As the nineteenth century ended, Australians looked back to the achievements of the early colonists and a sense of national identity began to emerge. It was in this last decade that McCubbin started his series portraying the lives of early pioneers. This painting conveys the artist’s admiration for the resilience and tenacity of the colonists in facing the demands of pioneering life. The use of the triptych format alludes to religious art; indeed, the painting is a hymn of praise to the spirit of these people – their hard work, fortitude and tenacity in clearing and settling the bush. McCubbin depicts the joint effort of man and woman, combining their separate skills in the struggle to build a life and develop a country for future generations. The pioneer woman is a far cry from the passive, fragile creature of Victorian ideals, who could not have survived long in these surroundings.
Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia