‘Bards of the Backblocks: Knights of Chance’, The Bulletin, 26 May 1900.

Knights of Chance (26 May, 1900), p. 3.jpg

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‘Bards of the Backblocks: Knights of Chance’, The Bulletin, 26 May 1900.


Adventuring, Australian national character, backblocks, bard, city, E. J. Brady (1869-1952), Federation, freedom, knight, lance, nationalism, romanticisation, rural economy, New South Wales, NSW.


To describe everyday life in colonial Australia as entirely rural-based in 1900 would be misleading, for the country’s major urban centres, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, housed much of the population and fuelled its commercial vitality (see F. K. Crowley (ed.), A New History of Australia, Richmond, William Heinemann, 1984, p. 261). Yet, the author of these verses, E. J. Brady, romanticises the ordinary Australian’s willingness to ‘chance their luck’ on bold ventures: E.g., prospecting for gold, running sheep and cattle in the water-scarce ‘backblocks,’ harvesting pearls in the N.W., and shipping commodities all over the world. Brady clearly favoured the “adventuring life,” valuing rural freedom over machine-shop slavery in the noxious urban sprawl (Louise D’Arcens, Old Songs in the Timeless Land: Medievalism in Australian Literature 1840-1910, Turnhout, Brepols, 2011, p.141). The propensity for romanticising the Australian present by conflating it with a medieval past was not unusual at the time. The Bulletin published (and made room for) quite a lot of this type of ‘backblocks’ versification, which “was not only determinedly populist and disposable but also extremely cursory in its medievalism, ransacking the popular imaginary indiscriminately for tropes and terms that signified instantaneously and superficially as ‘medieval’” (D’Arcens, 19). That much is apparent from the poem, with its comparatively stock imagery and reliance on ‘the bygone days of yore’ for inspiration: the “Barons of Bold Adventure, Kings of the stout free lance”. Yet Brady, who was a long-standing member of the Australian Socialist League (See John B. Webb, A Critical Biography of Edwin James Brady 1869-1952, University of Sydney PhD Thesis, 1972 p.9), evidently envisaged entire communities of unburdened ‘emancipated’ workers “roaming the countryside and working at will,” like so many questing medieval knights (D’Arcens, p.140). It is likely that Brady was appealing to the resolve that was forming and cohering as a result of the recent Federation debates (c. 1897-98) which, having filtered down into everyday exchange sought to persuade and unite the colonies under the one flag and banner.


E. J. Brady


The Bulletin


The Bulletin


26 May 1900 (p. 3)


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