In "The Drover's Wife," by Henry Lawson, describe the hard life of the drover's wife.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A tale written as a presentation of the bush ethos, "The Drover's Wife" relates the spirit and duties of a young mother who is essentially living alone with her children in the desolate Australian bush while her husband works as a sheep and cattle drover. Indeed, hers is a difficult life as she lives nineteen miles from the nearest sign of civilization, but she bears up against adversity with fortitude and skill.

Here are some of the tribulations that the drover's wife encounters in a land of seemingly perpetual disasters:

  • Because the family is impoverished, the father must be gone for months at a time to work as a drover, leaving his wife alone with four children. Sometimes strange men come to the house and she must pretend that her husband is around so that they will depart.
  • The house is a two-room wooden shack, and when a snake appears and no one can catch it or lure it out of the main room, she must take the family out on the veranda near the kitchen and spend the night there.
  • After feeding her four little children, the mother puts them to bed on top of the kitchen table while she keeps a look-out for the snake. Alligator, the family dog, who is quite experienced at killing snakes, is certainly a help to her.

She has an eye on the corner, and a green sapling club laid in readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a copy of the Young Ladies' Journal. She has brought the dog into the room.

  • The drover's wife gets very little sleep because she must be both mother and protector. Naturally, she is often worried about the safety of her babies.
  • At the same time, she must be the mediator and disciplinarian with her children. When her older boy Tommy takes his club to bed with him, he scratches the legs of his younger brother Jacky, who complains. The mother tells Tommy to not scare his little brother, and she makes more room for Jacky in the makeshift bed.
  • With the thunderstorm that suddenly comes there is wind, and this wind threatens to blow out the candle in the kitchen. So, the mother must construct shields around the candle and move it upon the dresser.
  • Because the dog watches the partition, the mother knows that is where the five-foot black snake lies hidden. She is particularly anxious about this snake because a nephew of hers has died from a snake bite.
  • As she stays up and watches for the snake, the drover's wife recalls her past tribulations:
    --There was a brush fire that she had to fight alone, as well as a terrible flood which demanded that she dig trenches, although to no avail because during the next morning the dam broke, sweeping away years of hard work. 
    --She also dealt with bovine pleuro-pneumonia, losing two of her favorite cows. 
    --When a steer went mad, she had to make bullets and shoot him through slats in the wall of the house in order to prevent him from entering and killing her.
    --She has given birth without her husband at her side and has had to have help from an aboriginal woman because there was no one else. When one child died, she had to ride nineteen miles on horseback holding the dead child.
    --Alone so much of the time, the drover's wife sees her brother-in-law only once a month when he brings provisions such as meat from one of the sheep he has slaughtered.

The drover's wife regrets most that she has so little time to display affection for her children or be playful with them. But, amid all her tribulations the mother learns that some of her love for her children has been felt. For when the snake comes out and Alligator kills it, her eldest boy Tommy awakens and tries to help, but with "an iron grip" his mother forces him back. Then, as he watches his mother, the perceptive boy understands all the years of her life:

Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms around her neck exclaims, "Mother, I won't never go drovin' blarst me if I do!" 

With great poignancy, the story ends as the mother hugs her boy, kisses him, and they sit together watching the new day begin. It is a hard life, but she does have love, so she can endure.


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The Drover's Wife

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