Essay: Fiona Wrighton Barbara Baynton

Barbara Baynton: Hard Graft With The Best


Barbara Baynton’s book of short stories, Bush Studies, has fascinated me for years, because there’s so much that is deceptive, as well as utterly transgressive, about it. Written at the very end of the nineteenth century, the stories within it are mostly delivered in a deadpan narration that means the violence at their centre often builds so quietly and subtly that their eruption is as shocking as it is brutal. These aren’t stories of the romantic bush, and the noble men who indefatigably try to tame it, but of a harsh and uncaring, chokingly dry vastness that wears away the humanity of isolated selectors and their vulnerable families, and of the silences and fractures that exist within these tragic people. Such re-writing of colonial Australian mythology, and the place of women within it, began with the two generation of writers who followed Baynton:  Katharine Susannah Prichard, Eleanor Dark, Marjorie Barnard, Kylie Tennant, Eve Langley – and the male authors too, who contested the traditional versions of bush masculinity – Frank Dalby Davison, John Morrison, D’Arcy Niland. Recently there’s been renewed interest in this mythology – I’m thinking here of books like Kate Grenville’s Joan Makes History (UQP, 1998), Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread (Allen and Unwin, 2011), or even Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek (Pan Macmillan), published just last year. It is no less remarkable that Baynton was doing this, and with such fierceness and bloodiness, not to mention such formal boldness, as early as 1896.

It’s startling then, that so much of the existing criticism of Baynton’s work has focused on placing her stories within a particular genre. It’s as if seeking to classify them is also an attempt to contain them, make them bounded and knowable, safe. The stories have been categorised, alternately, as naturalism – ‘whether conscious…or not’ (Laurie Hergenhan), as ‘bread-and-butter’ realism (A.A. Phillips) as ‘Australian Gothic’ (H.B. Gullet), ‘colonial modernism’ (Kate Krueger); Julieanne Lamond describes them as having a ‘generic incoherence’ that combines ‘comedy, realism fantasy and horror’, William Lane as drawing together ‘naturalism, satire, Gothic horror and allegory’. It’s strange, this obsession with form, but it speaks to the strangeness of the stories themselves, as irreconcilable in form as they are in subject matter and, more troublingly, morality. Baynton’s stories resist categorisation, just as they resist closure. They are disturbingly and deliberately ambiguous, and they work by resonance and a kind of rhythmic repetition – according to a poetic logic, that is, rather than a more simple narrative drive.

What this means is that the individual stories echo each other, repeating images and inferences that amplify with every iteration – snapping, neck-coiling branches of creekside willows in ‘A Dreamer’ are the precursors to the branch-dropping eucalypt in ‘Squeaker’s Mate’; in both stories, these are plants that speak, uttering ‘weird cr[ies]’, ‘shivering groan[s]’ and ‘trembling sighs’, even when the women who encounter them do not. A dog, fiercely protective and almost human in its emotional range and intelligence, defends a dead shepherd in ‘Scrammy ’And’ and a crippled woman in ‘Squeaker’s Mate’, and is implicated in the murder at the end of ‘The Chosen Vessel.’ A galloping horse is the stuff of local folklore in ‘A Dreamer’ and the ironic tragedy of ‘The Chosen Vessel’, a lonely train journey and empty station platform prefigure misrecognition and threat in ‘Billy Skywonkie’ and ‘A Dreamer.’

These echoing images are especially important because Baynton uses them to charge the inanimate objects and animals in her stories with the energy and emotions that are denied to the women, and occasional men, who exist, and suffer, alongside them. Her women are, almost always, silent – unwilling or unable to speak. In their place, it is these objects and creatures that become expressive and emotive and link together narratives that at first glance seem incongruous or inconsequential.

‘Squeaker’s Mate’ and ‘Scrammy ’And’ – like the more notorious ‘The Chosen Vessel’ –are both stories about silence and displacement, surveillance and isolation, violence and threat, and on the surface, both explore these themes in very different ways. In ‘Squeaker’s Mate’, a hard-working, capable bush woman, regarded in the district ‘the best long-haired mate that ever stepped in petticoats’, is paralysed by a falling tree branch, and consequently neglected by her lazy and possibly simple husband Squeaker. She watches the activity in her house from the shed to which she has been relegated, with only her dog for company. In ‘Scrammy ’And,’ an ageing shepherd talks incessantly to his dog across an evening, and is eventually set upon by an out-of-work labourer, who wants to rob him. These are violent, anxious stories, involving characters who vary greatly in their physical strength, their power, their gender and their gender roles; and they are delivered in different registers and modes. But they are held together by inference and repetition, by the variations they perform upon implicit themes.

The most striking of these themes, I think, are silence and surveillance. The sense of watching, and of the withheld, work to build up the thick dread and anticipation that Baynton is so adept at bringing to her stories. Squeaker’s Mate rarely speaks, but she is looked at, watched closely, just as Scrammy keeps a close eye on the shepherd (and the shepherd keeps surveying his surroundings for a glimpse of Scrammy) as night falls around his hut, and the shepherd’s constant, compulsive talk only deepens the silence of the bush around him. Silence is a threat, a defense, and a form of power – and in the absence of words, and anything they might reveal or explain about any character’s motives or inner life, watchfulness and scrutiny are all that we, as readers, have to try and interpret people and events. And so we – like the tramp’s dog – are guilty too.

Squeaker’s Mate, Mary, is crushed by a tree branch in the very first scene of the story. Despite being injured badly enough to bleed from the mouth, and to break her spine, the woman makes no sound, saying only ‘Pipe’ through ‘slack lips’ when Squeaker eventually asks how she is feeling. The woman’s taciturnity – and her willingness to ‘hard-graft with the best’ of the men – is part of what sets her apart from the small town that she lives and works near: the day after she is injured, the local women come to visit her, but they subsequently leave her ‘severely alone’ because, as Baynton states, ‘a woman with no leisure for yarning’ will never be ‘a favourite with them’. Her taciturnity is telling.

In the early days of her invalidity the woman tells her husband that she will soon be ‘up and about again’ and that the doctor has made a mistake about her broken back, but Baynton relays this as indirect reported speech only. Squeaker, in comparison, speaks voluminously, and in the thick vernacular that characterises so much of Baynton’s work:

“Yer won’t. Yer back’s broke,” said Squeaker laconically. “That’s wot’s wrong er yer; injoory t’ th’ spine. Doctor says that means back’s broke, and yer won’t never walk no more. No good no t’ tell yer, cos I can’t be doing everything […] yer jes’ ther same as a snake w’en ee’s back’s broke, on’y yer don’t bite yerself like a snake does w’en ‘e carnt crawl. Yer did bite yer tongue w’en yer fell.”

This is how Baynton treats all of the remaining instances of Mary’s speech in the story – indirectly. She reminds Squeaker to attend to a fence that needs wiring (as Kate Krueger points out, the fence is a significant symbol of ‘the demarcation and development of territory’ on the farm; that is, of the precarious kind of ownership, and the violence that this entails, and that is integral to settler life), she speaks ‘of the many other things that could be done by one’ until she is well enough to resume her work. Squeaker responds either by damning her and her dog, or ‘instantly silenc[ing]’ her with the phrase ‘Go and bite yerself like a snake.’

Later, she asks Squeaker not to sell their selection – moments before he drags her on a sheet of bark to the new bunk he has built for her in an old hut – asks for a drink, and then calls out to Squeaker, who has ‘left her, gasping and dazed, to her sympathetic dog’ before riding into town. Again, all of Mary’s speech here is relayed indirectly – although we are witness to her quivering nostrils and tightening lips, her ‘ever-watchful eyes’– ambiguous and minute details, which are the only expression that she is granted. And at this point, when Squeaker rides into town, to return the next day with a new mate, Mary’s speech stops entirely. As soon as she is displaced, she becomes totally silent.

