Reading Australia: Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton continued

IMG_0525.JPGFor the past week I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to collect my thoughts on Baynton’s ‘Scrammy ‘And’ and ‘Billie Skywonkie’—sometimes real life has an irritating habit of getting in the way.

However, there are two words that keep popping up when I think of these two stories; loneliness and hostility. A sense of loneliness seems to be a kind of perennial element in Baynton’s collection. In the last post on Bush Studies (1902), I briefly looked at two protagonists who had to contend with with hostile environments on their own.

Scrammy ‘And
The story focuses on the life of a miserable old man and his loyal dog (Waterloo, pronounced Warderloo by the old man) who have been left on their own mind a farm. The old man’s monologue or dialogue with his dog—whichever way you want to look at it—is really a list of grievances against women, marriage and motherhood, “They can’t never do anythin’ right, an’ orlways, continerally they gets a man inter trouble.” His prejudice doesn’t end with humans, but also extends to a particular ewe who isn’t capable of feeding her lamb.

The tone of the old man shifts from malicious humour to outright anger, depending on whether he ‘thinks’ Waterloo/Warderloo ‘agrees’ with him or not.

Apart from the old man talking to his dog, there is an ominous silence that descends on the Bush. The  old man tries to find plausible explanations for a few things that are not quite right on the property, but even his wilful blindness cannot shake the niggling feeling that something bad is going to happen.

Billie Skywonkie
This story was a bit tricky for me because I had difficulties navigating around the dialect. It reminded me of when I read Weish’s Trainspotting for the first time.

In a way I think that my confusion parallels the young woman’s, who rode the train all the way to the bush be a housekeeper. My difficulty with the language is like her difficulty with the customs of the people she sees even before she gets off the train.

The isolation in this story is more of a cultural one than a physical one as the young woman tries to understand the people around her, particularly Billie Skywonkie, who drives her to her new place of employment. Most of the story takes place with Billie, whose name you don’t know right away, driving the young woman.

In a way this story is little like Alice’s tumble through the rabbit hole, except the rabbit hole is the train at the beginning of the story. Or it could that the young woman is Dante being led through hell by a less than reputable Virgil.

Whatever it’s like, under the light hearted (sometimes difficult to understand) chatter and narrative, there is that sense that this man is not what he appears to be, and it is hard to miss the elements of sexism and racism which rear their ugly heads more and more as the tale gets closer to its conclusion.

Quick General Thoughts
So far, all of Baynton’s stories have been lonely and hostile, and she presents the bush as an empty and dangerous place. I’d read somewhere, I can’t remember where, that Baynton’s ‘unromantic’ depictions of the bush were a response to previous misogynistic and ‘romantic’ depictions. The blogger at Whispering Gums suggested that it may be more like a different perspective than a response, however, Baynton did live an unhappy life the bush with a philandering husband.

The next Reading Australia post will be on the last two stories in the collection, ‘Bush Church’ and ‘The Chosen Vessel’.


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