This is an article I wrote years and years ago, that I decided to post here to give it another airing, so to speak. :)
The Appeal of the Outback Hero - More than a Cowboy Down Under
Most Australians like to think that they have a strong connection with the outback. We’re proud of our country’s amazing red centre and its reputation for unusual rugged beauty combined with danger. However, the truth is that while our country has a land mass as big as the USA, our population is smaller than some of the world's cities, and over 90% of us live on the coastal strip. And yet we feel very nostalgic about the outback.
In reality, other brave souls are living the life for us.
I think this must be why I love outback heroes. They are larger than our lives. They are living the life... living the legend... for us.
While we in the city couldn’t cope without our convenience stores and our coffee shops just around the corner, people in the outback cope year after year with not only isolation, but droughts, floods and bushfires... They embody the image of man against the elements. And we city slickers manage to hoodwink ourselves into believing that we are somehow sharing that harsh, dangerous existence. We read about the resilience and toughness of our rural countrymen and we feel stronger... uplifted by their fortitude.
In romance novels, the outback hero has become a recognisable archetype, a character who evokes certain expectations in the reader’s mind. Readers know the outback is rugged and harsh and first and foremost they know that its men are tough and skilful - like Tom Burlinson, who thrilled us when he took that magnificent horse down the shockingly steep mountainside in the movie “A Man From Snowy River”.
I believe that an important part of the allure and the mystery for female readers is that the outback has a reputation for breeding men’s men. We don’t really belong... and therein lies the challenge.
Outback men stick by their mates. Remember Mel Gibson and his friends in the movie “Gallipoli”? The mateship they displayed in World War 1 had been forged while they were growing up on outback properties. Mateship is an Australian tradition that has grown out of the continuously dangerous lives outback guys lead as they do battle with a vast, primal landscape. Whether they are cattlemen or mining engineers, Flying Doctors or crocodile hunters, they’re physically tough and mentally strong and this is usually counterbalanced by an appealing irreverence for authority and a wicked sense of fun. In “Gallipoli” Mel and his mates made fun of the stuffy English officers.
Apart from the obvious allure of a sexy, naughty-boy grin allied with a toned, fit and athletic body, the special appeal of the outback heroes is that they hide powerful emotions behind all their brashness and toughness.
Of course outback romances invite the obvious opportunity to explore the vast contrasts between city and country lifestyles and values and in this situation, they set up immediate conflict. In my novella CHARLOTTE’S CHOICE, Lady Charlotte Bellamy, a young English aristocrat, calls herself Charlie Bell and lands a job as a jillaroo on a remote North Queensland mustering team. In A BRIDE AT BIRRALEE, a Sydney based scientist ventures into the outback to seek out the father of her unborn baby. These situations open up the whole opposites-attract scenario and they have built-in, ready-made tension.
And I believe that just as the right woman can discover the hidden depths of a man’s emotions, outback heroes bring out the best in city women. A woman who is weak or helpless just won’t cut it in the bush. In this isolated, often harsh, hot and dusty environment, heroines must be strong and self reliant as well as having initiative and a sense of humour. By the time an outback hero has expressed his love or proposed marriage, the heroine will have demonstrated that she has the strength of character to face up to the demands of his lifestyle. The fact that a woman can give up the comfort and convenience of city life for the hardship and isolation of the outback is testimony to the strong appeal of the outback man.
But I don’t want to give the impression that when a heroine marries an outback hero, she faces a grim life of endless hardship. In OUTBACK BABY, Gemma Brown longed to return to the bush where she grew up and in A WEDDING AT WINDAROO, Piper O’Malley, a heroine born and raised in the outback, loves the life and is fighting to keep her family’s property.
Any woman who marries an outback hero, whether she’s city or country bred, is marrying a man who is more much than a simple cowboy. An outback hero is a true man for all seasons, who can keep house and cook, who has university degrees and likes to travel the world and can provide for his family. He looks as comfortable in an Armani tuxedo, hosting a ball on the sweeping lawns that surround his homestead or escorting a beautiful woman to a concert in the Sydney Opera House, as he does in blue jeans and riding boots while he risks his neck on horseback leaping down gullies searching for wild, cleanskin cattle.
Like his real life counterparts, he’s living the legend. For us.
© Barbara Hannay October 2002