When Squeaker’s new mate approaches Mary for the first time, she lays ‘dumb and motionless…with her face turned to the wall,’ before turning to look ‘steadily’ at her. The new mate is terrified of Mary – and this much is understandable: she is young, pregnant, and newly arrived on an isolated selection, accompanied only by a manipulative, lazy and probably simple-minded man, who has convinced her that poisonous snakes surround the creek that is their only source of water by feigning snakebite as an excuse to drink brandy. She has been abandoned by a previous lover. And Mary, whose position she cannot be unaware of having usurped, is fierce and unreadable in her silence – all she does is watch. ‘What the sick woman thought was not definite,’ Baynton writes, ‘for she kept silent always… The cripple’s silence told on the stranger, especially when alone. She would rather have abuse.’

Mary lies alone and mute in her hut as the new mate attempts to adjust to selector life, although not without new luxuries, liked canned fish and jam, and a tub and Reckitt’s Blue for washing clothes and baby garments. She wastes water, even though she is entirely dependent on Squeaker to fetch it, and so becomes maddeningly thirsty when he disappears one afternoon in pursuit of a terrified horse. The climax of this story comes when the new mate approaches Mary in the old hut to steal some of the water in the billy by her side. The tension that builds across this scene is strung tightly between the two poles of Mary’s silence, and the close observation that the new mate makes of Mary and her ever-loyal dog.

Interestingly, the perspective in this scene shifts, from a distanced, omniscient kind of narration, to one that is more tightly focused on the new mate. For the first time, we are given insight into her thinking – and she reveals that she does not trust Squeaker, and even ‘judge[s] him by his treatment of the woman who was lying in [the bunk].’ Nor is she, incidentally, unsuspicious of Squeaker’s snakebite trick. This woman, that is, is not a clueless, frivolous victim; nor is she a heartless usurper. This shift in perspective is all the more striking because Baynton usually denies the reader any information about what her characters are thinking or feeling, especially in moments of high drama or tension – Julieanne Lamond points out that the female protagonist in ‘Billy Skywonkie’, for example, is entirely decentred within the story, her thoughts never once portrayed, and that the effect of this is unsettling, because it ‘refus[es] to normalise or explain the often terrible behaviour’ of the other characters that she encounters. So Squeaker’s new mate is an exception – but she is also the only secondary female character in any of Baynton’s stories who plays any significant role. By allowing us access to her thoughts here, Baynton shows this woman to be every bit as constrained and vulnerable in her choices as any of the women on the receiving end of violence and brutality across Bush Studies as a whole.

As the new mate approaches Mary’s hut, Baynton describes her gaze, and Mary’s eyes, in great detail. She tries to look ‘through the cracks’ of the hut – an image that captures the flimsiness of the shelter and the porousness of private space, and which is repeated in ‘Scrammy ‘And’, and in ‘Bush Church’ and ‘The Chosen Vessel’ – and then stands at the door, ‘avoiding the bunk [and] look[ing] at the billy’. She runs from the hut after the dog springs at her, and then approaches again – this time ‘eyed steadily’ by the dog, and terrified that Mary will hear her approach and open her ‘sunken eyes,’ which are ‘turned to the wall and so tightly closed.’ No one speaks across this scene, but each woman minutely observes the other – there are many eyes in this scene – either gazing directly, or through the proxy of the faithful, ‘almost human’ dog, which the new mate explicitly describes as acting ‘in omission and commission in connection with the woman.’

Eventually, the new mate reaches for the billy, and Mary grabs her by the hand, and pulls her down towards her bunk. Still Mary doesn’t speak, although she ‘pant[s] with victory’ and ‘gloat[s] and gasp[s]’ in exultation, her lips ‘drawn back from her teeth’ – a description that is slippery, canine. Baynton also describes Mary here as ‘a wounded, robbed tigress’, an image that is striking both because it is so animalistic, but also entirely out of place in the Australian bush that is the setting and theme of all of Baynton’s stories. Indeed, after Squeaker rescues his new mate, by breaking Mary’s arms with a stick, the dog takes up her fight, biting Squeaker on the hand (as he reaches to console the woman he has just brutalised) and pulling him away from Mary, who is ‘stony-face[d]’, ‘motionless’ and even now, unspeaking.

