Although Australian literature is among the youngest in the world, as Australia was awakened to civilian life only in the last decade of the century. XVIII, however in its short course it has already assumed its own physiognomy which, although it derives from and is partly a reflection of the great English literature, has distinct characteristics of its own. By Australian literature we mean here, therefore, exclusively the literary production of writers, who, born or residing for a long time in Australia, have treated Australian subjects with an Australian spirit: we therefore leave aside authors from other countries (e.g. Mark Twain, Anthony Trollope, Charles Reade) who have written about Australia or Australian-born writers (e.g. Mrs Humphry Ward, Guy Boothby, Ernest William Hornung).
Having limited the subject within this limit, one can reasonably speak of a real Australian literature, with peculiar qualities and tendencies that distinguish it from all the others.
In a new country, devoid of cultural traditions and of that legendary atmosphere that only a centuries-old history can create, where men in bitter struggle with the elements are as they are made with their own efforts and sacrifices, it is natural that the predominant sentiment is an ideal of restless democracy. And this is in fact the first characteristic of his literature. A certain sentimentality is also noted in Australian poetry, not banal, but delicate and very similar to that of English romanticism. This immediacy and delicacy of feeling is partly due to the direct contact with nature not yet dominated by man, to the resonance that the immense expanses of depopulated land must have had in the soul of the first settlers, to the sense of isolation from the rest of the world., to the monotony of natural aspect of the Australian landscape and the bloody struggle with nature, with the sun, with drought to wrest wealth from the soil. All this sometimes casts a veil of pessimism on the Australian soul and is reflected in his literature, in which however this shadow of melancholy is often tempered by a healthy understanding of the virility of the fight, by the love for sport (a favorite topic also in poetry) and fromEnglish humor that Australians have inherited and made their own to a great extent. Another characteristic of the Australian soul is a marked predilection for music, and perhaps this partly explains how the literary genius found its natural expression rather in poetry than in prose.
According to iamaccepted, the first writers, English immigrants in Australia, still suffer, as is natural, their country of origin; but it is undeniable that in the mild poems of Michael Robinson (various occasional poems, 1810-1821) and Barron Field (First Fruits of Australian Poetry, 1819), the special environment of Australia at the time is reflected. The first poem of any significance written by a bona fide Australian was William Charles Wentworth’s Australasia (1823). But it was only in 1845 that the first true, though still immature, Australian poem appeared, with a volume of sonnets by Charles Harpur (1817-1868), which, while showing the influence of English romanticism, is permeated with the spirit contemplative than the bush Australian inspires. And we cannot help but remember as belonging to the primordi of Australian literature also the Stolen Moments and Studies in Rhyme by Sir Henry Parkes (1815-1896), the great statesman of New South Wales who, in the midst of his legislative and administrative efforts, he always felt the need to lift the soul to the pure and serene spheres of poetry.
Australia woke up to a new and very fruitful period with the discovery of gold in 1850. Already all the capital cities of the different states were founded, already some of the main newspapers and periodicals such as The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australasian and The Argus of Melbourne were successfully underway; and now, around this date, the new universities of Sydney and Melbourne arose, public libraries opened in the main cities. The race to the gold (gold rush) brought about a strong and continuous current of young, ardent and energetic immigrants. Among these was Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870), reputed to be Australia’s greatest poet. Gordon, although English, had assimilated the Australian spirit during his adventurous life in the colonies, where as a horse tamer he became a deputy, only to end up in misery, suicide. His poems, published in series under various titles, The Feud, Sea Spray and Smoke Drift, Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes, Racing Rhymes and Other Verses, for the most part describe the Australian life of adventure and sport, where the horse holds the place of protagonist. And it is a notable work for its exotic vigor, for its classic style and for the pathos of the man who struggles and loses, but loses courageously and manfully. Next to Gordon’s name we find that of a poet born in Australia, Henry Clarence Kendall (1841-1882), dreamer, intimate observer of Australian nature, who, in the inspired melodies ofOrara, Leaves from Australian Forests and Songs from the Mountains, He shows himself to be a true and representative poet of the quieter life in the countryside of his country. To the same period belong Marcus Clarke (1846-1881), known more as a novelist than as a poet, for his famous book For the Term of his Natural Life, where the life of life prisoners who in other times were relegated to Australia is masterfully described, and James Brunton Stephens (1835-1902), who gained wide popularity with patriotic and humorous poems.
With Kendall’s death we can say that the impetus given to Australian literature by the tumultuous period that began with the discovery of gold has been exhausted. Australia had by now taken on the usual physiognomy of any civilized country. Since the public he read was limited in Australia due to the small population, no publishing house specialized in literature arose, and this had to make its way only through newspapers and periodicals which thus had a preponderant influence on its development. The Bulletin periodicalof Sydney (founded in 1880 and still very flourishing) had in fact and continues to have a lot of influence on the work of writers, favoring a tone between sarcastic-ironic and sentimental-humorous, with a casual style, a little raw and apparently light but nevertheless frank.
The major poet of more recent times is Andrew Barton Paterson (Banjo Paterson, born 1864) whose poem The Man from Snowy River is considered a classic narrative of events in the Australian bush. A Queensland poet, George Essex Evans (1863-1909), wrote verses filled with patriotic passion for his country. John Farrell (1851-1904) devoted himself to descriptions of the common and humble life. And these are followed by Henry Lawson (1867-1922), a typical writer, who in his collections of poems and short stories, While the Billy Boils and On the Track and over the Sliprails, it represents life in the forests with vivid and strong relief; Victor Daley (1858-1905), delicate descriptive poet and dreamer; Bernard O’Dowd (born 1866), Symbolist poet, sarcastic and contemptuous.
In the present generation the following stand out among the poets and storytellers: Roderick Quinn, Christopher Brennan, Ethel Turner (especially known for her children’s stories), Mary Louise Mack, Zora Cross and Hugh McCrae; among the very young, Dorothea Mackellar and particularly CJ Dennis deserve special mention, who, writing in the Australian slang (jargon), made all his compatriots laugh and cry.
Australian literature has few novelists. After Marcus Clarke, already mentioned, the best known is Rolf Boldrewood, pseudonym of Thomas Alexander Browne. Of his books Robbery under Arms (1888), Nevermore, The Miner’s Right, A Sydneyside Saxon (1891) and others, the most famous is the former. He describes the life of the farmer, the gold seeker and the bushranger, an Australian bandit, with efficacy and dramatic meaning. George Lewis Becke (Louis Becke) has also written novels of Australian life, but his main and most evocative works were inspired by the islands of the Pacific, where he lived for many years. His best known book is By Reef and Palm.
The only Anglo-Saxon playwright known worldwide is Charles Haddon Chambers, whose plays The Tyranny of Tears, Captain Swift and The Saving Grace were very successful.
History, travel, and exploration in Australia have been covered mostly by non-Australian writers; however we find in the first period the Description of New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land (1819) by WC Wentworth, and the Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales (1834) by John Dunmore Lang. The best book of the time is the History of Australian Discovery and Colonization (1867) by Samuel Bennet. The major modern historians are: Professor AW Jose, Doctor Quick, RR Garran, the rev. WH Fitchett, Sir Charles G. Wade and the Hon. Bernard R. Wise. About the part taken by the Australians in the great war have written Will Dyson, Philip FF Schuler, FM Cutlack, cap. AD Ellis and Maj. Graham Gillam.