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Struggle Country: The Rural Ideal in Twentieth Century Australia


Influenced by a desire for ‘peacefulness’ after the First World War, and paralleling a growth of countryside nostalgia in Britain and elsewhere, in the interwar period both city and country people subtly changed their perception of the key ‘inheritance’ of the Australian countryside, from the virtues of the struggling and productive pioneer to that of the traditional community. Particularly within the country towns, this helped to shift the view of the fundamental importance of the country away from agricultural production to the social life the town represented. This had significant political effects in terms of support for the Country Party in this period, and how we might view that party’s later ‘decline’.

Stanley Baldwin, British Prime Minister between 1924 and 1929 and again from 1935 to 1937, famously declared during his premiership:

‘To me, England is the country, and the country is England’.

Baldwin made similar statements throughout his time as Conservative Party leader and P.M., and the imagery he drew upon to illustrate what this ‘country’ was, was also unchanging. Typically, in his descriptions, it could be seen and heard in: ‘the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy, the corncrake on a dewy morning, the sound of the scythe against the whetstone, and the sight of a plough team coming over the brow of a hill’ (Baldwin 1926 p. 16).

Evoking such images was part of Baldwin’s successful campaign in this period to, as Jeremy Burchardt suggests, carefully cultivate ‘an image of himself as a countryman... He dressed in tweeds, was usually to be seen with a pipe, and made it plain that he preferred the countryside to towns.’ He made an ‘implicit equation between the countryside, himself and Conservatism... homely; familiar, traditional and therefore safe’ (Burchardt 2002 p. 105).

Yet, despite Baldwin’s mention of the plough team coming over the hill, this was not an agricultural countryside. As Burchardt (2002 p. 106) continues ‘It was the aesthetic countryside, not the working countryside, which Baldwin celebrated.’ Simon Miller adds that Baldwin’s rural land had ‘been idealised and timelessly suspended in the Past as the very antithesis of dynamic change and productive activity... [it had] “little to do with the realities of farming”’ (Miller 1995 p. 100).

Of course it had, in fact, to do with an appeal to nostalgia, for the past true Britain (or England), and very much to establish an association for Baldwin with the stable traditional social values which had united people in the past. It was against the dynamism, in a sense, of change, industry, and production, both in the cities, obviously, but also to some extent in the countryside itself.1

It would be hard to argue that Baldwin’s campaign could not be called a political appeal to ‘countrymindedness’, although perhaps aimed not at country voters. The term countrymindedness, of course, is the one coined by Don Aitkin to describe, for Australia, an ideology drawn upon by the Country Party, later the National Party, which allowed it to succeed electorally in the first part of the twentieth century. The Country Party could draw on support, and votes, not only from farmers but also from country townspeople because they both ‘partook’ of the fundamentals of this ideology (Aitkin 1972 pp. 4–6 and Aitkin 1985 p. 35).

This ideology included (see the Introduction to this book for Aitkin’s full list of its tenets), amongst other things, an acceptance of the belief that:

•   Australians, from city and country alike, should in their own interest support policies aimed at improving the position of the primary industries;

•   Farming and grazing, and rural pursuits generally, are virtuous, ennobling and co-operative; they bring out the best in people; and

•   The characteristic Australian is a countryman, and the core elements of national character come from the struggles of country people to tame their environment and make it productive (Aitkin 1985 p. 35).

Jeff Archer has described the continuing acceptance, following Aitkin, of the political analysis that ‘until very recently the National Party was successful in winning votes in towns with a policy based on farming as the central plank of rural ideology’ (Archer 2000 p. 5).

Yet, unlike the apparent core of the ideology that Aitkin describes, Baldwin’s appeal in Britain was not explicitly about the interests of farmers. During Baldwin’s government many policies were introduced which damaged the position of the agricultural sector, and, as Burchardt says, represented ‘a turning away from the real problems of the countryside’ (Burchardt 2002 p. 106).

The idea of a non-agricultural countryside has certainly never been thought to constitute part of the Country Party’s appeal in Australia. Indeed, the existence and force of Australian countrymindedness has often been seen as almost ‘common sense’ in that it represented simply a version of the agrarian ideal and the rural/town divide that has been identified almost everywhere and since early times. But not all ‘countrymindedness’ is the same, and the differences have political importance. I will argue that there are significant parallels between Baldwin’s British use of this image of the Conservative countryside and countryman, and developments in both the imagery of the countryside, and politics, in Australia in the interwar period.