It is for this kind of savage, sudden violence that Baynton’s work is best known. Lamond argues that the expectation of these sudden brutal acts is the focus of most of these stories; and Thea Astley is interested in the ‘constant shifts and positionings of tenderness and ruthlessness’ that play out across each work. But what fascinates me about the violence here is that it is instigated, in one way or another, by the women – either by the new mate, who tries to steal Mary’s water, or by Mary, with her vice-like grip on the younger woman’s arm. It is as if everything that they have suppressed, with silence or with acquiescence, has burst through, has finally become untenable or unbearable for them both. The power that silence lends these women is only partial, imperfect and far too brittle – it relies on a kind of absence, as William Lane observes, rather than any effect or agency. And as such, it seems inevitable that it should break.

This is not to say, of course, that Squeaker’s reaction to the women’s aggression – breaking Mary’s arms with a stick – is in any way commensurate or justifiable. Squeaker is vicious, and when ‘his old mate’s maddened dog’ sets upon him, he calls to Mary to ‘Sool ’im on t’ ’er’ – onto the new mate, who is still running in terror – because, he claims, ‘It’s orl er doin.’’ What’s important here is not only that Squeaker is attempting, even now, to avoid responsibility for his terrible behaviour and its consequences, but also that Mary refuses to acknowledge or answer him, silent again, unreadable again, and endlessly unsettling and unreconcilable.

The story that follows ‘Squeaker’s Mate’ in the collection, ‘Scrammy ’And,’ culminates with a scene that is striking in its similarity to this one. The violent antagonist, Scrammy – so named because one of his hands is missing, or ‘scrammy’, a deformity that has probably prevented him from securing regular work on farms or bush properties – sets upon a shepherd, whom he intends to rob, with a pole, while the shepherd’s dog defends his owner. This time, though, the violence has been anticipated by the characters across the story, and this time, the victim, who has previously spoken voluminously and constantly, is silent and unsettling because he has already died.

‘Scrammy ’And’ is, in many ways, an unusual story in Baynton’s collection, because the main protagonist is a man, and because he narrates his own thoughts and opinions – albeit unreliably – in a way that none of Baynton’s other characters do. But this is precisely why it is fascinating. It is stylistically different from stories like ‘Squeaker’s Mate’ and ‘The Chosen Vessel’, but this makes its thematic and imagistic congruencies even more striking.

The main character in the story is an ageing shepherd, who has been left alone on an isolated property while the farmer he works for is in ‘the comparative civilisation of the township’ with his heavily pregnant wife, awaiting the birth of their child. The property is eerie in the night – the wide plain it sits on is described as ‘a sea on which the hut float[s] lonely,’ a clump of myalls nearby are ‘spectral and wraith-like,’ and the only sound that breaks the ‘great silence’ of the bush is an intermittent cawing from a murder of crows – although Baynton, pointedly, refers to them instead as ‘a gang’.

The shepherd talks across the night to his dog, Warder, an abbreviated and accented version of Waterloo, who is equally, or even more expressive in response – but all of this noise only serves to highlight the silence, and the threat, of the surrounding bush. The shepherd is nervous that the itinerant Scrammy, who has passed by the hut earlier that day, is waiting nearby for the chance to attack him (the shepherd’s tomahawk has gone missing since Scrammy’s visit) and rob him of the coins he wears in his belt, his savings and ‘his treasure’; but also that the arrival of his boss’s new baby will inevitably alter the relationship between them, especially, he states, if the child is a girl.

