The Concept of Distinctively Visual Explored Through Henry Lawson’s ‘In A Dry Season’ and Sean Tan’s ‘The Rabbits’

“Distinctively visual” refers to the understanding of how relationships and perceptions with others and the world are shaped through unique written and visual language texts. This concept and the idea that these texts allow readers to ‘see’ then ‘feel’ can clearly be explored and reflected through “The Drover’s Wife (1892)” and In A Dry Season (1896) by Henry Lawson, and alternately through “The Rabbits (1998)” By John Marsden and Shaun Tan. These texts incorporate a variety of literary and visual techniques, coupled with intricate narrative styles which help shape our understanding of the difficult experiences they depict and invoke a variety of emotions including admiration, sympathy and empathy in the reader. “The Drover’s Wife” incorporates a colloquial and relatable narrative style which effectively shapes understandings of the hardships and the difficult impact of isolation on the wife of a sheep herder, and invokes feelings of empathy, sympathy and admiration in the reader. This is reflected through the technique of descriptive language. For example, “bush all around- bush with no horizon”. This creates a visual image, describing the place as featureless and lonely. The repeated reference to the absence of defining features emphasises the isolation and sensory deprivation the inhabitants must feel. This is furthered through alliteration. “No undergrowth, nothing to relieve the eye… nineteen miles to the nearest civilisation” to assist the reader to visualise the isolated landscape and the alienation that the woman must feel. There is a constant referral throughout the narrative to the absence of her husband and the despondency she endures from it. This can be seen with a metaphor: “she [thinks] how her husband would feel when he [comes] home and [sees] the result of years of labour swept away. She cries then”. This causes the reader to envision the landscape and the sufferances it has endured, while invoking a sense of sympathy for her loneliness and a sense of admiration for her constant independent protection of her children throughout the story. These feelings are reproduced through omniscient narration “She rode nineteen miles without assistance, carrying the dead child”. This represents the traumatic experience the woman endured, yet she is able to move on from this to deal with other obstacles, producing feelings of both commiseration and admiration in the reader. In comparison, The Rabbits uses a more visual approach to induce emotions in the reader. Subsequently, Sean Tan and John Marsden utilize an amalgamation of rich images and sporadic word choice in ‘The Rabbits’ to present a dim picture of the white man’s invasion, producing feelings of sympathy but also admiration for the Indigenous inhabitants. This can be seen through the technique of visual salience in regard to the large central placement of a boat. This allows the reader to discern the negative environmental effects of settlement, overtaking the landscape, as-well as fostering feelings of sympathy to the impending doom of mechanical ascendancy over the natural world. This is augmented by the technique of colour. A variety of monochrome, dark, black and white images are portrayed to impact the reader, as it delineates a bleak existence following the invasion, and invokes a sense of sympathy and loss for the way that life permutated from nature to industry. Tan also utilizes the visual technique of positioning, a lone marsupial is placed at the edge of the frame. This allows the reader to envision the isolation and separation from nature that occurred following the invasion, as well as invoking a sense of devastation for the immense loss suffered by the indigenous culture. The literary technique of exclusive language is also used. There are constant references to the invaders as ‘they’ and ‘them’ which represents a distinct difference between the two cultures and the way the inhabitants feel alienated and powerless to the overwhelming dominance of industry. This also allows the reader to feel the conflict due to the complete opposite values, as the whites viewed their endeavours as ‘development’ whereas the natives viewed it as devastating and calamitous. Comparatively, Henry Lawson’s “In A Dry Season” encapsulates the harsh reality of living in the inhospitable Australian Outback and the affect it has on its occupants through his homodiegetic narration, invoking admiration and sympathy in the reader. He uses clothing to symbolise the struggle with adversity in this harsh environment “Slop sac suits, red faces, and old fashioned, flat brimmed hats”. These Australian hats signify the wearers are poor and uncomfortable, and also alludes to their low position in society, provoking a sympathetic response in the reader. This emotional response is furthered through his authorial comments such as “death is about the only cheerful thing in the bush” which is a sarcastic paradox alluding to the danger posed in the bush and the monotony experienced within it. The characters which Lawson portrays in the narrative are not personalised, reflecting the stoic and ignorant nature of Australian people “I don’t wanner; I’ve been there”. Lawsons use of laconic wit mocks the way the ‘young man’ speaks and their lack of intellectual and educational behaviours. Lawson also utilizes an exclamatory comment to invoke emotion in the reader “They talk of settling people on the land! Better settle in it”. The authorial comment is making the point that it is challenging to live in the outback that envelops such harsh conditions, refusing to romanticise the outback setting as the reader feels a sense of admiration for the inhabitants. Therefore, the idea that distinctively visual texts allow the reader to ‘see’ then ‘feel’ can clearly be represented through “The Drover’s Wife” and “In a Dry Season” by Henry Lawson and The Rabbits (1998) by John Marsden and Sean Tan. These texts follow separate idiosyncratic approaches to invoke feelings of sympathy and admiration to both the lone bush woman and the native inhabitants suffering invasion. These two texts follow unique narrative styles coupled with literary and visual techniques to portray this.