Aitkin claims in his construction of countrymindedness, clearly as Baldwin does also, that it encompasses the belief that the characteristic or representative figure of the nation is the ‘countryman’. But here some of the similarities end. Aitkin’s countrymindedness continues that the ‘core elements of national character come from the struggles of country people to tame their environment and make it productive’. This struggle is what forms and characterises the countryman, who, as the farmer, the countryminded ideology insists, deserves our political support for policies to ease his struggle.

In arguing for the dominance of such imagery of ‘struggle and taming’ of the country in Australia, Aitkin is supported, for example, by Richard Waterhouse’s analysis of representations of the bush prior to the First World War.

Waterhouse argues that, after the dominance of more complex nineteenth-century representations of class, gender and race relations on the ‘frontier’, ‘During the early twentieth century a simpler and more straightforward conception of the Bush, its history and peoples’ emerged’. Centenary celebrations of early explorers in 1913 ‘were commemorated not as a nostalgic occasion to regret the changes that had taken place in the Bush, but rather, they were used to emphasise the progress and prosperity that rural Australia had and continued to bring to the nation... they were now all portrayed as “hardy pioneers”, sturdy... [and] united in their quest for progress, prosperity and a united nation’ (Waterhouse 2005 pp. 189–190).

Past and present merged into both the nostalgic and heroic image of progress and taming – opening up the country – by the ‘struggling and tough pioneer’. Aitkin’s imagery repeats and transfers this essentially to the inheritance of the farmer, and political support for this ideal.

In his study of the Victorian Mallee area, John Senyard found that up to and around the period of the First World War, ‘The language of newspaper articles, with its emphasis on “sturdy settlers” and “pioneers battling hard” to turn the Mallee into “the granary of the State” reflected the general public concepts of the region’ (Senyard 1974 p. 24).

Yet, we can compare this to a description of her region written twenty years later by a Mallee woman for the Melbourne Argus in 1937.

Autumn and winter have departed, sorrowfully it is true. With their going our large log fires and sunny, golden days have become just another memory in our cycles of the year... The Mallee can be very lovely at times, and the people in it complacent and content... the hay waggons, heavily loaded, come tumbling in. Who does not love a hayfield, cut and stooked, or in a golden waving mass along the skyline.2

This contains at least echoes of Baldwin’s romantic descriptions of the English idyll and the aesthetic countryside.

Figure 9.1 Cultivating a paddock on the Stephenson farm, 1930s Kurraca West.

Photograph courtesy of Mavis Lockhart.

Of course, the nature of life in the Mallee itself had changed across this period, and life may well have become more comfortable than the struggles in its earlier days, although drought, debt, and depression created their own problems for most people in the wheat belt at least through the early to mid 1930s.

But I would argue that a subtle change towards such imagery as in this 1937 piece was becoming more important, both socially and politically, in the Australian countryside by the late 1930s.

The Mallee woman’s images were those of the current countryside, although they clearly seemed to draw upon visions of a nostaglic rural idyllic past. However, on a more specifically nostalgic note, a few weeks later, in the Argus again, there appeared an article entitled the ‘Glory of the English Cottage: Its Link with Australia’. In this article, in which Stanley Baldwin is in fact quoted twice, the author speaks of one memory of growing up in rural Australia:

most of us can recall pioneer-built houses on Australian hillsides in which were reproduced traditional features of cottage-building in English shires. We were in childhood fascinated, perhaps, by a neighbour’s wide stone fireplace, wherein the kettle swung on a sooty crane, or we remember an attic where cider-scented apples were stored, or an old man who talked about Zummerset. Perhaps we recall old ladies... trowelling and weeding and successfully tending flourishing beds of mignonette and violets, larkspurs and hollyhocks, rosemary hedges, and potted red geraniums. Such recollections give us a warm and living link with faraway cottages and gardens that were the birthplaces of our pioneer grandparents and their contemporaries, and scenes such as they treasured in memory and tried wistfully to reproduce... That... is tradition and stability and the rock from which our fathers were hewn.3

Figure 9.2 Old bluestone cottage, Port Fairy.

Photograph courtesy of the State Library of Victoria. John T. Collins, photographer

Our fathers were hewn from a land of the sweet English cottage, of tradition and stability. The nation was hewn from this, essentially, in this imagery. I will return below to the ideas of tradition and stability.

