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The Drover's Wife single work   short story  
  • Author:agent Henry Lawson
Issue Details: First known date: 1892... 1892 The Drover's Wife
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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 separately published work icon 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

form y separately published work icon The Drover's Wife Sue Castrique , ( dir. Sue Brooks ) Australia : Australian Film Television and Radio School , 1984 13191919 1984 single work film/TV
y separately published work icon 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)

y separately published work icon The Drover's Wives The Drover's Wives : 99 Reinterpretations of Henry Lawson's Australian Classic Ryan O'Neill , Sydney : Brio Books , 2018 14171660 2018 selected work prose

'Henry Lawson’s short story ‘The Drover’s Wife’ is an Australian classic that has sparked interpretations on the page, on canvas and on the stage. But it has never been so thoroughly, or hilariously, reimagined as by Ryan O’Neill, remixing and revising Lawson’s masterpiece in 99 different ways.

'You’ll be amused, delighted and surprised by a Year 8 essay, a sporting commentary, a pop song, a Hollywood movie adaptation and many more.

'Inventive and unexpected, this is laugh-out-loud literature from one of Australia’s finest satirists.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Teaching Resources

Teaching Resources

This work has teaching resources.

Teaching resources created by Lindsay Williams, for AustLit.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Alternative title: Des Überländers Weib
Language: German
  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon Aus einer neuen Literatur : Australische Erzählungen und Plaudereien Stefan von Kotze , Berlin : Fontane , 1906 Z1032655 1906 selected work short story Berlin : Fontane , 1906
  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon 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)

    Sydney : Knopf Australia , 2017
    pg. 3-14

Works about this Work

The Loaded Cat David Brooks , 2018 single work criticism
— Appears in: Seeing Animals After Derrida 2018; (p. 21-35)

"The Loaded Cat" offers a renewed and careful analysis of Derrida's encounter with his cat as a philosophical problem: an Oedipal riddle punctuated by castration anxiety, human-animal hybridity (the Sphinx), and the imprecisions of language. The cat, according to Brooks's interpretation of Derrida's lecture, is "loaded" with linguistic signifiers and literary allusions, making it difficult for us to truly see the cat not as a figure or metaphor but as a real animal being, "loaded with herself, her suffering, the weight and intensity of her own existence." ' (Introduction xvi)

y separately published work icon Contemporary Settler Literature : Resources for Students and Teachers Travis Franks , St Lucia : AustLit: The Australian Literature Resource , 2017 13356230 2017 single work multimedia bibliography

'Here you will find an introduction to settler colonial theory and contemporary settler colonial literature. This exhibition is intended to survey the major and minor authors, works, and ideas involved with settler colonial writing in Australia, and, to a lesser extent, the United States, since the 1990s.

'In addition to the overview statements on this page, you can click on other tabs to see timeline of publication dates in historical context, a glossary of common terms, an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources, brief discussions of themes and motifs useful for student researchers and teachers interested in including settler colonialism in their curricula, and information about comparative settler colonial studies between Australia and the US.'

Source: Abstract.

The Drysdale/Lawson Mysteries and the Question of the Big Women Frank Moorhouse , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Drover's Wife : A Celebration of a Great Australian Love Affair 2017; (p. 207-221)

'Drysdale is the essential Australian painter. Many gifted painters have come out of Australia, and one of them Sydney Nolan is a universal figure. But noone except Drysdale gives the same authentic feeling of the resolute humanity that has manged to exist in that terrible continent ...' (Introduction)

The Younger Lawson V The Older Lawson - The Sourcing of 'The Drover's Wife' Frank Moorhouse , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Drover's Wife : A Celebration of a Great Australian Love Affair 2017; (p. 67-76)

'Lawson scholar Paul Eggart recalls that, when he was a third-year high school student in 1966, as a prize for mathematics he opted for a hardback copy of Cecil Mann's Henry Lawson;s Best Stories ...' (Introduction)

Mateship Love - How Did Lawson Experience Mateship? Frank Moorhouse , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Drover's Wife : A Celebration of a Great Australian Love Affair 2017; (p. 53-66)

'If he were alive today, Lawson may not be as destructively conflicted about and disturbed by his effeminacy, and may be bolder in his assertion of himself. Even so, he would recognise the strong remnants of the primitive male culture he dealt with, and the psychological damage and suicide it causes.' (Introduction)

Last amended 19 Sep 2022 13:47:53