The shepherd’s compulsive talking in this story is echoed by Warder – which makes the opening scenes read almost as comedy. In the first three pages of the story, the dog responds to the shepherd’s directive to ‘see’ a mistake worked on a button (by the selector’s wife, no less) by ‘sa[ying] that he did’, he ‘d[oes] not dispute’ a condemnation, ‘subtly indicate[s]’ an alternative to one of the shepherd’s ideas, seems crushed by a disparaging statement, shows no sign of dissent to another, ‘intimate[s] that he would prefer to have the past buried’, indicates the route of the farmer and his wife took when they left the property, and then looks pointedly at the notched tally stick the shepherd has been using to measure the time they have been away. It’s as if the dog is speaking, and his words being indirectly reported by Baynton, just as Mary’s are in the first part of ‘Squeaker’s Mate.’ That the dog is a dog and Mary a human being makes little difference. Indeed, we are informed of the dog’s name on the fourth page of the story, whereas Mary is referred to only as ‘Squeaker’s mate’, ‘the woman’ or ‘the cripple’ until the closing lines.

This contrast is all the more interesting because the anxieties that the shepherd voices, in his continual talking against the silence of the bush, turn more often on women and maternity than they do on the more obvious, more immediate and more justified threat posed by Scrammy. He resents his employer’s wife, stating blatantly that women are ‘no good,’ scolding the dog for ceasing to bark at her, and, in my favourite line, says his employer ‘was fust rate afore ’e got ’er’ and wishing that he ‘’ad er gorn down thet time ’e took their sheep,’ because he would have ‘seen no woman didn’t grab ’im.’ The shepherd is worried that the new ‘babby’ – which he assumes will be a girl, because ‘women are orlways ’avin’ gals’ – will mean that the farmer won’t actually come back from town, but will leave the shepherd alone on the land to tend his flock, and that even Warder will prefer to spend his time ‘fool[ing] around’ with the woman and child if he does.

But even more striking is the fact that the farmer’s anxieties about maternity are also displaced onto the animals in his care. The very first words he speaks, for example, refer to a calf that he has penned away from its mother in order to preserve the cow’s milk for his employer and his wife – to the shepherd’s chagrin, the calf has managed to get its head through the rails to feed. Later, when an ewe and a lamb wander into the hut, he curses the ewe for its ‘blanky blind udder’. The ewe is unable to suckle its lamb – which means that the shepherd has to feed the lamb by hand (and he takes pains to do this outside the hut, rather than in front of Warder); the shepherd complains that the ‘ole yoe’ is ‘unnatural’. The shepherd must intervene, on both of these occasions, in the business of breeding and rearing young, and he complains vociferously about this. It’s clear that this condemnation is really meant for the absent woman. Where Mary fights her replacement and her abuser with silence and indecipherability, the shepherd fights the threats he faces with a torrent of words, directed at symbolic objects and animals. Rosemary Moore reads Mary’s response as a hysterical symptom – faced with violence, and the ‘barrier to speech’ that it enforces, Mary’s only means of expression, she argues, are displacement, doubling and symbolism – but the shepherd in ‘Scrammy ’And’ is also reliant on these strategies. What this suggests is that Baynton is portraying here a hysterical man – a truly transgressive move for the time in which she was writing.

These symbolic animals are also interesting because we encounter them often in Bush Studies: ‘The Chosen Vessel’ opens with the young mother penning a calf away from its mother, a chore that she hates for the bellowing of the cow as it is separated from its young; later, her lifeless body is mistaken for that of a dead sheep, still accompanied by its lamb. Similarly, Squeaker’s Mate, when she notices the woman who has usurped her place hanging baby clothes on the new clothesline, can’t calculate the paternity of the imminent baby, being ‘unlearned in these matters, though she understood all about an ewe and lamb’; when her sheep go unfed by Squeaker she is first aligned with them (‘The sheep waited till the next day, so did she’) but also hears their bleating as ‘cries for help’ – exactly the kind of cry that she herself is unable to make. These stories echo, transfer their charge.