These might be seen as purely idealised city views of the country, being printed as they are in the Argus. But we can for the moment consider the significance of an ‘outside’ construction and promotion of such views of the country. Andrew Moore has put forward a case as to a further purposeful use of a rural imagery in Australia in this period. Moore claims that ‘rural grandees’ and their allies, seeking to head off any rise in rural radicalism throughout the interwar period, particularly at the time of the Great Depression, eagerly promoted ideas of an anti-city, anti-industrialist, ideology (Moore 1990 pp. 54–55). Moore draws on Aitkin here, and describes this as the promotion of ‘countrymindedness’, in that they sought to placate rural class conflict by setting the city as the unifying enemy. Of such ideas, Moore argues, ‘the principal ideologues were businessmen and rural politicians...’ (p. 55).

But the countrymindedness being put forward by a businessman and rural politician – the wool-grower, broker and Victorian United Australia Party senator – J.F. Guthrie, in the Argus at the time of the 1937 Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show, was not that of thrusting agricultural progress and a taming of the environment. He reported after a visit to Britain that:

The peaceful unsurpassed beauty of Britain is the same – it could not be improved, and I was glad to observe that it had not been damaged to as great an extent as one might fear by the erection of awful hoardings, such as spoil the appearance of many of our suburban and country roads in Australia. The amount of timbered country and the number of line hedges in England and Scotland are largely responsible for the beauty of the countryside everywhere. The peoples of Europe love trees, and realise their national value to a far greater extent than we do in Australia.4

For conservative elites, for Baldwin in Britain or Guthrie in Australia, representing the countryside in terms of preservation rather than change might be politically important. Moore may be correct in his description of the deliberate promotion of ‘countryminded’ ideas by a social, including a rural, elite in this period for political purposes. But there is little doubt that there was also a, perhaps unconnected, shift in the form of nostalgic rural imagery apparently being promoted in the newspaper organs of such groups, and which can clearly be seen as similarly fostering ideas of rural stability. This change involved the dominant visions of the past and the nature of the pioneer.

Similar imagery to the examples in the Argus above was apparent in the Sydney Mail, which editorially represented the points of view of wealthy graziers and those of a similar social circle.

There is no doubt, as Helen Doyle describes in an earlier chapter, that parallels had always been made in white Australia, particularly between the ‘prettiness’ of some Australian scenes and their English counterparts. But, in the period after World War One, there does appear a distinct shift in the common imagery used in papers such as the Sydney Mail for the typical Australian setting, its past, and its people. Immediately after the war, representations had continued to be similar to these quoted childhood memories of the bush property: ‘reclaimed from the wilderness; the outhouses and sheds of rough-hewn slabs with their bark roofs tilting this way and that way, each one a monument to unremitting toil and the dauntless spirit of the pioneer.’5 But by the middle to late1930s a different image was generally asserted in the paper, particularly throughout its (significantly named) ‘Glimpses of Country Life’ column. In this, towns and areas were routinely described, just to take a few examples from early 1934, in terms such as: ‘nestling in a green meadow, a creek running through it... make Springsure the little paradise it is’; the ‘romantic little village of Bungonia... a peaceful backwater basking in rural and romantic quietude’; ‘half-asleep in the shelter of its little valley lies Cania, dreaming away the years... What history, picturesquely embellished with glamorous romance, could be told about the district’. In other sections of the paper, visits to ‘cosy and inviting’ towns were described, where ‘moon-lighted threads of light mist... wreathed the Soldiers’ Memorial clock tower in the main street with a spiritual appeal’ and childhood memories of the past were more of ‘a fine old property... pleasantly situated on a picturesque knoll’. Old pioneers could remind writers of ‘Myrtle Reed and her character in “Lavender and Old Lace”’, living in a ‘beautiful district’.6

A similar paper to the Sydney Mail, the Western Mail in Western Australia, in the 1930s promoted the same type of images, with constant mention in its book discussion and other pages of the English rural idyll, typically emphasising Baldwinite visions7. This imagery clearly took hold amongst the paper’s readers, with one letter amongst many using such frameworks for describing the Australian bush: ‘I love the twittering of the birds, the croaking of the frogs, the perfume of the flowers and the quiet of the narrow trails’, with the writer then providing a direct parallel to life, again, in ‘Zummerset’ with ‘the grassy slopes, primroses, bluebells, cowslips and, the most glorious of all, daffodils’, linking all this to a feeling of living closer to Nature and ‘it seems to me, nearer to God’.8 On nostalgia for the early settlers of the state: ‘Walking down the quaint cobbled streets in old Busselton, one cannot help thinking of the old romantic houses of the pioneers of the West...’9

These images were clearly popular by the late 1930s. The inheritance from the pioneers seemed to have changed subtly over this almost twenty-year period.

