Today we romanticize the Australian bush, but a century ago the term had more negative connotations. The pioneers who had cleared the land were often perceived as dim witted yokels by their city slicker cousins. This was made very clear in 1918, when attempts were made to organize an event in Sydney to be called Bush Week.
The following is taken from the Tweed Daily, December 27 1918;
It should have been easily possible to have secured a better name for the “week” which is going to be conducted in Sydney for the purpose of advertising that part of New South Wales which is outside the city. The name “Bush” week is a survival of the old days and has little or no application now. On the other hand the term Country Week would be much more suitable and fitting. In the first place, only a very small fraction of the New South Wales country districts is bush [to think of the plains as bush, for instance!] so the name loses its application there. Next, there are no products from the bush. Where butter, cheese, bacon, fruits, corn, cane, potatoes etc., are produced “bush” has long ceased to exist. After all, the name might be a trifling thing, but the idea has been nourished too long amongst city people that everything outside Sydney is “bush”. In this instance those controlling the “week”.
Regardless of the name, there were many opponents to the whole idea. An editorial in the Nepean Times argued that it would simply be a pale shadow of the Royal Easter Show, which they considered delivered little benefit to the State’s farmers.
The contention of the promoters is that this ‘true to nature’ exhibition will fill the city folk with a yearning to go out back and try their hands at milking Strawberry, churning butter, tearing the wool off sheep, and robbing bees’ nests…….The Royal Show is the most complete representation of the State’s primary industries that could be devised, and Sydney flocks to it in many thousands for over a week; yet so far as can be ascertained the country does not benefit to an appreciable extent….Easter week means tens of thousands to Sydney, and not a red cent to the country. “Bush Week” will merely give Sydney a chance to skin the country twice a year instead of once.
For various reasons, including the 1919 flu epidemic, the event was postponed. It was finally held in February 1920. Grand department stores such as Anthony Hordern produced elaborate window displays of wheat, wool and general produce.
The Town Hall was decorated with greenery and wild flowers such as waratah and wattle. The biggest event was a street pageant, with floats on lorries portraying rural industries. Attracting most interest (and amusement) was a team of 16 bullocks. The teamster found it impossible to keep his bullocks on a straight path and they wandered all over the street. A Cobb & Co. coach was filled with Victorian passengers. Oh yes, and there was also a giant cow, to represent the dairy industry. No doubt it was called Strawberry.
Wendy Lowe still treasures a memento from her great-aunt Miss Rita Webb. Rita was presented with a gold watch after being named, Most Beautiful Girl in Bush Week. She portrayed Miss Australia at the official opening by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Walter Davidson, and recited a poem which concluded;
Like a sleeping beauty un-aroused
I wait the fuller dawn, when all I am,
And all I have, shall be unveiled and man
Shall see my splendid destiny fulfilled.
So in the hope that Bush Week’s good intent
Will nearer bring that day :-
I take my leave.
Unfortunately the event was boycotted by people from the bush. Having learned their lesson, the promoters renamed it Country Week the following year, but it was never a great success.
The term, ‘What do you think this is, Bush Week?’ slowly crept into the Australian lexicon. In some areas it was a reference to naive country bumpkins visiting the city and being taken advantage of. It was used in the context of, ‘What do you take me for, an idiot?’
However, when I was growing up in Tasmania it appears to have been connected to the idea of a holiday, presumably when rural visitors to the city could relax and do nothing. Oddly enough, my parents never used it, but whenever I was caught slacking on chores my older brother would say, ‘Get a move on, what do you think this is, Bush Week?’
The usual rejoiner to the quip was, ‘No, it’s Tree Week, and you’re the sap!’ Unfortunately I was unaware of this as a child.
I would be very interested to hear who else remembers the saying, and in what context it was used. You can leave a comment below. Remember to complete the anti-spam sum before pressing ‘Submit.’
And if you are fascinated by Aussie words and sayings like me, you might like this story.