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Distinctively Visual – The Drover’s Wife & The African Beggar Essay

The poem ‘The African Beggar’ by Raymond Tong explores the despondency of humanity’s existence and our complete helplessness when faced with the adversity of ourselves and others through the distinctively visual description of an African beggar and his experience as an outcast to society. In the first stanza of the poem, the heterodiegetic narrator (considered to be Tong), introduces the beggar as a repulsive outcast. The description of the persona in the first line of the poem “sprawled in the dust…” immediately provokes an image of the beggar as something rather than someone, which has been alienated by society. This is further supported when the narrator describes the beggar as a “target for small children, flies, and dogs” as it says that the character is an object of attack, something that occupies an existence that is considered lower than that of humans and other creatures. The metaphoric language used, “a heap of verminous rags and matted hair”, persuades the audience to conjure an image of filth and poor physical hygiene, although this is followed by a juxtaposed metaphor, “he watches with cunning reptile eyes”, which challenges the previous image and suggests that the persona is subtle and scheming, like a snake.

Both of these images are also contrasted by the use of pronoun, reminding the reader that this character is human despite his description suggesting otherwise. In the Second stanza of the poem, although the author’s image of the beggar as a filthy outcast is continued, the theme of humanity’s neglect and inadequacy is introduced to the audience. The metaphor use in the first line “he shows his yellow stumps of teeth” puts forward an image of physical ugliness and extreme lack of hygiene while the use of pronoun to refer to the beggar again reminds the audience that he is a human. The simile “With hands like claws about his begging bowl” compares the hands of humanity to that of a skeleton (death), clinging to his one source of survival, his begging bowl. The tone of the poem changes dramatically in the third stanza when contrasted with the first.

The poet allows the reader to empathise with the beggar. This is done through different language techniques such as the tone used in the first line; “lying all alone” which proposes that the persona is not aware of others anymore as Tong recognises the beggar’s suffering. In the phrase “shadow of a crumbling wall”, the word “shadow” suggests that the persona is in darkness, suffering from loneliness, while “crumbling wall” represents the absence of a home for the man.

The use of personification in the line “Clutching the pitiless red earth in vain” displays the character’s desperation. In the final line of the poem, the simile “whimpering like a stricken animal” exhibits the beggar’s total and complete defeat and creates an image of a defenceless man at the mercy of others. The poem ‘The African Beggar’ by Raymond Tong relates to the short story ‘The Drover’s Wife’, created by Henry Lawson, as both texts use distinctively visual language to surround the reader in a world of images that represent the story being told, and allow and encourage the audience to establish a relationship with the main persons of the text resulting in sympathising and understanding the characters.


‘My Constellation’
Director: Toby Morris

The short film ‘My Constellation’, was directed by Toby Morris and won a place as a finalist in Tropfest 2014. The film follows a boy who is experiencing a deep loss and as a product embarks on an unusual adventure, leaving a trail of light bulbs wherever he goes. This text is distinctly visual solely through its cinematography due to the absence of dialogue, although sound contributes to the setting of atmosphere and direction in the short film. Morris vividly illustrates the image of the young boy’s lonely life and his experience of longing for someone that play an important role in his life. He does this through purposefully chosen sound and the careful thought of each mise en scene to allow the responders to either empathise or identify with the boy. The film is opened with a wide open shot of a starry night sky, followed by a close up shot of the protagonist, a small boy, who is laying upside down staring at the sky, quite obviously in deep thought.

We see his mother leave the house and disappear into an unknown car. The darkness in the boy’s room as well as his lack of company and absence of his mother, as we had just seen, conveys to the responders that he is all alone, maybe isolated and there is a melancholic sense created through the featuring music as well as the protagonist’s expression and languid body language. Morris has then directed the camera to a medium shot, slowly panning to the left as the protagonist enters back into his bedroom shows an image of a close up shot of the light shining on a photo of a man who looks like a father figure, symbolizing the fact that this man is like a star, a bright part of his life, illuminating the darkness. This effect points out to the viewer of the protagonist’s experience of longing someone very important. Morris also creates a vivid image of the father’s importance for the protagonist, to build up the purpose of the film.

He portrays the protagonist riding a bicycle with a string of shining light bulbs in the dead of night. The medium shot of him riding the bicycle panning upwards symbolizes the journey that the protagonist goes through and the motif of light bulbs illuminating through the darkness symbolizes the stars in the night sky. This effect indicates to the viewer that the protagonist is alluding to his father being in space, going on a journey through the stars, emphasizing the idea that idolizes his father and wants to follow in his footsteps. In both “The Drover’s Wife” and “The Loaded Dog”, Lawson has used a variety of techniques to clearly depict vivid images of the experiences the characters have endured with each other and with the Australian outback.

