Christina Stead's Seven Poor Men of Sydney


  • Michael Wilding


When Christina Stead's Seven Poor Men of Sydney appeared in 1934 the dominant themes of Australian writing were rural, the characteristic settings were the country, the bush and the outback. There had, of course, been poems and fiction written about the cities; it isn't the case that there were no urban materials. Henry Lawson had written powerfully about urban poverty in the series of stories set in 'Jones' Alley' in the 1890s and had begun his career with the powerful urban ballads 'Faces in the Street' and 'The Army of the Rear'. William Lane's The Workingman s Paradise ( 1892) had described urban conditions in Sydney in the 1890s. But the received impression is of a literature devoted to perpetuating the outback myth of Australia, even though the population was predominantly urban.1 Seven Poor Men of Sydney can be seen as a work confronting and challenging this outback myth.