Bush poets were Australian and New Zealand poets who wrote about rural life during colonial times and about the Australian and New Zealand bush. Many colonial bush poets were illiterate and performed their poems from memory instead of writing them. Bush poetry evolved from the jokes and stories shared by early settlers. To help with memorising these, rhyme and verse were introduced.
Bush poetry reflects communal attitudes and traditional Australian and New Zealand culture. Its language is characteristically colloquial and colourful, and its underlying thematic concern is the emergence and development of the Australasian identity.
It may be argued by some[who?] that bush poetry did not originate so recently, but rather is an adaption of ancient music and ceremonies performed by the Aboriginal natives of the land. Stories of the Dreamtime can be considered to be the beginnings of the bush poetry as an entity.
The actual term "Bush Poetry" did not come into use until somewhere around the late 1920s. Prior to that time, all styles of poetry were 'lumped together', the majority of it found in newspapers and periodicals largely reflected stories and views of life in the country or "Bush" and usually had good rhyme and metre. After World War 1, changing styles in most of the arts meant that other styles of poetry gained in popularity at the expense of the traditional ballad. There were still a number of poets (often from rural areas), still writing in the traditional style and it was these poets who became known as "Bush Poets". It had little to do with the content, for all manner of topics were included, but rather with the style.
Some of their popular poems include:
- Dorothea Mackellar – "My Country".
Banjo Patterson's Waltzing Matilda is even considered Australia's unofficial National Anthem.
Some of the Bush Poets of a past era were very prolific. C.J. Dennis (Den) wrote somewhere in the region of 3,000 poems in the approximately 10 years of his "popularity". He wrote several books which were entirely a sequence of inter-related poems, the most popular of which was "Songs of a Sentimental Bloke". This book has had many reprints, has been made into a film and also a one man stage show. A large percentage of Den's poetry is written in the vernacular, i.e. it is written to represent the way it is supposed to sound. Quite difficult to read at times as our spoken language has evolved from that of an earlier time.
Probably the most prolific of all Australian Bush Poets is a West Australian whose name is now all but forgotten Edwin G. Murphy (1866–1939) who wrote under the name "Dryblower" is likely to have penned more than 10,000 poems (plus innumerable short "ditties") in his almost 40 year journalistic career with the Perth "Sunday Times". It is unknown just how many he wrote, for, once having become "a name" around 1902, he didn't need to put his name on his poetry. "Everyone" knew who wrote his columns. Consequently, he is usually credited with only a fraction of his poetry. By searching through the "Times" of his era, you can trace West Australian political and social history from a different viewpoint to what you will find in the history books.
The Australian Bush Poet's Association
In 1994 an association was formed in Tamworth named the Australian Bush Poets Association. The association defines Bush Poetry as follows:
Australian Bush Poetry is metered and rhymed poetry about Australia, Australians and/or the Australian way of life.
Composed of writers, performers and those interested in either traditional or modern bush poetry, the association aims to encourage the development, interest and growth of Bush Poetry in Australia.
The Association publishes a bi-monthly magazine of news, events, and contemporary bush poetry, and maintains a calendar of bush poetry events. Bush Poets' Breakfasts are a popular part of many festivals today and each year at Tamworth many bush poetry events are held including The Australian Bush Laureate Awards.
The Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Award is the oldest and largest poetry competition for school aged children in Australia. These awards are named in honour of the famous Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar.
Bush Poetry also continues as a tradition in New Zealand, perhaps more in the South Island where back country living and wilderness activities are in greater abundance than in the more populated North Island. In the south there are regular bush poetry sessions as an integral part of Folk Music festivals and especially at the annual "Ballads,Bards and Bulldust" festival, featuring bush poetry as the central theme, held in the Maniototo district of Central Otago, scene of 19th Century gold rushes.
- "Australian Bush Poetry Events Calendar 2010 & 2011". Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- "Bush Poetry - Australian Bush Poets Association Inc. (ABPA)". Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- Lead organisation for Australian bush poetry Australian Bush Poets Association
- Bush Poetry in Australia History of Bush Poetry
- Bush Poetry Ballads and Yarns Aussie Bush Poetry
- Australian Bush Poetry Verse & Music Site Bush Verse
- Australian website for students of poetry Poetry Resource
- Biography of Henry Lawson Australian Dictionary of Biography
- Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards homepage