In the New South Wales Farmer and Settler newspaper, by 1936, instead of the idea of the ‘pushing’ pioneer, the story of an early female settler in the relatively tough Grenfell farming and mining district was largely concerned with noting how in the past ‘Social life was solidly organised. Instead of dabbling in politics and other present-day feminist occupations, ladies of the ‘nineties organised sewing bees, knitting teas and church bazaars... Gala picnics were organised for the children, and the youngsters loved them... picnics were sure to reveal delightful surprises in the hampers... [and emphasising the sense of loss, the regrettable fact that] The march of progress was on, and gradually the old customs were swamped in the flood of rapidly developing modern ideas. The years passed all too quickly’.10 Tradition and social stability were the characteristics of the pioneer, not change.

A typical letter to the editor (the famous Miranda) of the ‘Women’s Bureau’ of the Victorian rural Weekly Times newspaper in 1935 spoke of the early white residents of the Oxley Plains, and wanted to describe:

the pioneer settlers’ pleasures and pastimes... The folks were like a big, happy family... They introduced many of the home country’s pastimes. All their interests being centred in wheat-growing, rivalry in ploughmanship was prominent among the farmers. Ploughing matches were arranged during the late winter and early spring... For 70 years a yearly picnic has been held ... In the first years the journey to the picnic ground, which was several miles up the river from the township, was made in waggons and drays, roofed in with greenery and decorated with roses and gay coloured flowers. The horses’ harness was also gay with flowers... What a happy day and night...11

Figure 9.3 Donald Evans, a city boy, in the country for a few weeks and having the time of his life. The horse’s name was Lucy. Rosevale Dairy Farm, Bombowbee,Tumut, New South Wales, 1934.

Photograph courtesy of the Bicentennial Copying Project, State Library of New South Wales. J. Metcalfe, photographer.

Country nostalgia was formerly for the thrusting change and effort of the past pioneers. It became by the late 1930s a dominant image of nostalgia for stability and unbroken tradition. The central idealisation of the rural past had subtly changed.

This shift parallels what has been described elsewhere for this period. First, this related to the effects of war. In Britain, as Miller argues,

The shock of the bewildering slaughter of the Great War gave the whole nation a yearning for peace and tranquillity. The reality of the English landscape combined with the dominant discourse transmitted by the likes of Baldwin... to provide the wounded with a refuge, both literally and metaphorically... The outcome was that more public attention was drawn to the perceived threat to the English landscape than was focussed on the state of production from the land itself... popularising the image of the English landscape as timeless, traditional and tranquil – the perfect antidote to the brutalities of the Great War and industrial excess (Miller 1995 pp. 95–96).

Timeless and tranquil in Australia too, though stretching to an English tradition.

Elements of this same interwar change can also be seen in Marc Mormont’s description of Belgium:

Until the early 20th century, the social referents in promoting things rural were mainly farmers and peasants whose moral virtues and attachment to property were seen as a model to be set against the working-class world. From around 1925 onwards, however, the Belgian rural world was no longer mainly agricultural and the rural way of life itself became the reference... What was involved was a social ethic ascribed to the village... That vision of the rural... evolved gradually between 1925 and 1935 (Mormont 1990 p. 24).

It was village life and its social values, not the agricultural, which became the reference for attachment to the rural. But why are these points politically important for Australia?

Farmers in Australia, of course, still had the agricultural as reference. But my argument is partly also based on the need, as I have argued elsewhere (Brodie 2003), to distinguish between the farmer and the country town dweller.

Aitkin’s argument about Australian countrymindedness essentially positions the country town dweller as associating with the agricultural and, by implication, the thrusting progressive pioneer, in the development of their support for the policies of the Country Party. This is not the way country town dwellers responded, although they may have been drawn to that party for other ‘countryside’ reasons.

The Great Depression caused many people to lose confidence in the notion of progress. But complaints by farmers as to the difficulties they faced in this time – such as the letter by one in the Weekly Times in 1933 that sympathised ‘with the early pioneers of our land and all the hardships they suffered, [but] I really think they were better off than the struggling settler of today’12 – seem to have not been well received in other parts of rural society.

Interestingly, the responses that such claims elicited demonstrated a perception of a lack of connection between the pioneers and the contemporary farmers – a distinction which may have been important politically.

Centrally, according to Aitkin, the countrymindedness ideology had encompassed the acceptance, amongst both farmers and rural town-dwellers, that Australia was dependent upon the primary producer and that, therefore, in their own interests, all should foremost support policies aimed at improving the lot of the ‘virtuous and noble’ farmer.

But just after the start of the Second World War, in their survey of 180 Victorian country towns, the McIntyres found that the most popular response to farmers and their problems was that ‘they’ve got too many machines on farms now. The farmers are getting soft... If they worked like their fathers they wouldn’t be in debt now.’ ‘It’s the motor-car that has been the ruin of the farmer. Now he’s got a car he can always be coming into town, neglecting his place.’ ‘These farmers haven’t got any idea of making their places pay... Now it’s all machines, and if the machines won’t do it, then let it go undone’ (McIntyre and McIntyre 1944 pp. 270–271).

Senyard quotes letters from local Mallee town newspapers in the 1930s saying ‘the old identities never got the help they deserved, but the present day settlers get more than is good for them’. ‘Living too soft’, another said of them, and interestingly, recommending that farmers should look after their farms and ‘not spend half of their time in running the countries [sic] affairs’ – a clear rejection of farmer politics (cited Senyard 1974 pp. 239–240).

Certainly the Reverend Smith of Clunes in Victoria, a leading member of the interwar Country Townspeople’s League (CTL), seemed to express a popular opinion in his town when he spoke about ‘the Big Fat Farmer, who was not worth a straw to the town’.13

The idea of the farmer as whinger or inefficient is not one that sits neatly with Aitkin’s concept of countrymindedness in the towns. But certainly this split was at least partly apparent in the interwar period.

Aitkin’s concentration on town support for the farmer is perhaps over-stated. This may be seen simply in the responses in Victoria to the early Country Party which I have written about in detail elsewhere, such as the emergence of the very successful CTL, which described itself in 1920 as being politically ‘more important than the Farmers’ Union [and its Country Party wing]’ in rural areas.14 The impact of the division between country town and hinterland became so apparent that Country Party politicians in the early 1920s, such as its leader, John Allen, had to defend themselves against charges that their election might ‘injure’ the interests of local country towns.15

The assertion by the CTL that townspeople represented ‘the majority section of the country folk’, while farmers were only ‘one valuable but minority section’, suggests the staking of a claim to being as central to the Australian rural ideal as the struggling primary producer taming the environment.16

Townspeople (like city-dwellers in the following example), could be as pioneering as the farmers, implied the northern Victorian Cohuna paper in 1937 in an article about plans by the Education Department to introduce the study of Australia’s pioneers more fully into schools:

In turning children’s attention to Pioneers and their work, it is to be hoped the Education Department and its officers will be careful to give them a sound and balanced conception of the true import of the word “Pioneer”... There is a general tendency to offer an adulation amounting almost to worship to the first land settlers, and the early explorers... It is safe to say that there is a hundred times more pioneering going on in Melbourne than ever there was a hundred years ago.17

This description was quite different to that from 1913 described earlier by Waterhouse, and within it pioneering was thus not just an opening up of the frontier, it was much more complex, and could be located elsewhere than on the land and agriculturally. What was just as important, said the paper, was ‘spiritual pioneering’.18 This runs closely into an idea of a pioneering tradition of values not just productivity or progress.

In contrast to their finding views about the farmers getting ‘soft’, the McIntyres also found as a common statement within the towns they investigated: ‘The people in this town are a wonderful lot for work. They’re always working for something or other... Any cause does well in this town. The people are always willing to work and help’ (McIntyre and McIntyre 1944 p. 262). In that sense, the townies, not the farmers, were the inheritors of a pioneer capacity for hard work.

Evidence that over the interwar period country town life became more representative of ‘countrymindedness’ than a farmer based agricultural productivity has been neglected. The town or village represented true country life and the traditions that had been brought by the pioneers. Looking at such things as change in the nostalgic images of the rural can help suggest this to us.

The referent, as was mentioned earlier, for the true inheritance of the pioneers had perhaps become the values of the town, or the village. Within the towns, this could mean that country town life became the ideal that needed to be protected and policies to do this would be supported.

The Country Party emphasised plans for secondary industry decentralisation as well as those for agricultural support, as least from the mid-1920s, which has been described by Aitkin and others as part of their successful pitch to town voters. But as the McIntyres point out from their survey, development by itself did not appeal: ‘It is obvious that any plans for the future of country towns will be resisted, unless they are plans for immediate economic benefit and do not involve much change in people’s ways of life. Such resistance is partly due to insecurity, which makes change frightening and to natural conservatism’ (McIntyre and McIntyre 1944 p. 282).

Tom Mitchell, who was a United Australia Party candidate in Benambra and then switched to hold the seat for the Country Party for 30 years, before it was taken by the Liberal party on his retirement, perhaps understood the type of subtle mixed and evocative appeal required, when he proposed in a 1937 campaign speech in one of his towns that:

One of the greatest problems of the farmer is what to do with his children... younger sons of the family drift off to city jobs, thus depriving the farmer of their assistance and breaking up the home life which is so important in the training of youth. In countries such as England... one sees unending strings of people on bicycles riding home from jobs in the towns. Because of the proximity of these towns, farmers’ children are able to obtain jobs quite close to their homes and return to their farms at night and the week-end... We must have the same in Australia.19

This was about decentralisation of industry – but, again, it was also about a particular version of it – of the traditional English small village imagery of strings of people on bicycles.

Politically, again, this point is significant. As town residents in country areas became increasingly the largest voting block in these areas (see Aitkin 1972 p. 4), and parties depended upon their support for success, it is possible that an ideological aspect of this support was based not so much upon the acceptance of pro-primary producer aims such as were central to Country Party policies, but instead was given simply to those who would seem to back most strongly the aims of limiting the threat to these, essentially ‘non-agricultural’, traditions of country life.

This is not to deny that, for some time, subtle messages were important in promoting the Country Party connection to these values and traditions, even if their direct policy statements, and ideology, with ‘farming as the central plank’ as Archer notes, included little of this aspect (Archer 2000).

On the Weekly Times Women’s Bureau pages, in a three month period in mid-1935, there were at least 20 ‘letters to Miranda’ which either asked for or provided descriptions of ‘Old England’. (This compared with almost no letters of this type appearing on these pages a few years earlier.) These letters, again, emphasised the parallels of English imagery with Australia, and descriptions even of the Mallee were resplendent with items such as: ‘the country [is] pleasantly undulating... The grass is knee high and plentiful, the homes, though mostly small, are bright and attractive with ornamental trees and shrubs surrounding them, to give that homelike look so dear to the heart of women... In the early morning, when the sun throws its beams on the dewy leaves, they sparkle like diamonds...’20

On the following page to the Miranda column was the ‘Women’s Organisations’ section of the paper. This listed first the activities of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) and its branches. One can see remarkably similar trends in interests recorded, such as the mention in the Langview CWA branch report of the ‘very interesting paper... prepared and read... by Mrs Holdsworth, a member, dealing with district surrounding Harrowgate. This was the first of a series of papers to be read by members on Impressions of England’.21 And following straight on from these activities on the same page were those of the Women’s Section of the Country Party, which combined agricultural issues with mentions of King and Country. The subtle connections in all this were clear. The Women’s Section of the Victorian Farmers Union in the early 1920s noted, with many other sections of the infant Country Party, the ‘prejudice’ against farmer politicians in the country towns. They all agreed strongly that it was through the activities of ‘our womenfolk in the local town’ that support might be built, and that there ‘are no better canvassers than the ladies, and particularly in the towns... A vigorous effort must at once be started to increase the number of branches and numerical strength of the Women’s Section’,22 later linking this with the strong (both direct and more subtle) connections that this organisation formed with the CWA and similar bodies. Elizabeth Teather has examined the role of the CWA in spreading a form of ‘country’ ideology from the late 1920s onwards. She notes that early branch members of the Association often included ‘wives of storekeepers, publicans, solicitors, bank managers, teachers and policemen in country towns’, who may have joined for social reasons, but who certainly became a central part, and adopted and helped foster the beliefs, of an organisation which had as its key tenets ideas which ‘had much in common with the attitude known as “countrymindedness”’, (Teather 1994 pp. 70–71 and 76). But in this case very much an attitude which had at its core ideas of (British) tradition and stability with the Association’s motto of ‘Honour to God. Loyalty to the Throne’ (Waterhouse 2005 p. 241).

These were some of the connections established between the Country Party and another form of countrymindedness that was less concerned with farming and farmers as its central plank. But how exactly such appeals might work politically, and in whose favour, may have had just as much to do with a continuing ability to make such links as anything else, and in fact, it seems, could vary, depending upon local structures, networks, and personalities in individual towns and areas. In the Western District of Victoria images of ‘quasi-aristocratic “moleskin” conservatism’ (the local version of Baldwin’s tweeds perhaps) amongst Liberals in the area, as described by Peter Hay (1988 p. 66), could explain to some extent the phenomenon of Liberal Party candidates winning in such country areas often seen as having little difference to those where the Country Party had continued success. Moreover, swaps of allegiance as seen in the example of Benambra above, and more recently, the rise of other independents and parties, may not, in contrast to the core National Party ideas, represent the idea of fighting for agricultural strength, but may instead represent the idea of fighting for a reduction in change in the towns. The decline over time of a specific country political force may be less surprising if we could see its base for success in the earlier twentieth century less in the farmer pioneer idea and more in support of traditions, and perhaps nostalgia, which came to represent what country towns felt was real ‘countrymindedness’.


I wish to thank the Faculty of Arts, Monash University, for funding support for part of the research informing this chapter, and Carly Millar for excellent and innovative research assistance.


Ararat Advertiser.


Clunes Guardian and Gazette.

Cohuna Farmers Weekly.

Creswick Advertiser.

Farmer and Settler.

Farmers’ Advocate.

Kyabram Free Press.

Sydney Mail.

Weekly Times.

Western Mail.

Wodonga and Towong Sentinel.


1     For a discussion of a connection between Baldwin’s approach and the later political rhetoric of Robert Menzies in Australia, see Brett 1992 pp. 140–143.

2     H Porter, ‘Happy Days of Spring in the Mallee’, Argus Sept 16 1937 p. 10.

3     C McAskell, ‘Glory of the English Cottage Its Link with Australia’, Argus 2 October 1937 p.31.

4     Senator JF Guthrie, ‘Britain Sound to the Core: Our Chief Market and its Rural Beauty’, Argus Royal Show Supplement 18 September 1937 p. 41.

5     HF Wickham, ‘The Voice of the Bush’, Sydney Mail, 18 February 1920 p. 42.

6     Sydney Mail, 17 January 1934 p. 2, 25 April 1934 p. 2, 28 February 1934 p. 4, 28 March 1934 p. 43.

7     See for example Western Mail, 6 Aug 1936 p. 37 and following weeks, and ‘Corner Bookshelf’ in 1 October 1936 edition.

8     Western Mail, 23 July 1936 p. 6.

9     Western Mail, 14 November 1935 p. 5.

10    Farmer and Settler, 1 October 1936, ‘Women and Home Supplement’ p. 1.

11    Weekly Times, 19 January 1935 p. 17.

12    Weekly Times, 11 February 1933 p. 17.

13    Clunes Guardian and Gazette, 15 March 1921 p. 2.

14    Creswick Advertiser, 11 June 1920 p. 4.

15    Kyabram Free Press, 30 Aug 1921 p. 3.

16    Ararat Advertiser, 22 April 1920 p. 3.

17    Cohuna Farmers Weekly, 26 November 1937.

18    Cohuna Farmers Weekly, 26 November 1937.

19    Wodonga and Towong Sentinel, 17 September 1937 p. 2.

20    Weekly Times, 28 January 1933 p. 17.

21    Weekly Times, 29 June 1935 p. 24.

22    Farmers’ Advocate, 17 March 1921 p. 10 and 4 November 1920 p. 1.


Aitkin, Don. The Country Party in New South Wales: A Study of Organisation and Survival. Canberra: ANU Press; 1972.

Aitkin, Don. ‘“Countrymindedness”: the spread of an idea’. Australian Cultural History 1985; (4): 34–41.

Archer, Jeff. ‘The politics of metrocentrism’. Paper presented at the APSA conference 4–6 October 2000, Australian National University, available at Accessed 13 January 2003.

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Cite this article as: Brodie, Marc. ‘The politics of rural nostalgia between the wars’. Struggle Country: The Rural Ideal in Twentieth Century Australia, edited by Davison, Graeme; Brodie, Marc. Melbourne: Monash University ePress; 2005. pp. 09.1–09.13.

Struggle Country: The Rural Ideal in Twentieth Century Australia

   by Graeme Davison and Marc Brodie