The Jindyworobak Movement was a nationalistic Australian literary movement whose white members sought to promote indigenous Australian ideas and customs, particularly in poetry. They were active from the 1930s to around the 1950s. The movement intended to combat the influx of "alien" culture, which was threatening local art.


The Jindyworobak movement was begun in Adelaide during 1937 by the poet Rex Ingamells and the other members of the Jindyworobak club. The name was taken from a Woiwurrung word meaning "to join" or "to annex", which had been used by the poet and novelist James Devaney in his 1929 book The Vanished Tribes. "Jindyworobak" is supposedly from the phrase jindi woroback of the Woiwurrung language, formerly spoken around Melbourne. This is said to have been sourced by Devaney from a 19th century vocabulary. Ingamells is said to have chosen the word to produce an 'aboriginal' word both 'outlandish' (arresting) and symbolic. Sometimes this name was shortened to "Jindy" or "Jindys" to describe members of the group.

Ingamells first outlined the movements aims with an address entitled, On Environmental Values (1937), expanding this to Conditional Culture and forming the club later that year. Inspiration had been found in P. R. Stephensen's The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936). In 1938, the first Jindyworobak Anthology (1938–1953) was published; the Jindyworobak Review (1948) collected the history of first ten years of this annual and the club. An extensive history of the movement, The Jindyworobaks (ed. Brian Elliot) was published in 1979.[1]

Origins and aimsEdit

Starting off as a literary club in Adelaide, South Australia in 1938, the Jindyworobak movement was supported by many Australian artists, poets, and writers. Many were fascinated by indigenous Australian culture and the Outback, and desired to improve the white Australian's understanding and appreciation of them. Other features came into play, among them white Australia's increasing alienation from its European origins; the Depression of the 1930s which recalled the economic troubles of the end of the 19th century; an increasingly urban or suburban Australian population alienated from the wild Australia of the Outback etc.; the First World War and the coming of World War II and also the coming of early mass market media in the form of the radio, recordings, newspapers and magazines. Sense of place was particularly important to the Jindyworobak movement.

Ingamells produced Colonial Culture as a prose manifesto of the movement, "in response to L. F. Giblin's urging that poets in Australia should portray Australian nature and people as they are in Australia, not with the 'European' gaze." and shortly after the first Jindyworobak Anthology came out.

In 1941, the poet and critic A. D. Hope ridiculed the Jindyworobaks as "the Boy Scout school of poetry", a comment for which he apologised in Native Companions in 1975 saying "some amends are due, I think, to these Jindyworobaks".[2] Others such as R. H. Morrison derided "Jindyworobackwardness". Hal Porter wrote of meeting Rex Ingamells whom he said "buys me a porter gaff and tries to persuade me to be a Jindyworobak - that is, a poet who thinks that words from the minute vocabulary of the earth's most primitive race must be used to express Australia".[3]

Although "Jindys" concentrated on Australian culture, not all were of Australian origin - for example, William Hart-Smith who is sometimes connected to them, was born in England, and spent most of his life in New Zealand, with only a decade in Australia itself (1936–1946).

Anthologies of Jindyworobak material were produced until 1953.

Influence and aftermathEdit

Arguably, the movement failed to make a lasting impression, and its erosion signalled the arrival of modernist painting in Australia, as well as jazz. No native Australians were members of the movement, but it did indirectly spur the contemporary burgeoning of indigenous Australian art in the commercial market.

Judith Wright wrote in Because I was Invited in 1975 that the movement had succeeded in bringing poetry into the public arena:

"One thing the movement did achieve was to make verse a subject of debate and argument. Opposition movements sprang up, and brought into the quarrel most practising poets of any stature. The Jindyworobak's tenets were discussed, and their more extravagant aspects such as recourse to 'Aboriginality' was ridiculed, even in the daily newspapers (which at that time were scarcely arenas for literary debate)."

Also, many of Australian literature's elder statespeople, some still living today, got their breaks through the Jindyworobak movement.

