Henry Lawson’s Distinctively Visual Stories

On the Wallaby Track

My current Year 12 class has been collaborating on an essay response to a previous HSC question for Standard Module A: Experience through Language – Distinctively Visual. We have been working with the short stories of Henry Lawson. Here are some topics sentences and suggestions for evidence to write specific paragraphs.

In what ways are people and their experiences brought to life through the distinctively visual?

Make detailed reference to your prescribed text and at least one other related text of your own choice.

Humans rely on their vision to understand the world around them. Possible thesis?

Characters and their situations are brought to life by different techniques by composers that express a unique vision.

  • strong image  of Australian bush and hardships of people who lived and worked there.
  • three important stories: The Loaded Dog, In a Dry Season  and The Drover’s Wife
  • The Sea, a poem by James Reeves metaphorically links the ocean’s different moods to the behaviour of a dog
  • television show The Shearers, screened on the ABC to inform us about the hardship of a shearer’s lifestyle
  • texts reveal distinctive elements of different experiences in life by their ability to use a range of language techniques

Lawson was writing in the later stages of the 19th century, a period when Australians were developing pride in their own country.

  • draws on oral storytelling – bush comes alive through colloquial language and idiom
  • relies on themes of extreme poverty, subsistence and struggle for survival
  • uses a dry, sardonic humour to entertain and provoke empathy
  • precise language techniques – effective adjectives and nouns

A funny bush yarn, The Loaded Dog opens with a detailed and realistic description of people and place in the goldfields.

  • specific first and last names “Dave Regan, Jim Bently and Andy Page”
  • lists different fish, “bream, cod, catfish”
  • uses ‘elaborate’ instructions to explain the process of mining and cartridge construction through verbs including ‘bound’ ‘pasted’ and ‘sewed’
  • told in a linear narrative structure – orientation sets the scene for the following action

Distinctive stylistic features of Lawson’s vision allows the audience to engage with the chaos of The Loaded Dog.

  • shifting between long descriptive paragraphs and short sentences like “Dave got an idea.” creates a strong focus
  • each complication arises, dialogue and punctuation, such as dashes, carry us along with the action
  • “Run, Andy! Run!” uses repetition increases panic
  • verbs such as ‘jolt’, ‘dodged’ and ‘snatched’
  • repeated dialogue “Don’t foller us!” uses Australian idiom
  • rhetorical question “How’s the fishin’ getting on, Da-a-ve?” alludes to this bush yarn as a humorous image of life on the diggings, where men enjoyed the company of ‘man’s best friend’.

Central to The Loaded Dog is Lawson’s ability to effectively create images of different dogs.

  • juxtaposition of an ‘overgrown pup’ with a ‘vicious mongrel’ helps us relate to the shift in tone
  • alliteration in the ‘foolish, four-footed mate’ reminds us of his close bond
  • simile of ‘tail like a stockwhip’
  • contrasting adjectives clearly separate the characterisation of these dogs: big, black and young with vicious, thieving canine
  • we feel hatred of the ‘yellow’ dog through the use of emotive terms such as ‘sneaking’ and ‘fighting’
  • uses dashes to separate listing of specific features of the pack of hounds: spidery, mongrel sheep-and cattle-dogs
  • realistic and rough chaotic atmosphere of this environment is mirrored in the related poem The Sea

Similarly, Reeves uses contrasting images of dog behaviour in his metaphor of the ocean.

  • opening line ‘The sea is a hungry dog’ provides a sense of energy
  • changing structure and both internal and end rhyme, such as ‘gnaws’ and ‘jaws’
  • ‘Bones’ is repeated four times in a single line – finished with an exclamation mark – conveys relentless nature of the sea
  • middle stanza: sibilance ‘sniffs and snuffs’
  • personification of ‘the night wind roars’
  • Over the three stanzas, we recognise the shifting mood from anger to playfulness and ultimately relaxation.

Insert another paragraph here: include the secnd and third stanza – shift from energetic to playful then relaxed dog

The detailed sketch In a Dry Season is about Lawson’s historic and significant train journey to Bourke and the harsh conditions of the outback.

