Farewell to Arcady: or Getting Off the Sheep's Back

Thesis Eleven 74 (1):35-53 (2003)
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The saying that `Australia rode to prosperity on the sheep's back' never had more than a small measure of truth; it is better rephrased as `Australia has enjoyed limited periods of modest prosperity through the near-destruction by sheep of a fragile native vegetation'. Sheep, however, have had a cultural role in Australia that needs to be understood if the failures of the wool industry leadership are to be grasped. This role has had a long history, in part Biblical (the Good Shepherd, the episcopal crosier, pastoral care), greatly reinforced by the Enclosures of the 18th century in Britain, promoting an idealized landscape of trees and grass. Settlers found Arcady in eastern Australia, often prepared for them by Aboriginal land use; in came the sheep, the lawn-mowers of the day, and up went the place names, from Camden Park on. `Parks' had social status. Landscapes of trees and grass were much admired, but lacking an understorey, essentially rather sterile from an ecological point of view. The grassy open woodlands were painted by the likes of Hans Heysen, while Tom Roberts painted the shearers. They became the very image of Australia, but the landscapes are dying, and the isolated trees are not regenerating. Many of the images remain potent. But sentiment will not pay the bills of the new century, so it is farewell to Arcady. The nymphs are long departed. This essay, like Gaul, is divided into three parts, the first of which considers sheep and the pastoral industry as a land use: the second is about the politics of wool; the third, about Arcady in Australia, is a theme that helps to explain the first two



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Places We Been.Peter Beilharz & Trevor Hogan - 2022 - Thesis Eleven 172 (1):182-188.

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