Brian Matthews wrote during the 1980s that:

"When Ingamells looked over the poetry scene from the standpoint of, say, 1937 – which he delivered his address On Environmental Values to the English Association in Adelaide – he saw very little poetry which satisfied the requirement of Australian inspiration, Australian content and imagery, and when Max Harris surveyed the same scene at the start of the new decade, he saw the burgeoning Jindyworobaks and not much else – nothing that seemed to have much connection with or awareness of the cultural world beyond the antipodes. And by and large, they were both right." (excerpt from Literature and Conflict)

Ackland argues in The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature that the movement "reactualised debate on Indigenous culture, and promoted local talent in its annual anthologies".[4]

Jindoworobaks and AboriginalityEdit

The Australian literary historian, Brian Clunes Ross has written on one of the common criticisms of the Jindyworobaks, one that has persisted through the decades, through people of radically different political stripes, namely that of the Jindyworobaks' relationship with indigenous Australians:

"Another poet, Ian Mudie in The Australian Dream (1943), revealed the delusory quality of the nationalist perception of Australia through its refusal to take into account the destruction of the natural environment and of Aboriginal culture… the Jindyworobaks… [were] often misrepresented by critics who claimed that the movement aimed to base Australian culture on Aboriginal culture. The Jindyworobaks were interested in Aborigines, and if white Australians are now able to recognise the grim impact of their civilisation on the Aboriginal inhabitants of the country, the Jindyworobaks are partly responsible…the Jindyworobaks… wanted to achieve a harmonious relationship between cuture and the environment, and realised that Aboriginal culture embodied it. This was an example from which they could learn, not by imitation, but by coming to understand and accept the conditions which the environment imposes on them." (Australian Literature and Australian Culture)

Ivor Indyk has suggested that the Jindyworobaks were looking for a kind of pastoral poetry, harking back to an Arcadian idyll which was removed from the early pioneer period, back to the pre-colonisation era. He claims that "they overlooked the fact that Australian novelists have been there before them", but that unlike the Greek original this Australian "Arcadia" is not full of dryads, fauns and happy shepherds but is "haunted and usually overwhelmed by the spectres of death and dispossession", i.e. the atrocities, betrayal and misunderstandings of white contact with the natives. He also says of Judith Wright that she is "oppressed by feelings of 'arrogant guilt'. Guilt, as a burden of white history, is felt again in the division between the settlers and the land itself, despoiled by greed and incomprehension", in spite of her trying to inaugurate a "white dreaming", while the landscapes of Ingamells are:

"aflame with energy, but they are also uninhabited, save for the ghostly remnants of Aboriginal tribes, and more frequently, the cockatoos and parakeets whose bright colours and raucous cries express both the power and the alien character of the land. There is little that is really social or cultural about this use of an Aboriginal perspective, and no real sense of history."

It is thus arguable in certain cases whether the poetry is aiming at an indigenous consciousness in whites or possession of the land, which the indigenous Australians are seen as being in close contact with.

The greatest indigenous influence on the Jindyworobaks was literature which had been taken down by white folklorists and anthropologists. Written, as opposed to transcribed, indigenous literature did not appear in print until the 1920s when David Unaipon, a Christian from Point McLeay mission, South Australia, published a large body of work. Unaipon was publishing into the 1950s, by which time the Jindyworobaks were in decline. Unaipon was the sole published indigenous Australian writer during their heyday, and indeed it was not until the 1960s that a second was published - Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker). Unaipon, despite coming from South Australia, is not mentioned in the works of the Jindyworobaks, so it is hard to say how much of an influence, Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines was.


Major influencesEdit

See alsoEdit



  1. Wilde, W.H.; Hooton, Joy and Andrews, Barry (1994) [1985]. "Entry on Jindyworobak Movement". The Oxford companion to Australian Literature (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press. p. 408. ISBN 0 19 553381 X. "... it arose partly as a reaction against colonialist attitudes and partly as a counter to the international influences ..." 
  2. Schmidt, Mareya (July 1998). "The Jindyworobak Movement". Online editorial submissions. OzLit. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  3. Porter, Hal (1965) "Melbourne in the Thirties" in London Magazine, 5(6): p.39, September 1965
  4. Ackland, Michael (2000) "Poetry from the 1890s to 1970" in Webby, Elizabeth (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

External linksEdit

Further reading (books)Edit

  • The Jindyworobaks (1979), Brian Elliot (editor), (University of Queensland press)

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