Australian Pastoral: The making of a white landscape
Fremantle Press, $29.95 pb, 304 pp
First impressions are unfavourable. The cover is ugly, and too cute: human-headed sheep, male and female, wait motionless for a drought to end while wearing prime ministerial bush-visit hats. We have read Frank Campbell’s rebuke in the Australian: the author Jeanette Hoorn did not know a fox’s tail from a dingo’s. Inside, however, there is a cheering profusion of illustrations, placed in unusually reader-friendly closeness to the relevant discussion, and they include a feast of the best Australian paintings. There are some interesting sources in English eighteenth-century art and, much less familiar, some parallels in German fascist art. The latter accompany Hoorn’s discussion of work by Hans Heysen – and Nora Heysen, whose River Murray Madonnas are barely pastoral but help create a small presence for women artists. The other women are another excellent Third Reich-style painter, Freda Robertshaw, plus indigenous artists Julie Dowling and Emily Kngwarreye. Also very agreeable are Hoorn’s frequent expressions of delight in this or that ‘wonderful’ painting. Alongside her enthusiastic responses to aesthetic force are her bracing disapprovals. Benjamin Duterrau’s The Conciliation (1840), of dispossessed Tasmanian Aborigines, is ‘abominable’, ‘a cruel joke’.