Language as a Way to Contrast Life in Cities and the Bush

Through the manipulation of textual forms and conventions, composers portray unique cultural experiences in their texts. In the short story ‘The Drover’s Wife’ by Henry Lawson, composed in 1892, the writer illustrates the unique, harsh environment of Australian bush culture and its downgrading physical and mental effects on the inhabitants living there. The text explores how a desolate, arid, and severe bush environment is disparate to urban culture, and how the bush environment can weaken a community to the point that their individuality is subverted to the opposite gender. Ultimately, through the effective manipulation and utilization of language forms and features, composers are able to capture unique experiences in different and contrasting cultures.

The text explores how the harsh environment of the Australian bush forces the subversion of cultural identity. The mother in the text has her role and identity subverted into that of a male’s, as a result of the father’s absence from the family. This is represented through the juxtaposition in, ‘the gaunt, sun-browned bush woman dashes from the kitchen,’ the writer compares the kitchen to a woman who is surprisingly different in appearance to that of a female living in a normal urban culture. Her appearance as tanned and gaunt is not suited to the usual social norm of Australia at the time. The writer purposely contrasts these two things together to contrast the uniqueness of bush culture. The kitchen is a domesticated area which is suited to the female. The audience expects a clean and presentable, healthy woman to come out from here, but instead they find an emaciated woman deprived of energy and strength. This lethargy showcases that the woman has been working extremely hard, much more than her usual domesticated roles. Further elicited by the adjective of ‘sun-browned’ the audience knows the woman has worked outside as well – taking on the roles of the male. This is extremely unique as to the more laid-back, domesticated life of a woman in urban culture. The woman is dominant in the bush environment, not the male. Thus, it is clear that cultural experiences in the bush are far different to other urban cultures. Lawson has effectively represented this through his manipulation of language and is able to portray a unique experience of culture in the Australian bush where identities are subverted.

The composer highlights a unique culture of the Australian bush by portraying it as an arid, harsh, and brutal environment which is desolate from any help or assistance. The use of distinctive visuals paints a picture of a barren outback where life is a struggle. This struggle is represented through the visual imagery in, ‘four ragged, dried up children,’ which shows the profound effect the Australian outback has had on its inhabitants. The composer creates a vivid picture of withered and weak young boys created by the Australian bush. Unlike the usual environment, where children would be more active, healthy, and clean, Australian bush culture has shown to be suppressive the people living there. In addition, the adjective of ‘dried-up’ being used to describe the children emphasizes how severe bush culture affects the people living there. It would normally be used to describe inanimate objects, but instead has described a living thing – the children take on characteristics of a dry environment. Furthermore, through the negative connotation in, ‘no horizon…nothing to relieve the eye…,’ with the repetition of the negative terms ‘no’ and ‘nothing,’ an image of a barren, desolate and arid land is pictured. The audience sees a depressing land where ‘nothing is relieving’ in sight. Lawson has illuminated the hardships of a unique bush culture where all is struggle and adversity, due to its harsh environment. He has showcased a unique culture that is diverse to an urban culture where life is much easier because of the better environment.

Lawson highlights how the unique culture of the Australian bushland puts gender dominance to a more extreme level. Tommy, the eldest son, reflects his father as well as the male culture pertinent to the time. Through the exclamatory sentence in, “Stop there, mother! I’ll have him! Stand back!”, the audience is shown a picture of a young boy pushing his mother back to protect her from the danger of the snake. In widespread culture, the father would be the dominator of the family who seeks to protect his children and family. However, Lawson has showcased here that due to the absence of the father, the male children have stepped up to protect the household. Tommy’s actions showcase this where he believes he is able to protect his mother from the danger. In addition, the dialogue of “stand back” shows how Tommy confidently believes he is able of removing the threat and his mother is not. This further showcases how a unique bush environment with harsh conditions can force gender dominance to a much higher level. Community culture in the bush is unique to urban culture as the youngsters living there are made to be defenders of the family, not the adults. Lawson’s effective manipulation of language causes the audience to understand an exclusive environment which is far different from other cultures.

In The Drover’s Wife, Henry Lawson illuminates the unique aspects of community culture in the Australian bushland and how these aspects significantly differ to experiences of Australians living in urban areas. Through the manipulation of stylistic features of language, Lawson portrays the culture of the Australian outback were struggles and hardships are never uncommon. The frequency of the harsh, arid environment adds to the struggle of life. The text has accurately depicted the unique culture of bushland in the Australian context, and audiences have their understandings enlightened from the effective manipulation of language to portray a special environment.