The poet of Australia

1. Show students the image of the cast Lawson’s hand without a caption. Use the following questions to interrogate the object:

  • What do you think this object is made of?
  • Why would someone have a cast made of their hand?
  • What does the cast tell us about the person?

2. Continue your study of Lawson by introducing students to two other objects from the National Library of Australia’s collection that celebrate the poet—Lawson’s pen and the bust made by Otto Bettmann (1862–1945). Challenge students to consider what the objects tell them about Lawson. As a class, list the ways a person’s image could be recorded before the common use of photography. Ask students to create a bust of a friend or relative from modelling clay, papier mâché or plasticine. Alternatively, they could investigate how to make a plaster cast of a hand and, using this information, make a cast of their own hand.

3. Lawson’s first published poem, ‘A Song of the Republic’, appeared in The Bulletin in 1887. It captures the rise of patriotism and the Australian community’s thirst for a national identity.

Share the poem, ‘A Song of the Republic(open Background information below)

This poem raises the idea of brotherhood among the Australian population as well as rejecting the authority of British rule. Use the following questions to explore this poem with your students in a class discussion:

  • Who are the ‘Sons of the South’ to whom Lawson refers?
  • What does Lawson mean when he says ‘awake! arise!’?
  • What does the expression ‘making a hell in paradise’ mean? To what does this refer?
  • What do you think the ‘ominous whispers’ refer to?
  • Lawson says the ‘Sons of the South are few!’, but predicts their numbers will ‘swell to an army vast’. What does he mean?
  • What could ‘the wrongs of the North and Past’ be?
  • What images do the words ‘The land’ make you think of? Bear in mind that this poem was published in 1887.

You may wish to explore some of Lawson’s other poems and stories that depict the growing sense of a national identity in Australia. These could include ‘Waratah and Wattle’, ‘Faces in the Street’ and ‘The Song of Australia’.

4. The ideas Lawson expressed in ‘A Song of the Republic’ were considered revolutionary at the time. Invite students to write their own poem or song to capture the development of ideas that might be considered revolutionary in today’s society

Other Treasures sources that relate to the concepts explored in this source include: Documenting Federation and A national identity.