What do Australians Mean When They Refer to "the Bush"?

Mary McMahon

The Bush is a part of Australia which is unsettled and undeveloped, but not as remote as the Outback, the huge stretch of rugged and arid land which fills much of the Australian continent. Many people have romantic associations with the Bush, including the Australians themselves, and the area has been popularized in art, music, and films which can be seen around the world.

The Bush is a part of Australia which is unsettled and undeveloped, but not as remote as the Outback.
The Bush is a part of Australia which is unsettled and undeveloped, but not as remote as the Outback.

Many regions colonized by the English adopted the slang term “Bush” to talk about remote, unsettled areas. In many cases, the Bush was literally filled with bushes, along with native trees, and it served as a rich habitat for native plants and animals. In Australia, some people lived in the area, such as the aborigines, and some “bushrangers,” people who lived off the land in the Bush.

Some koala populations live in wooded areas that are considered part of "the Bush".
Some koala populations live in wooded areas that are considered part of "the Bush".

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The Australian Bush was quite a shock to early colonists to the area. The first reports of Australia came from areas near the ocean during the rainy season, when Australia was lush and very hospitable. When colonists actually arrived and began branching out, however, they encountered the hostile, brutal conditions of the area, which was completely unfamiliar to European eyes. While much of Europe's land has been heavily managed for centuries, producing a very uniform and familiar look, the Bush was wild and unpredictable, despite the efforts of some colonists to “civilize” it with familiar plants and animals.

There is a connotation of wildness and feral conditions when someone talks about “the Bush,” and many people associate it with fierce self reliance and strength. In Australian culture, some people historically idolized the bushrangers, impressed by their ability to support themselves in a seemingly hostile environment. In Australia today, this area continues to be used to graze cattle, supporting cattle herders who may spend weeks or months at a time there, supporting themselves as they manage the animals.

While the Bush can seem hostile and unforgiving, it supports incredibly diverse plants and animals, hosting some very unique and interesting creatures. It can also be coaxed into supporting small, mobile human populations, although it is not suitable for the European approach to settled, intensive agriculture. Many Australians are justifiably proud of their beautiful wilderness, and visitors can often find tours and other events focused on the Bush, if they are interested in exploring it for themselves.

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