America, the Forbidden Fruit: Anti-American Sentiment in Robbery under Arms

By Dahlstrom, James | Antipodes, December 2011 | Go to article overview

America, the Forbidden Fruit: Anti-American Sentiment in Robbery under Arms


Dahlstrom, James, Antipodes


WriiLE ANTI-AMERICAN SENTIMENT AND QUESTIONS OF Americanization in Australian Literature emerged in earnest after World War II (Mosler and Catley 26-7), historical research suggests that Australians have had a love-hate relationship with Americans since the establishment of the first colonies. Adverse feelings toward citizens of the United States seemed to intensify during periods of dynamic social change such as Australia's gold rush and these anti-American attitudes can be found, for example, in Rolf Boldrewood's adventure narrative Robbery Under Arms. Australian conservatives of this period often feared that American values and influences would threaten Australia's British foundations, leading to chaos and a disruption of the order instilled by the British establishment. This belief seemed to be based on California's reputation for lawlessness, due in part to the establishment of vigilance committees.1 Likewise, the gold rush itself turned the British class system on its head, creating what appeared to be an American society by reversing, through sudden wealth, the master-servant relationship that had existed for centuries. Conservatives argued that a pastoral life with a focus on domesticity was die only way to combat the over-excitement brought about by gold rush society, an idea that seemed at odds with contemporary American thought. This anti-American sentiment can be drawn out by examining the novel in its historical context, by placing the author in this historical context, and by treating the novel as colonial narrative.

Robbery Under Arms is a very popular novel, which according to Ken Goodwin is "probably the best of the bushranger novels" (4), and while much work has been written on the narrative, the question of America's influence has largely been ignored. The novel is a first-person narrative written by Dick Marston, a man who is in jail on charges of murder. It is a reflection on his life and the mistakes he has made. Likewise, it is a tale of adventure, beginning with his and his brother's experiences of helping their father with cattle and horse stealing and then chronicling their ultimate demise as they enter into large-scale cattle stealing and bushranging. A portion of the novel shows Dick and his brother working on the goldfields. Even though their next-door neighbor, George Storefield, is seldom present in the narrative, he might be understood to represent the life that Dick and Jim could have and should have had. His patience, persistence, and hard work are rewarded as he amasses a fortune and becomes a respected pillar of the community. The success of his life- a stark contrast to the principles attributed to the Americans- is built upon the ideals of agriculture and domesticity and sharply differs from the fate of the Marston brothers: Dick is in jail and Jim is shot and killed. After Dick has served twelve years in jail, George provides him with a job on an outback station, which sees him return to his agricultural roots and overcome the disruption that bushranging and gold mining proved to be.

AMERICA'S INVOLVEMENT IN AUSTRALIA AND PERCEPTIONS OF AMERICANS

The events leading up to Australia's gold rush are suggestive of the importance of America's contributions, which would continue throughout the period. To begin with, the gold discoveries in 1851 that started Australia's rush were made by Jim Esmond in Victoria at Clunes and Edward Hammond Hargraves in New South Wales at Lewis Ponds Creek. Both men were miners returned from California who found the landscapes of Australia and California to be remarkably similar and who used the skills they had learned in America to begin prospecting (Aitchison 45). With these gold discoveries came an influx of immigration to Australia. Its "total population trebled from 430,000 in 1851 to 1.7 million in 1871" ("The Australian"), with approximately 39% of these new immigrants being "Californians" (Potts and Potts 50). In 1853, "Australia eclipsed California as the El Dorado [. …

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