "Get Along Little Yearlings," is told from the perspective of a nameless settler who is in the process of relocating his family and livestock to Texas after the Civil War (1861-1865).The instances of struggle and loss are numerous across the song's verses, which, together, narrate a series of near-catastrophes in several states. "Natural" hardships are especially prominent in one verse--"There's bears in the woods and there's wolves and there's Injuns/ There's quicksandy holes and there's mountains of stone"--but these lyrics need to be unpacked for the way in which they depict Indigenous peoples. The term "injun" is pejorative, as is the listing of Native peoples alongside bears and wolves--two predatory, non-human, animals. Less obvious though equally problematic are the politics of dispossession--this settler family can only hope to have a new place to start over if Indigenous peoples lose their native land. Oliver's rendition of the song is cover of the tune originally recorded by an artist called Jimmie Driftwood.
Consider Cash's depiction of the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly as a freedom-loving victim of circumstances in relation to Roland's characterisation of George Burton in Morning. Both are romanticised as misunderstood men of action and are linked to the birth of Australia as a nation.
Sydney-born country musician Luke O'Shea contributed this song to the Drovers Wife canon in 2011, with the release of his fourth studio album, also titled The Drovers Wife. In 2013, the tune won the Country Music Australia Award's Heritage Song of the Year, an honour O'Shea would again in 2014, 2015 and 2017 for other songs.
O'Shea's song is an ode to Lawson's original story and a lament on modern vocations that take husbands away from their wives at home. The speaker first summarises Lawson's narrative, then speaks of his own father's absence as a travelling salesman. The final verse connects the historical drover to musicians like O'Shea, who spend long stretches touring with their bands while their families remain at home. For the verse, O'Shea borrows from Tommy, the eldest son in Lawson's story, who promises “Mother, I won't never go drovin'; blast me if I do!”
To read the full lyrics on the artist's website, click here.
While comparisons between Lawson's story, O'Shea's song, and Purcell's play will likely inspire discussion amongst students, this tune could also be juxtaposed with the Josh Oliver's "Get Along Little Yearlings" in order to think through varied perspectives on migration/mobility, hardship and family unity in two musical settler narratives.
The traditional Gaelic tune "Black is the Colour of My True Love's Hair" is featured prominently in Purcell's version of The Drover's Wife. In keeping with the play's subversive nature, Purcell's application of the song points to Australia's black history. This version is performed by Irish singer Rea Garvey.
In this brief clip, Purcell discusses how she interjected her own family history into Lawson's classic tale.
"A group of twenty teenagers from Shoalhaven High School have gathered with their teacher to catch the train 3 hours to Belvoir to see Leah Purcell's "The Drover's Wife". [source: Belvoir YouTube channel]
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