Similarly, in “My Constellation”, Morris has also vividly represented the journey and ambition the protagonist goes through, and specifically relates the expression of isolation and hardship that the woman faces in the absence of her husband. This text was chosen by me because I feel as though I can personally empathise and identify with the main character of the short film. The concept of feeling a little lonely and isolated when a significant figure or person is absent is universal and is definitely applicable to me personally as I have experienced this before.


Standing at the limit of an endless ocean
Stranded like a runaway, lost at sea
City on a rainy day down in the harbour
Watching as the grey clouds shadow the bay
Looking everywhere ’cause I had to find you
This is not the way that I remember it here
Anyone will tell you it’s a prisoner island
Hidden in the summer for a million years
Great Southern Land, burned you black

So you look into the land and it will tell you a story
Story ’bout a journey ended long ago
If you listen to the motion of the wind in the mountains
Maybe you can hear them talking like I do
“They’re gonna betray, they’re gonna forget you
Are you gonna let them take you over this way”

Great Southern Land, Great Southern Land
You walk alone like a primitive man
And they make it work with sticks and bones
See their hungry eyes, it’s a hungry home
I hear the sound of the stranger’s voices
I see their hungry eyes, their hungry eyes
Great Southern Land, Great Southern Land
They burned you black, black against the ground

Great Southern Land, in the sleeping sun
You walk alone with the ghost of time
They burned you black, black against the ground
And they make it work with rocks and sand
I hear the sound of the stranger’s voices
I see their hungry eyes, their hungry eyes
Great Southern Land, Great Southern Land
You walk alone, like a primitive man
You walk alone with the ghost of time
And they burned you black
Yeah, they burned you black
Great Southern Land x 4

‘Great Southern Land’
Singers: Iceland

The song ‘Great Southern Land’ by Iceland was written at the beginning of significant decade in relation to Indigenous affairs and the injustices done by the white settlers. Although there is ambivalence towards the land and the position of the indigenous and non-indigenous people are not mentioned, there is heavy use distinctively visual, sound, cinematography and metaphoric language in the text to convey the song’s purpose. The song opens on a strange, almost spooky, note which is held for a long duration; this immediately creates a mood of suspense and is some sort of vocal representation of the Australian land. The use of metaphor and simile in the first two lines “Standing at the limit of an endless ocean, Stranded like a runaway lost at sea” create a vision of the first white inhabitants of Australia looking causelessly over the Australian land, and highlights the segregation of the continent from white civilisation.

This idea of isolation and image of a never ending desert land is supported by the lead singer Iva Davies literally ‘walking alone’ on what looks like a desolate rocky hill. The specific camera angles used throughout the music video convey different images and moods, for example the high angled shots of the singer while walking down the rocky hill suggests that the harsh environment he is surrounded by is somewhat overwhelming, and soundly conveys the feelings that the first white settlers would have experienced. However, the low angles of the singer while walking and singing create an image of dominance over the land. This conjures an image in the responder’s mind of the white settlers ‘dominating’ the land in the form of deeply disturbing Aborigine culture/ land and oppressing the Indigenous people to extremes.

The lyrics “I hear the strangers’ voices” and the personification in “I see their hungry eyes” really persuades the individual’s mind to envision the confused and frightened Aborigine people as well the white inhabitants of the land lusting after a land that does not rightfully belong to them, and allows the audience to empathise with their situation. The lyrics “million years” and “long ago” combined with the fading images of daylight to sunset encourages the audience to reflect on past injustices that have eventually lead to the current (at the time) Aboriginal movements.

Then, as the remaining daylight fades from the sky, and the colour shifts from orange to blue, and the final repetition of the lyrics “Great Southern Land” is sung by Davies, the responders of accompanied by a sense of loss and a vision of the Indigenous people of Australia the suffering caused by the white settlers’ actions. This text relates to Henry Lawson’s ‘The Drover’s Wife’ through the use of several language techniques and the use of visual or verbal symbolism to express the isolation of its characters. This text was chosen by me for its nature. I like its metaphoric meaning and reference to the damaging of the Aboriginal civilisation by the white settlers. Aboriginal spirituality and the hardships they faced is something I’ve studied previously and have a thorough understanding of.

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