In The Bush (2014), Don Watson explored notions of what that most variegated of terms, ‘the bush’, meant to earlier generations, including his own family. In A Single Tree, he presents extracts from writings of all kinds for what he calls ‘a fragmentary history of humans in the Australian bush’. He takes as given the diverse applications of the word ‘bush’ over time and chooses pieces that give expression to a multiplicity of feelings, words, and thoughts around aspects of Australian place.
The urge to assign meaning to the natural world beneath our feet or in the distance is abiding and universal, and the work has been pursued on Terra Australis as elsewhere on the planet. For Australia’s British conquerors in the nineteenth century, the job was never going to be easy. Before any possibility of harnessing the continent to their various needs, a first difficulty lay in simply comprehending what it was they were seeing, so different was the scene to back home.