  • Opening with verb ‘Draw’
  • includes audience by writing in second person
  • describes typical town along rail line
  • reinforces bland picture through repetition of ‘railway’
  • neglect is highlighted through specific adjectives of ‘unpainted’ and ‘empty’
  • shift to first person conveys a personal reference of a contrasting town which consisted of a ‘box-bark humpy’ showing severe poverty.
  • Link to question or next par

Characterisation is used by Lawson to create both positive and negative images of bush people.

  • listed adjectives describe the clothing of various men on the train, such as ‘slop-sac’ and ‘old fashioned’ to remind us of their low income. Lawson then specifically details the mourning dress and ‘crape’ hatbands before suggesting that “Death is about the only cheerful thing in the bush” which sardonically highlights the harsh lifestyle. Other workers are described, such as the shearers who dress ‘like the unemployed’ and this simile emphasises their image of hardworking and practical labourers. Repetition of Australian idiom “Yer wanter …” adds realism to the dialogue of these bushmen, who are similarly represented in the reality television program The Shearers.

Broadcast in 2005, twelve ordinary Australians experience the hardships of a contemporary shearing lifestyle in this documentary series.

  • high contrast titles, white writing on black
  • humorous puns in the episode titled ‘Shear Bliss’ and ‘Blood Sweat and Shears’
  • male narrator introduces the concept
  • clear image is shown of the lush Tasmanian countryside
  • wide angle shot of misty mountains
  • sounds of singing magpies sets the scene
  • strumming guitar
  • panning shots of the shearers quarters and sheds on Malahide
  • cut with close ups and mid shots of sheep and mustering dogs

Each individual is introduced by a subtitle of their name and job, followed by verbal anecdotes revealing their work history.

  • formal names and nicknames are used, such as Robert ‘Trooper’ Triffid
  • Collin, a student, displays aggression
  • his dialogue supports this attitude “Stop moven’, ya bastard!”
  • colloquial language, slang and idioms are regularly heard
  • Robin, the teacher, calls “Wakey! Wakey! hands off snakey!”
  • Lisa Hansch is shown through wide shots of her on a quad bike
  • close up shots of her driving and speaking directly to the camera

Another representation of female life is further exemplified in Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife where we learn about an isolated woman living with her family while her husband is absent.

  • clear description of the setting in the opening paragraph
  • adjective ‘two-roomed’
  • repetition of ‘no’
  • personified sheoaks ‘sighing’
  • series of flashbacks which outline her success and failure

The image created of the drover’s wife is one of energy, through the verbs of ‘dashes’ and ‘snatches’, whilst her appearance is briefly outlined as ‘gaunt’ and ‘sun-browned’.

  • focus is on survival rather than the unrealistic fashions of the Young Ladies Journal
  • children are described as ‘dried-up’ and ‘ragged’
  • respect for ‘Mother’ is shown through dialogue
  • euphemisms, such as ‘blanky’, replace cursing
  • energetic ally in the family pet, Alligator, through alliteration in ‘big black’ and ‘dog-of-all-breeds’
  • climax through repetitive onomatopoeia of ‘Thud, thud’
  • final sentence reminds us of the relentless nature of life in the bush with the adverb ‘sickly’ daylight.

Composers use many different language techniques to engage their audience by constructing strong, memorable images. We are both entertained and informed of other lives and places in Lawson’s stories: we can journey with him on a train to ‘see’ another Australia, one of dry difficulty In a Dry Season. He effectively creates characters through description, dialogue and action in The Loaded Dog, while our sympathy for The Drover’s Wife is evoked through the use of flashbacks. The metaphor of a hungry dog in The Sea confirms our understanding of the shifting energy of the ocean, whilst the clear visual representations of different workers in The Shearers reminds us of how little life in the bush has changed for those who work there. Distinctive visions are successfully brought to life by Lawson, Reeves and Abracadabra Films in the different forms and features employed.

The distinctively visual aspects (elements) of a text are brought to life by individual composers …

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