Shaping the Australian National Character
The Bulletin, founded in Sydney in 1880, was a highly influential weekly magazine in Australia through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though starting as a publication focused on politics and business, it soon became a leading forum for defining a distinctly Australian national identity and culture.
When The Bulletin debuted in 1880, Australia was still a collection of separate British colonies lacking a strong sense of national identity. The weekly magazine set out to change that by giving voice to a new vision of Australian national character.
Under successive influential editors like J.F. Archibald, W.H. Traill and S.H. Prior, The Bulletin became a leading forum for writers, poets and artists depicting archetypal Aussie characters like the bushman, the swagman, the larrikin and the drover’s wife. The work of the “Bulletin School,” including Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Norman and Lionel Lindsay, celebrated the harsh beauty of the Australian bush and outback while promoting an egalitarian, democratic ethos.
- The Bulletin, under editor J.F. Archibald, hired and encouraged many talented writers in the late 19th century. These included Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Louis Becke, Victor Daley, and many others.
- Archibald had a keen instinct for finding writers with potential. He would offer advice and encouragement, telling them to write in their own voice about topics that inspired them, especially life in the Australian bush.
- For many writers like Paterson, Archibald and The Bulletin gave them their start, publishing their first works and helping launch their careers. The Bulletin became a major outlet for bush poetry and stories.
- Paterson credits Archibald’s advice to “have a go at the bush” with inspiring him to write his classic ballads about bush life. Other writers like Lawson also gained popularity through The Bulletin.
- The Bulletin hired artists like Phil May and Livingston Hopkins to provide illustrations. This collaboration between writers and artists was important for the magazine’s success.
- Writers were drawn to The Bulletin’s free-spirited, egalitarian office culture. Though not all became close friends, they formed a community around the magazine.
Under successive editors like J.F. Archibald and Samuel Prior, The Bulletin cultivated a stable of prominent writers and artists who articulated a vision of Australia as a nation founded on egalitarian, democratic values. The “Bulletin School” of writers, including Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, and Norman Lindsay, penned short stories, poems and cartoons celebrating the Australian bush and outback life. Their focus on the struggles and humor of ordinary Australians, especially rural workers and bushmen, helped create enduring national archetypes like the stockman, the swagman, and the larrikin.
By publishing the first works of many authors, The Bulletin played a seminal role in the development of Australian literature. A.G. Stephens’ influential “Red Page” assessed local writers while encouraging literary nationalism. The magazine sponsored fiction and poetry competitions to discover new voices that became part of the Australian canon.
With its literary competitions and by publishing the first works of many authors, The Bulletin played a vital role in the development of Australian literature. Leading writers saw the magazine as a way to build a truly home-grown literature around Australian themes and landscapes, moving away from Anglo-centric artistic models.
The Bulletin also frequently expressed radical nationalist and pro-worker political views. Its masthead slogan “Australia for the Australians” encapsulated a xenophobic brand of nationalism that supported the White Australia policy. However, the magazine simultaneously championed causes like women’s suffrage and an independent Australian republic.
The Bulletin frequently expressed radical political views, whether attacking the British or supporting causes like women’s suffrage and abolishing the monarchy. Its fiery Australian nationalism and nativism shaped national conversations leading up to Federation in 1901. However, the magazine also displayed the racism common at the time, including hostility toward Chinese and Aboriginal Australians.
In its heyday from the 1880s to World War I, The Bulletin did more than any publication to create archetypes of laconic, rugged Aussie individualism that remain recognizable today. The magazine helped ingrain values like mateship, perseverance and giving everyone a fair go into the national psyche. Writers like Lawson and Paterson remains giants in Australian culture for their Bulletin-published stories and ballads eulogizing the bush life that built the nation’s character.
By the early 20th century, the archetype of the bold, laconic bushman and the Bulletin’s strident democratic-nationalist messaging had become deeply embedded in the Australian popular imagination. This demonstrated the magazine’s profound influence in giving voice to a new national identity and ethos at a critical time when Australia was federated and gaining independence from Britain. The Bulletin’s impact waned after World War I, but it had already indelibly shaped foundational Australian ideals.
By World War II, the Bulletin’s influence had faded as Australia became more urban and multicultural. But its legacy had indelibly shaped foundational concepts of Australian identity. The icons it established, from the helpful swagman to the plucky bush maiden, endured in literature and popular culture. Over 138 years, The Bulletin was instrumental in crystallizing the ideals, humor and stoicism that Australians came to see as quintessentially their own.