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THE DROVER’S WIFE by Henry Lawson



The Drover‟s Wife The Drover’s Wife is a story that many people can identify with. I, for one, can relate to the main character – „the drover‟s wife‟. The most interesting and thought-provoking aspect in the short story is the fact that the drover‟s wife‟s name is never mentioned throughout the text. Her identity is nothing but that which is linked to another character – her husband, the drover. Why was she not given a name? Was she an insignificant character? On the contrary, she is the main character; she brings life and meaning to the short story. Her character as a person is what makes her special despite her not having a name. And it is her character, and her emotions that one can relate to. The reason why the author, Henry Lawson, chose to leave her nameless cannot be certain. However, I believe that he had a message to convey to his readers. He was telling a story common of all bushwomen in Australia; a story of a young mother who, due to her circumstances, has to shoulder the heavy burden of caring for four young ones on her own. In spite of the fact that her husband was still alive and well, she was practically raising her children like a single mother – in the absence of a father figure. The story begins with a description of the little house the bushwoman lives in with her four children, surrounded by bush from all sides. Her husband is away droving again, leaving them alone. They are isolated from any other human company with nineteen miles to the nearest house. The children then spot a snake and the young mother jumps to action, her first instinct to grab her youngest baby. Alligator, their dog, pounces on the snake but comes away disappointed. She takes measures to protect her children and defend themselves against the snake should it attack them. She keeps an eye on the crack in the wall where the snake was last seen, guarding her children like a lioness. Finally the snake emerges from the crack in the wall. Alligator pounces it again and she immediately crushes the snake to death with her club. In victory, she throws the remains of the snake into the fire, and she and her son watch as it burns. The story ends on a touching note as mother and son embrace each other, drawing comfort from one another in the absence of the Drover. The Drover’s Wife depicts life in the Australian bush, where there are realistically such dangers as snakes and other wild creatures that may cause one serious harm. What makes such attacks more frightening is the difficulty of obtaining medical help should the need arise. The Australian bush is a desolate and isolated range of land with many unknown dangers. Hence, the setting described in the story is not only believable, but also realistic. Such problems are faced by the people who live in the Outback literally every day. It is possible to imagine that one living under such conditions may not be able to have peace of mind. My initial emotional response to the text is one of sympathy and empathy. With her husband off droving for long periods at a time, and with four young children under her care, whose welfare and safety she was responsible for, she had more on her plate than most mothers. Besides her brother-inlaw who comes by once a month with provisions, she and her children are left on their own. Even though outwardly she may seem strong and calm, demonstrated as she tackles the snake that attempts to attack her family, inwardly she harbours a lot of fears and loneliness. She breaks down as she watches the snake burn after having killed it, unable to contain her feelings. Raising her kids all alone, with no one there to comfort her and give her the support she needs to keep going; with her children all looking up to her and trusting her for their protection, she has a lot on her mind. Resigned to her responsibilities and life as a bushwoman, she does all she can to provide a safe and stable environment for her children. To keep their spirits up, she even dresses her children up and takes them for walks every Sunday afternoon. I suspect that those weekly walks are also her way of keeping her resolve together, giving the family, and herself, something to look forward to.

With her children left under her care, she is fiercely protective of them. The moment that the snake appeared at their home and posed a threat to her family, she took the children to safety and grabbed a stick as a form of defence against the snake. She worried over her children, and was willing to sacrifice much of herself to ensure their safety. While her children slept soundly, oblivious to the danger that still lurked with them in the house, she sat by their makeshift bed on the kitchen table together with Alligator, a green sapling at hand, ready to strike the second the snake reappeared. She had her sewing basket and a copy of The Young Ladies’ Journal to not only pass the time, but to keep herself alert and awake – all night if necessary. She was prepared to do whatever needed to eliminate the source of danger to her young family. Her oldest, eleven-year-old Tommy, offers to rid the snake for her. Fearing for his safety as well, she refuses him. His innocent child-like bravery though, comforts her somewhat. When the opportunity finally presented itself, she bludgeons the snake to death, crushing its head and back. I believe that in that moment, she was also expressing her frustrations and bitterness and loneliness; channelling all her pent up emotions into killing the thing that could hurt her family. Her courage and fierce protectiveness over her family, and her strong resolve is certainly something to be deeply admired. Her character is the epitome of a „strong woman‟ – a woman who can take care of herself and her family even without the head of the house. She is independent and responsible, brave and courageous – a superwoman. However, what really makes her character believable, and relatable, is that one reaction mentioned in the text after the killing of the snake – she tears up as she watches the mangled carcass of the snake burn in the fire. I believe that her reaction showed her real emotions. Underneath her strong bravado and fierce protectiveness, was a person who was lonely and fearful. I understand her loneliness of having to take care of a family all by herself. I can also imagine the sort of fears she possesses – fear of losing her children, fear of being helpless to protect her family, fear of being alone. The irony is that her revealing her true emotions in the story did not portray a weakness, but rather further convinced me of her inner strength. For true courage and strength is only when you stand firm and keep going despite your fears. The ending of The Drover’s Wife is really heart-warming. Tommy, her son, is certainly a bright and insightful child. After seeing his mother‟s tears, he was not alarmed or even ashamed of her moment of weakness. Instead, he told her that he would “never go droving.” Apparently, that was exactly what she needed to hear – that at least someone, albeit a little boy, would not abandon her, or leave her. The Drover’s Wife for me also raises some other questions relating to life in the Outback. One of them is the role of the drover, the father, the head of the family. Is it right to leave the welfare of the children to the sole responsibility of your partner? Should you be leaving your family to their own devices in a harsh and dangerous environment such as the Australian bush? Would you take responsibility should anything untoward happen to your loved ones? Would you regret then? This may be a typical lifestyle in the Outback, but not one that should be encouraged. As a father, although providing for your family is your responsibility, I wonder if that is to be more important than staying with and protecting your family. What is the point of being a father if you do not raise your children, or watch them grow? What kind of parent would you be if you abandoned your children for long time periods only to return and realize that they have grown up and apart from you? What kind of spouse will you be, if you claim to care and love them and then leave them to care for your children alone? All you shall be to your family then, is nothing more than an occasional visitor, a stranger. The story has thus brought awareness to the kind of life specifically in the Australian bush, through the eyes of a woman and young mother. The struggles that a bushwoman has to face without

her drover husband are more than mere provisional issues, and they encompass the life and future of the children as well. I sympathize with the bushwomen of Australia for all the hardships they must endure for the sake of their family. However, this proves that women are a strong race, capable of near impossible feats, overcoming obstacles and pushing oneself beyond the limits. In conclusion, personally, The Drover’s Wife is more than just a story of a bushwoman. The Drover’s Wife is a story of true courage and strength. In her shoes, I may not be able to do what she has been doing for her family for years. Being a mother and caretaker is difficult enough, what more doing so on your own. Knowing that your husband is present, but never physically present when you need him most is emotionally draining and discouraging. There is no one to turn to, and all you have for company in the dead of night are your fears and self-doubts. Your children look to you as a source of strength and stability. They depend on you. Can I do this? Can I make it through another day? Can I protect my children? What if I fail? Despite all that, the bushwoman wakes up from a sleepless night the next morning, puts on her warrior face and faces the new day with all the courage in the world, fearless. She is fierce to defend and protect, gentle to love and care. While her heart is pounding on the inside, she is strong and unmoving on the outside. And that, to me, is a true hero.

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