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Riding on the Sheep's Back

Video clip synopsis – By the 1950s Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’; those who grew the wool had come to symbolise and epitomise what it was to be Australian.
Year of production - 1994
Duration - 1min 56sec
Tags - heritage, historical representations, identity, image and reality, national identity, pioneers, self concept, symbols and symbolism, Waltzing Matilda, see all tags


Riding on the Sheep's Back

For copyright reasons this clip is not available as a download.

About the Video Clip


Riding on the Sheep’s Back is an excerpt from the documentary Sheep’s Back produced in 1994.

Sheep’s Back
For a century, the wool industry gave Australia one of the highest living standards in the world. The economy rode high on wealth from primary exports. By the 1950s, wool was synonymous with the Australian way of life. By the 1990s, the gap between city and country people was ever widening. What does the future hold for a nation that once rode the sheep’s back to prosperity?

A Film Australia National Interest Program.

Curriculum Focus



5.1 explains social, political and cultural developments and events and evaluates their impact on Australian life
5.2 assesses the impact of international events and relationships on Australia’s history
5.4 sequences major historical events to show an understanding of continuity, change and causation

Inquiry Question

What have been the major social and cultural features of a post-war decade?

Students learn about

The impact of changing technology on everyday life in post-war Australia

Background Information


The selective breeding of Merino ewes resulted in sheep that adapted well to the arid interior of Australia and produced wool that appealed to the mills of England. From the first boom of the Napoleonic Wars the pastoral industry enjoyed a long period of prosperity.

By the 1950s Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’; those who grew the wool had come to symbolise and epitomise what it was to be Australian. The struggle to survive in the ‘bush’ had apparently fashioned the character of the Australian ‘battler’.

Within a decade minerals, coal and iron ore had replaced wool as the basis of Australia’s economic future and wool farmers struggled to sell their product on world markets.

The people of the ‘bush’ now found themselves marginalised and out of touch with the other world of Australia, the city.

Classroom Activities

  1. Note-making: While watching clip:
    1. Note why the Australian image has changed.
    2. Note details of the traditional image.
    3. List the ‘icons’ associated with the traditional image.
    4. Note how the ‘relevance’ of this image has changed.
    5. Note what is sold using this traditional image.
    6. Note why some think it is still relevant.
    7. Note the alternative image. Implications?
  2. Research
    1. How has the image of Australia and Australians changed?
    2. What icons have been used to epitomise the essential qualities of being Australian?
    3. How many Australians live(d) in the ‘bush’?
  3. Reporting
    1. Write a report on the ‘bronzed Aussie’.
    2. Construct a concept map of the iconic images of Australia.
    3. Why have Australians generally been depicted as ‘battlers’ in the ‘bush’?

Further Resources


Bronzed Aussie now a fat slob, CNN, 5 May 2003

The Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal, The Australian Bush

Urban Australia, where most of us live