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The Bush

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  419 ratings  ·  66 reviews
Most Australians live in cities and cling to the coastal fringe, yet our sense of what an Australian is – or should be – is drawn from the vast and varied inland called the bush. But what do we mean by 'the bush', and how has it shaped us?

Starting with his forebears' battle to drive back nature and eke a living from the land, Don Watson explores the bush as it was and as
ebook, 363 pages
Published September 24th 2014 by Penguin
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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Lyn Elliott
This is the best book I’ve read on Australia for a long, long time, maybe the best ever.
Part memoir, part history, part rambling journey through ideas about what The Bush is and what it means in Australian culture, always engaging and often sardonically witty.

It’s a sort of unpacking of Australian bush myths, far too complex to cover in a short review like this.

Through stories from many parts of Australia beyond the cities, he puts before us the impacts of colonization on Indigenous Australian
Truly a must read history book for every single Australian.
A history written about that real-mythical-imaginary-beautiful-cruel thing we Australians call "The Bush"
Written by a man who grew up in The Bush but left for half a lifetime and then returned to live and learn and enjoy. So he writes with wisdom and knowledge and experience but not from a position of living an entire lifetime trying to wrest some sort of living from a land that doesn't want to give what you are asking from it, as many a
"More than their hats and moleskins and lopsided gaits, the interior silence of their days still sets them apart, confirms them in their creed, sets it in stone. They are special and their cause is just, and they are doomed to always deserve more than they receive."

This is a huge book - not just its literal size (400 page hardback does wonders for the biceps) but this is a magnum opus of broad reading, wide travel and hours upon hours of deep thought.

This is a grand book because it would be man
Jennifer (JC-S)
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: net-galley
‘The Australian bush is both real and imaginary.’

‘The Bush’ offers an expansive narrative in appreciation of Australia’s bush heritage. Don Watson’s book encompasses the roles and impacts of Indigenous peoples, convicts, settlers and migrants as well as native and introduced flora and fauna. There is no single Australian bush: the country is too big and diverse, and people’s uses and experiences of it are too different for there to be any singularity.

‘The bush could gulp you, or your children, m
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Way too big a conceptual book for a month's lead in reading to a bookclub gathering, this is one that many of us agreed needed to be on the shelves, for dipping in and out of. I loved so much about this book, but need to think, reread, consider and probably rethink much of it. Definitely one for the to be bought stakes now though. ...more
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
A good book well written for the most part. I found that it tended to ramble somewhat in places. But, the overarching feeling I got from this book was sadness. The subject matter for the most part is how much of Australia's native bushland, forests and natural environment has been lost for ever. And when not discussing the loss of flora & fauna the book recounts just how cruel the white settlers were to the Indigenous population.The worst part is that we have learnt nothing from all this experie ...more
Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Watson's such a beautiful writer. So much research would have been invested into this book and yet he (mostly) has a very light touch in revealing the work behind it. It's an unflinching account of the brutality and environmental degradation white Australia has wrought on the land since settlement. It's also a reflective, affectionate and considered book about the impact the bush has on people around the country.

I read this during my summer holidays with the 'bush' around me at Jervis Bay, NSW,
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a magnificent and beautifully-written book about the Australian bush - or bushes as Watson rightly describes it. Covering every imaginable aspect of life and history of the bush from the various life forms, the environment, indigenous people, colonial settlers and squatters and modern life. Well worth a read.
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australiana
What to make of this book. Don Watson, known for his speech writing work for Paul Keating, and more recently his exposes of management speak, has in this book written a series of inter-connected ruminations on the Australian bush: what it was, what it is, how it came to be that way.

This is of course a huge task. Where do you start describing the countryside of a continent that stretches from 10 to 40 degrees of latitude, taking in the tropics, desert, temperate forest and alpine areas? They are
Nov 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Content warning; colonialism, climate change crisis discussion, animal cruelty and more.

Brutally honest, intensely thorough and refreshingly unbias yet, he does not villianise any particular group (save perhaps the British government and later, the Australian Government).

Don Watson writes magnificently and quotes primary sources from a variety of people (drovers, explorers and even wives of pastoralists- a perspective I have scarcely heard.). He gives voice to ecological injustice, dehumanised
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
It might not be a book for everyone, but I feel like I learnt a lot by reading it. There is obviously a lot to learn about the way this country was "settled" and this book contains a lot of that history. ...more
hayls 🐴
A definitive tome on all aspects of rural Australia from a European/colonial Australian perspective.
Reading Don Watson’s extensive observations on the nature, mythology, legends, treatment, degradation, salvation, and liveability of the Australian bush was pivotal for me. Now living in the city but having grown up in many different iterations of “bush”, I found myself both nodding furiously in agreement with some notions and exceptionally challenged by others, wondering how much I “know” as compared to what’s just the common tale we’ve told ourselves over generations.

It is first and foremost
Dec 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard Don Watson speak about this book at the Sydney Writers' Festival and immediately bought it, but ended up being a little disappointed. I struggled with the sheer amount of information included, it was overwhelming at times and seemed to belabour some of the points he was trying to make.
But - he makes some important observations about the way settlers have treated the Australian inland since colonisation, and the mistakes that are still being made. It is important reading.
Jess Xu
Matt Ralph
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Important if there is going to be a future, which seems unlikely, that agriculture recognises the role of ecology and history. This work, Charles Massey's The Call of the Reed Warbler, and the works of Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage, are leading the change in how we think about human interaction with the Australian landscape.

P. 76
The aborigines, the myth of wilderness
'They lived in harmony with the environment, but only after bending it to suit their purposes. It seems very likely that soon afte
I know many people who loved this book and part of me can see why: Watson has a good turn of phrase and has attempted to tackle a topic of massive scope; the mythology, history, relationship to, reality of, environment, future and indigenous dwellers of the Australian Bush.

The term "bush" itself has massive scope from tea-tree coastal scrub, to saltbush plains, to towering temperate eucalypt forest, to tropical rainforest, and everything in between. The traditional indigenous farming methods (l
Dec 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fabulous book in every possible way. The writing is somewhere in the “Ernest Hemingway meets Bruce Chatwin and they go share beers and a few yarns with David Attenborough” zone. Watson has created the most nuanced and comprehensive sense of Australia I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve pretty much read them all. His ability to avoid blinkered sentimentality while delivering genuine emotional responses is astounding; almost as impressive as his avoidance of shallow generalizations and sharp dichoto ...more
Peter Langston
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an outstanding study and reflection on the myth and folklore we hold so high as a cornerstone of our national psyche. Watson chooses not between the romantic or the historical in selecting a box of paints with which to portrait rural Australia but instead uses both boxes, a brush in either hand. What might have become a pastiche of former Australian writers, instead emerges as a highly original, scrupulously honest work, unafraid of drawing unpopular conclusions in which we are all culpable ...more
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mr Watson explores what the Bush means to various people and how the term's meaning has changed over the 200+ years of white colonization. He traveled the country extensively talking to a wide variety of people asking them what the bush means to them and how the bush has changed, including: Farmers, farm hands, historians, scientists, environmentalists, politicians, shop keepers and more. He starts the book with his own families history of farming and clearing the land in Gippsland up through hi ...more
Andrew Westle
Feb 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021
It really feels like a book that every Australian should read, and while that sounds so nationalistic, ‘The Bush’ captures so much of the methodology that Australians employ around the Bush.

The book is filled with a nuance exploring the complexities around our relationship to the bush, and it’s place in a colonial history.

While the book explores disposition and different perspectives about First Nations experience of the bush, there was something about the writers use of ‘settlers’ that I found
Susan Wishart
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very large, well researched and interesting history of the Australian bush. It follows the march of European settlement into the hinterland to work the land as pastoralists or miners. In doing so, millions of acres of forests and bushland were cleared and we are reaping the results of this today.
Without tree cover weeds proliferated, fertile topsoil was washed into rivers and streams impeding their flow, water became scarce causing soil salination and native animals were driven into ne
Paolo Pietropaolo
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
Outstanding. A little meandering at times, perhaps, but on that meandering journey it takes you all kinds of wonderful, thoughtful, and difficult places in a contemplation of our relationship with nature through an Australian lens. Watson has a robust sympathy for farmers and others who work the land, and his account feels more thorough and reliable for it. Encouragingly, he sees a way forward whereby those who see the land as a resource and those who see it as sacred can find common ground. Ano ...more
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing. It covers the settlement history, environmental impacts, natural history, poetry, writing, and folk law of the Australian bush. Don Watson grew up in the bush around Gibbsland in Victoria and traces his and other families’ fortunes in the good times and bad. He recognises the struggles to survive and the grim determination to chop down and shoot anything that stood in the way of making the land pay for itself. Somehow he has produced an ode to the bush which is also an env ...more
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I loved Don Watson's unflinching portrayal of our landscape with colonial warts and all. He loves the bush and although much of this book brought an overwhelming sense of grief and anger at what we have lost, I gained insight into many aspects of different parts of our landscape, the changes brought about by colonisation and the ways in which we are trying to turn things around. This is ultimately a love letter to the Australian Bush and you can't help but be carried along by ...more
Stephen Kimber
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Four and a half stars really. A great book by someone who grew up on a Victorian dairy farm at a time when we owned a quite different set of environmental sensibilities. Captures well the dilemma of the European sensibility (re land use, particularly) in what is genuinely a very different land from that where our sensibilities arose. Heartily recommended for all who are pondering how Australia uses its space.
Simon Fenton
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This audiobook recording of The Bush, read by Don Watson himself, took me a little while to get through only because I wanted to really savour it.

I'm a city kid, but this book put me in the same kind of trance that the best Landline stories can.

Watson is a fantastic writer and he weaves together history, anecdote, poetry and yarns here in a masterful fashion. I'll definitely be listening again.
Nov 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
This took ages for me to finish. Part memoir, history book, botany text, literary review and myth buster , it’s an interesting and well written book. It just made me so mad! And sad too. The myth of the australian bush is based on lies, violence, racism, sexism and environmental degradation and yet the myth lives on. My rating of the book is based more on my reaction to it than the quality of the book itself.
Dec 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book. I listened to the audio version. Stopped at one point because it was depressing, but then started again and am so glad I did. Now I want to read the printed version. Such scholarship, wisdom, thoughtfulness, creativity, courage and perseverance went into this book. Outstanding writing. Such important subject matter. So late in coming... Would a smaller version, or a tv documentary, make its content more widely broadcast?
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I heard the author talk about this book at the Adelaide Writers Week a couple of years ago and was reminded of it las month by a good friend.
It is a personal reflection and a book of personal research written by a master story teller.
Very engaging and very informative. Watson balances different views of controversial subjects with a great deal more wisdom and patience than I could. One star off because he occasionally rambles a bit.
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Watson grew up on a farm in Gippsland, took his undergraduate degree at La Trobe University and a Ph.D at Monash University and was for ten years an academic historian. He wrote three books on Australian history before turning his hand to TV and the stage. For several years he combined writing political satire for the actor Max Gillies with political speeches for the former Premier of Victoria, Jo ...more

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“For Hindus, banyan trees are sacred. For Buddhists, bodhi trees; for the Arabs, certain date palms. To be stalwart in a ‘tree-like’ way was to approach goodness, according to Confucius. The Normans built chapels in the trunks of yew trees. Many other cultures attached religious significance to particular trees and groves and forests. Adonis was born of a tree. Daphne turned into one. George Washington confessed to cutting one down and the United States, as a result, was all but immaculately conceived. The tree is the symbol of the male organ and of the female body. The Hebrew kabbalah depicts Creation in the form of a tree. In Genesis, a tree holds the key to immortal life, and it is to the branches and fruit of an olive tree that God’s people are likened in both the Old and New Testaments. To celebrate the birth of Christ his followers place trees in their sitting rooms and palm fronds, a symbol of victory, commemorate his entering Jerusalem. A child noted by Freud had fantasies of wounding a tree that represented his mother. The immortal swagman of Australia sat beneath a coolabah tree. In hundreds of Australian towns the war dead are honoured by avenues of trees.” 3 likes
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