The bush

"The bush" is a rural, undeveloped area, usually one that is heavily forested and sparsely populated. The term is mostly used in the English vernacular of Australia and New Zealand where it is largely synonymous with backwoods, outback and hinterland.

Usage by country


The concept of "the bush" has become iconic in Australia.[1] In reference to the landscape, "bush" refers to any sparsely-inhabited region, regardless of vegetation. "The bush" in this sense was something that was uniquely Australian and very different from the green European landscapes familiar to many new immigrants. The term "Outback" is also used, but usually in association with the more arid inland areas of Australia. "The Bush" also refers to any populated region outside of the major metropolitan areas, including mining and agricultural areas. Consequently, it is not unusual to have a mining town in the desert such as Port Hedland (Pop. 14,000) referred to as "the bush" within the media.[2]

Bush poets such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson revered the bush as a source of national ideals, as did contemporaneous painters in the Heidelberg School like Tom Roberts (1856–1931), Arthur Streeton (1867–1943) and Frederick McCubbin (1855–1917).[3] Romanticising the bush in this way was a big step forward for Australians in their steps towards self-identity. The legacy is a folklore rich in the spirit of the bush.

Australians affix the term "bush" to any number of other entities or activities to describe their rural, country or folk nature, e.g. "Bush Cricket", "Bush Music", "Bush Doof", etc.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, Bush primarily refers to areas of native trees rather than exotic forests, however, the word is also used in the Australian sense of anywhere outside urban areas, encompassing grasslands as well as forests.[4]

The New Zealand usage of "bush" probably comes from the word "bos/bosch" ("forest"), used by Dutch settlers in South Africa, where it meant uncultivated country.[4]

Areas with bush (i.e. native forest) are found predominantly in the South Island, especially in the West Coast region stretching from Fiordland to Nelson, with the east coast having been deforested except for parts of Kaikoura and the Catlins. Much of Stewart Island/Rakiura is bush-covered. In the North Island, the largest areas of bush cover the main ranges stretching north-northeast from Wellington towards East Cape, notably including the Urewera Ranges, and the catchment of the Whanganui River. Significant stands remain in Northland and the ranges running south from the Coromandel Peninsula towards Ruapehu, and isolated remnants cap various volcanoes in Taranaki, the Waikato, the Bay of Plenty and the Hauraki Gulf.

From the word comes many phrases including:[5]

  • bush-bash – to make one's way through the forest, rather than on a track or trail (cf. American English "bushwhack[ing]", "bushwack[ing]", or "bush-whack[ing]").
  • bush shirt – a woolen shirt or Swanndri, often worn by forest workers.
  • bush lawyer – the name of a number of native climbing plants or a layman who expounds on legal matters.
  • bush walk – short day walks (hikes) in the bush
  • going bush – to live in the bush for an extended period of time, which may include "living off the land" by means of hunting or fishing.
  • Bushman - Used in the 19th century for New Zealand loggers. The term still stands for someone that lives in the bush as a means of preferable lifestyle.

South Africa

In South Africa, the term has specific connotations of rural areas which are not open veldt. Generally, it refers to areas in the north of the country that would be called savanna. "Going to The Bush" often refers to going to a game park or game reserve. Areas most commonly referred to as The Bush are the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Lowveld, The Limpopo River Valley, northern KwaZulu-Natal or any other similar area of wilderness.

Alaska and Canada

The Bush in Alaska is generally described as any community not "on the road system", making it accessible only by more elaborate transportation. Usage is similar in Canada; it is called la brousse, if you are French or colloquially Le Bois, in Canadian French. In northern Canada, “the bush” refers to the massive expanse of primarily coniferous trees that sprawl undeveloped. The term is not generally used in the southern parts of the country.

The term "to go bush" has several similar meanings all connected with the supposed wildness of the bush. It can mean to revert to a feral nature (or to "go native"), and it can also mean to deliberately leave normal surroundings and live rough, with connotations of cutting off communication with the outside world – often as a means of evading capture or questioning by the police. The term bushwhacker is used in Australia and New Zealand to mean someone who spends his or her time in the bush.

Another related term used in Australia is "Sydney or the bush", which equates with such terms as "Hollywood or bust" to mean staking total success or failure on one high-risk event.[6][7] This usage appears in several Peanuts cartoons, causing Charlie Brown much confusion.[8]

In New Zealand, "The Bush" is a nickname for the Wairarapa Bush provincial rugby team. The team was formed by an amalgamation of two earlier teams (Wairarapa and Bush), the latter of which represented an area on the boundaries of the Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay which was in former times known as Bush, due to its dense vegetation cover.

The Bushwhackers were also a New Zealand professional wrestling tag team that was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2015.

To bushwhack has two meanings, one is to cut through heavy brush and other vegetation to pass through the tangled country: "We had to do quite a bit of bushwhacking today to clear the new trail." The other meaning is to hide in such areas and then attack unsuspecting passers-by: "We were bushwhacked by the bandits as we passed through their territory and they took all of our money and supplies."

In the United States, the term has a similar meaning, for example in minor league baseball, typically played in smaller cities, and sometimes derisively called "bush league" baseball.

See also


  1. Australian Government, Culture Portal (11 December 2007). "The Australian Bush". Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 5 December 2009. The bush has an iconic status in Australian life and features strongly in any debate about national identity
  2. "GroceryChoice useless for those in the bush: Tuckey". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 28 August 2008.
  3. "Australian painters". Commonwealth of Australia. 23 November 2007. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  4. Jock Phillips (17 September 2009). "The New Zealand bush – What is the bush? (The bush: dense native forest)". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  5. Orsman, H. W. (1999). The Dictionary of New Zealand English. Auckland: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-558347-7.
  6. John McDonald (29 November 2002). "Sydney or the bush". Archived from the original on 7 September 2003.
  7. Chris Baker (6 June 2006). "CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIA 5. Sydney or the Bush?" (PDF). Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  8. Charles M. Schulz (29 August 2012). "Peanuts".
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