Water Week

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‘The Australian Legend’: propping-up farmers in times of drought “a very expensive way to maintain a national myth,” says Aus Institute chief

Posted by waterweek on 4 October 2007

Almost 50 years since it was published, Russel Ward’s book The Australian Legend still explained why politicians gave generous sums of money to drought-affected farmers, wrote Daniel Lewis in The Sydney Morning Herald (29/9/2007, p.28). Legend versus reality: It also explained why most Australians thought it was money well spent. Historians gathered at the University of New England this week for an Australian Historical Association conference where examination of Ward and The Australian Legend featured prominently before the book’s 50th birthday next year. Dr Frank Bongiorno, from the university’s school of humanities, said The Australian Legend was one of the country’s most influ­ential history books, perhaps second only to The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. The notion that Australia had to have a vibrant inland “remains powerful”.

Expensive myth: Bongiorno said the plight of farmers de­manded assistance, but “you can’t help but feel there’s also a mythological side to it”. Not all Australians, however, have been seduced by the legend. Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute said propping up farmers in times of drought was “a very expensive way to main­tain a national myth”.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 29/9/2007, p. 28

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