The Drover's Wife single work   short story  
  • Author: Henry Lawson
Issue Details: First known date: 1892... 1892 The Drover's Wife
AustLit is a subscription service. The content and services available here are limited because you have not been recognised as a subscriber. Find out how to gain full access to AustLit

AbstractHistoryArchive Description

First appearing in The Bulletin in 1892, Henry Lawson's short story 'The Drovers Wife' is today regarded as a seminal work in the Australian literary tradition. Noted for it's depiction of the bush as harsh, potentially threatening and both isolated and isolating, the story opens with a simple enough premise: an aggressive--and presumably deadly--snake disrupts the working life of a bushwoman and her young children. Brave but cautious, the woman resolves to protect her children since her husband is, characteristically, away from home and of no help. 

As time passes within the story, tension builds, and the snake's symbolic threat takes on layers of meaning as the sleepless heroine recalls previous challenges she faced while her husband was away. A series of flashbacks and recollections propel the story through the single night over which it takes place, and by the time the climax arrives--the confrontation with the snake--readers have learned much about the heroine's strengths and fears, most of the latter involving the loss of children and dark figures who encroach upon her small, vulnerable homestead. To be sure, this "darkness" is highly symbolic, and Lawson's use of imagery invokes Western notions of good and evil as well as gendered and racial stereotypes. 


form y The Drover's Wife ( dir. Gian Carlo Manara ) Australia : Australian Broadcasting Commission , 1968 8119244 1968 single work film/TV

'It is a simple story about a drover's wife, left alone with her four children for months on end while her husband is droving.

'Her only protection is her stout spirit and her cattle dog, Alligator.

'The story opens when, late one day, she sees a venomous snake disappear under the hut's bedroom floor. She goes into the kitchen, where there is a dirt floor–the bedroom has a slab floor with cracks a snake could slide through.

'The wife beds the children down on the table, builds up the fire in the stove, and with Alligator, a snake-killing cattle dog, keeps vigil through the night, waiting for the snake.

'As she sits by the fire she thinks, in filmed flashbacks, of what her life has been since she married.

'Eventually, in the early morning, the snake appears, she kills it, and life goes on again without drama.'


'Killing a Snake with Conviction', Australian Women's Weekly, 18 September 1968

y The Drover's Wife Leah Purcell , Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2016 11151204 2016 single work drama

'If anyone can write a full-throttle drama of our colonial past, it’s the indomitable Leah Purcell.

'We all know Henry Lawson’s story of the Drover’s Wife. Her stoic silhouette against an unforgiving landscape, her staring down of the serpent; it’s the frontier myth captured in a few pages. In Leah’s new play the old story gets a very fresh rewrite. Once again the Drover’s Wife is confronted by a threat in her yard, but now it’s a man. He’s bleeding, he’s got secrets, and he’s black. She knows there’s a fugitive wanted for killing whites, and the district is thick with troopers, but something’s holding the Drover’s Wife back from turning this fella in…

'A taut thriller of our pioneering past, with a black sting to the tail, The Drover’s Wife reaches from our nation’s infancy into our complicated present. And best of all, Leah’s playing the Wife herself.' (Publication summary)

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Alternative title: Des Überländers Weib
Language: German

Works about this Work

Refuge in a Harsh Landscape – Australian Novels and Our Changing Relationship to the Bush Margaret Hickey , 2017 single work essay
— Appears in: The Conversation , 20 July 2017;

'In 1790, Watkin Tench, the first officer with the First Fleet and a member of the fledgling British colony, stood on what we now know to be “The Heads” of Sydney, hungry and pining for news of England ...' (Introduction)

y The Drover's Wife : A Celebration of a Great Australian Love Affair Frank Moorhouse (editor), Sydney : Knopf Australia , 2017 11524652 2017 anthology short story criticism

'Since Henry Lawson wrote his story The Drover’s Wife in 1892, Australian writers, painters, performers, and photographers have created a wonderful tradition of Drover’s Wife works, stories, and images.

'The Russell Drysdale painting from 1945 has become an Australian icon.

'Other versions of the Lawson story have been written by Murray Bail, Frank Moorhouse, Barbara Jefferis, Mandy Sayer, David Ireland and others, up to the present including Ryan O’Neill’s graphic novel.

'Moorhouse has examined our ongoing fascination with this story, collected some of the best pieces of writing on the subject, adding commentary on each piece, and created a remarkable, gorgeous book.' (Publication Summary)

'The Drover's Wife' : Celebrating or Demystifying Bush Mythology? Christine Texier-Vandamme , 2016 single work criticism
— Appears in: Commonwealth Essays and Studies , Spring vol. 38 no. 2 2016; (p. 73-81)
The essay aims to show the cultural, aesthetic and identificatory displacements at work in the successive revisions and reinterpretations of Henry Lawson's "drover's wife" figure who became a national icon right away. It is quite interesting to note the surprising abstract and bare nature of both the figure and the bush, even in Lawson's original short story. They seem to crystallize national character precisely because they leave it rather unspecified and open to interpretation, except as a struggle to cope with one's adopted land and the acceptance of possible failure.' (Publication abstract)
Is There an Australian Pastoral Poetry? Andrew Taylor , 2015 single work criticism
— Appears in: Le Simplegadi , November no. 14 2015; (p. 38-51)
Pastoral was common as a European literary genre from the Renaissance until the eighteenth century. It existed in other artistic forms as well, especially in the visual arts, and after its demise as a distinct genre elements of it persisted into the twentieth century, for example in music. With the colonial spread of European culture the pastoral influence also extended into other countries, with a mixed fate. Recently, the term Pastoral has come back into prominence in literature in English, not only in Great Britain but also, notably in the USA and Australia, with the growth of writing motivated by ecological involvement with the natural world, especially landscape. This has led to re-definitions of the term Pastoral in the last few decades. A number of Australian poets are looked at to see whether, and how, their writing about landscape might relate to, or incorporate elements of the Pastoral. The Australian poet John Kinsella, in particular, has been a widely published spokesperson for a new definition of Pastoral. His published works trace his move from a politically activist anti-colonialist redefinition of Pastoral towards a quieter, more harmonious, and essentially ethical engagement with the natural world.
Lecture Slides : The Drover's Wives Ryan O'Neill , 2014 single work prose
— Appears in: Seizure [Online] , July 2014;
Last amended 18 Oct 2017 12:15:18