Whisperings in wattle boughs


Frederick McCubbin
born Australia, 1855

Whisperings in wattle boughs  1886
Oil on canvas
Private collection, Sydney
Courtesy of Smith and Singer Fine Art


In this intimate scene painted in the Box Hill region, McCubbin introduces an archetypal swagman or bushman resting by a campfire while his billy boils. McCubbin ‘telescopes in’ removing any representation of sky, establishing an integral, harmonious relationship between the bush and the reclining man. Following its exhibition at the Australian Artists Association First Annual Exhibition at Buxton’s Rooms in Melbourne in September 1886, The Argus critic James Smith described the painting as a ‘remarkably clever picture, full of local colour, and very restful sentiment’.

It is titled after a work by the widely admired Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833–1870), dating to around 1867.

Oh, gaily sings the bird! and the wattle-boughs are stirr’d
And rustled by the scented breath of spring;
Oh, the dreary wistful longing!
Oh, the faces that are thronging!
Oh, the voices that are vaguely whispering!