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This article is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

In a Working Forest Les Murray

ONLY STRANGERS, the very poor and the dead walk in the bush. Of the living, no one who belongs to the bush walks any further in it than they can help. It is an old, subtle taboo, compound of pride and unease.

Here, I am using the word 'bush' in the sense which most bush people attach to it. In its widest sense, 'the bush' is the most common word for all places that are not urban or peri-urban. It is our nickname for the country. Affectionate or contemptuous, it means everything from provincial cities to the far outback. As an adjective, it signifies everything from rural to improvised to primitive to inept to idiotic-through-inbreeding. These are all metropolitan usages, urban as gelato or orienteering. Country usage overlaps with them, but the emotional tonings of the world will in every case be different. They will be reminiscent, proud, sardonic, self-respecting, or else knowledgably bitter. As I have heard old people say, 'I come from a bigger place than Sydney: I come from the bush.'

Where I live, on the lower north coast of New South Wales, the bush means forest, as distinct from farmland. We speak of going 'out in the bush' when we mean entering one of the many state forests or private forest tracts around our region. The bush, entered beyond a rusty fence at the edge of paddocks or down a gravel road edged in stumps and high blady grass, is set ...


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