About halfway through ‘Scrammy ’And’, the shepherd’s anxieties switch, become directed towards the physical and material threat posed by Scrammy, who may or may not be hiding in vicinity of the hut. The change is marked by a noise that the dog hears outside, while the shepherd is ritualistically counting his coins. The shepherd responds to this noise again by talking – Baynton describes him, beautifully, as seeking ‘refuge from his own fears by trying to banish the dog’s,’ suggesting that the noise might be dingoes, a goanna, a possum, and later, ‘ther blacks outside,’ who ‘ain’t so fur away,’ and who he suspects killed a lamb – another symbolic sacrifice – by the creek nearby. The shepherd is unwilling to suspect Scrammy, who is, after all, an old friend, and a man whose physical incapacity seems precariously close to that of the shepherd, who is advancing in age and in declining strength – he is unable to see clearly enough to thread a needle, or hold his hands steady enough to clear his pipe; he is forgetful. Instead, the shepherd assigns these thoughts to his dog: ‘I know who yer thought ‘twas, Warder,’ he states, ‘…And yer thort yer see ’im lars’ night…And yer thort ‘twas ’im that ’ad bin ramsakin’ the place yesterday when we was shepherdin’.’ He goes on: ‘Scrammy wouldn’t ’urt er merskeeter.’

It is, of course, Scrammy who is outside, and he does plan to rob the shepherd; he eventually gives his presence away, tellingly, by stumbling over the lamb’s feeding pan. As a villain, Scrammy does not really pass muster – when Baynton switches to his perspective it becomes obvious that he too is afraid, almost to the point of paranoia. He continually checks the for changes in the light that would mean that day is approaching, he practices the actions of breaking into the hut and attacking whilst hiding in the myalls, and spends an inordinate amount of time driving the sheep from their pen and then rounding them up again in an effort to draw the shepherd from his hut. He listens for small noises in the silence. More interestingly, Scrammy feels watched – just like Squeaker’s new mate, just like the women in ‘The Chosen Vessel’ and ‘Billy Skywonkie’. He is unsettled by the ‘thousand eyes’ of the sheep reflecting the moon, and imagines that ‘the night [is] pregnant with eyes,’ in another strange expression of maternity. When he finally does approach the hut, the first thing he sees is the dog’s head, and ‘the flinty fire from his eyes.’

Baynton’s story is hugely ironic, because the reader knows that Scrammy’s fears are all unfounded, the surveillance he imagines non-existent – by the point in the story, we know that the old shepherd has died. Baynton approaches this with typical resonant indirection: the shepherd thinks he hears church bells, a hallucination similar to that of the priest on horseback who imagines that the running woman in ‘The Chosen Vessel’ is an apparition of the Virgin Mary; he refuses to drink medicinal whiskey (unlike Squeaker) and murmurs a prayer, before turning his eyes to his dog, and then continuing to ‘lay undisturbed’.

What this means, then, is that when Scrammy finally does attack the hut, at the break of dawn, all he has to face is the dog, who, with ‘determined battle in [its] eyes’ is defending the lifeless body of its owner. Scrammy easily breaks the door, which falls over the bunk (and the body), and then climbs onto the roof of the hut so he can grab one of the poles that hold down the bark roof and swing at the dog – this hut, like the hut in ‘The Chosen Vessel’ is easily breached – and he is eventually grabbed by the dog and dragged down, the same way that Mary drags down the new mate. Scrammy’s attack, the climactic scene of the story, is narrated quickly – it is all action and brutality, and no words, in direct contrast to the its compulsively verbal and gruffly tender opening – and it ends abruptly, when Scrammy sees ‘those open eyes set in that bald head, fixed on the billy,’ and flees in terror into the bush. Eyes are a source of terror, once again.

Even with Scrammy gone, the dog continues to protect his master, continues to herd his sheep – it is typical of Baynton’s stories that loyalty, fidelity and love are present only in dogs, creatures more humane than the humans who keep them. But Baynton sets up a counterpoint here too, in the blind-uddered ewe and her lamb, which continue to attempt to enter the hut and drink from the dead shepherd’s billy – just as the new mate attempts to steal water from Mary. In this story too, the dog prevents it – but what’s interesting here is that this means that the ewe eventually leads her sheep to the creek to drink, before ‘join[ing] the flock for the first time.’ In the wake of this shocking human violence, the constant, building threat that preceded it, the natural order, and the vast indifference of the natural world continue – the shepherd’s civilisation is as fragile and easily broken as his rotten-bark roofed hut.

‘Scrammy ’And’ closes with the return of the farmer and his wife, less than two days after the death of the shepherd. Noticing the broken roof of the hut, the man stops the cart ‘some distance away,’ so that he can protect his wife from anything he might find there. What Baynton describes him as finding, though, is the ‘broken-ribbed dog’ with ‘reproach in his wild eyes’ and the ‘buzzing horrors’ of flies – once again, the animal operates as a proxy for the shepherd himself – and the farmer’s first thought is that this is ‘a memory that [he] was not willing’ to share. The story ends, that is, by telescoping the moment out of time – it becomes traumatic, much more so than the violence beforehand. It’s precisely this kind of gesture that Astley refers to as ‘the Baynton continuua’ that round off so many of her stories, and that avoid the ‘over-explicatory quality’ of many of her contemporary male writers, and make them so hard, at times, to reconcile – there’s a sense that these stories are unfinished in their implications, that the damage they describe will not quickly heal.

‘Scrammy ’And’ and ‘Squeaker’s Mate’ are almost mirror-like in their structure and preoccupations, and they work, alongside the other stories in Bush Studies, by resonance and amplification, picking up their common threads and images to build a portrait of 19th-century bush life that is uncompromising and deeply transgressive. The stories are strangely decentred – either by silence, or compulsive speech – and always flatly-delivered; Baynton builds acute observation and surveillance, displaced emotion and expression, and a thick wordlessness where words are needed most. But there are also minute power plays at work in each of them, although the only agency available, especially for women, is partial, refusing, and usually met with overt violence. It’s for this reason, perhaps, that they are so shocking – there is brutality always simmering in their background, an inherent menace that we know is there, but that Baynton makes incredibly difficult to pinpoint, speak or name. Baynton’s stories, even now, are disquieting and uncomfortable, especially for all that they refuse to pin down or answer.

This month the SRB will publish essays by Fiona Wright, Jessica White and Maggie Mackellar on their recent re-encounters with nineteenth-century women writers. These essays are published as part of a wider collaborative project on nineteenth-century Australian women’s writing. Join the authors at a symposium on Thursday 3 November at the State Library of New South Wales. Details here.

Works Cited

Astley, Thea, ‘The Teeth Father Naked at Last: The Short Stories of Barbara Baynton’ in Three Australian Writers: Essays on Bruce Dawe, Barbara Baynton and Patrick White, Townsville Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, Townsville, 1979, pp.12-22
Barrett, Susan, ‘No Place for a Woman?: Barbara Baynton’s Bush Studies’ in Journal of the Short Story, 40:1, 2003, pp.85-96.
Baynton, Barbara, Bush Studies, Text, Melbourne, 2012.
Grenville, Kate, Joan Makes History, UQP, St Lucia, 1998.
Gullet, H.B, ‘Memoir of Barbara Baynton’ in Baynton, Barbara, Bush Studies, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1965, pp.1-25.
Hergenhan, Laurie, ‘Shafts into our fundamental animalism: Barbara Baynton’s use of naturalism in Bush Studies’ in Australian Literary Studies, 17:3, 1996, p. 211-221
Krueger, Kate, ‘Baynton and Mansfield’s Unsettling Women’in British Women Writers and the Short Story, 1850 -1930: Reclaiming Social Space, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2014, pp.142-189.
Lamond, Julieanne, ‘The Reflected Eye: Reading Race in “Billy Skywonkie”’ in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 53:4, 2011, pp.387-400
Lane, William, ‘The Uncanny in Barbara Baynton’s “Scrammy ’And” and Christina Stead’s “The Triskelion” in Southerly, 68:2, 2008, pp.144-152.
Mears, Gillian, Foal’s Bread, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2011.
Moore, Rosemary, ‘The Making of Barbara Baynton’ in Changing the Victorian Subject, University of Adelaide Press, Adelaide, 2014, pp.83-103.
Phillips, A.A, ‘Barbara Baynton and the Dissidence of the Nineties’ in Overland 22, 1962, pp.15-20.
Treloar, Lucy, Salt Creek, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2015.