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Bush Ballads

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Cover of Old Bush Songs (1905), Banjo Paterson's seminal collection of bush ballad NL

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The bush ballad, bush song, or bush poem is a style of poetry and folk music that depicts the life, character, and scenery of the Australian bush.

The typical bush ballad employs a straightforward rhyme structure to narrate a story, often one of action and adventure, and uses language that is colourful, colloquial, and idiomatically Australian.

Bush ballads range in tone from humorous to melancholic, and many explore themes of Australian folklore, including bushranging, droving, droughts, floods, life on the frontier, and relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The tradition dates back to the beginnings of European settlement when colonists, mostly British and Irish, brought with them the folk music of their homelands.

Many early bush poems originated in Australia's convict system and were transmitted orally rather than in print.

It evolved into a unique style over the ensuing decades, attaining widespread popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when it was thought by many Australians to convey "an authentic expression of the national spirit".

Through bush poetry, publications like The Bulletin sought to define and promote mateship, egalitarianism, anti-authoritarianism, and a concern for the "battler" as quintessential Australian values.

Though the style has since declined in popularity, works from the period leading up to Federation remain among the best-known and loved poems in Australia, and "bush bards" such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson are regarded as giants of Australian literature. Clubs and festivals devoted to bush poetry can be found throughout the country, and the tradition lives on in Australian country music

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