The Disruption Of Fairyland: “Fairies Had Never Known How To Cry Until Then”

Anita Callaway


This article considers the rise and fall of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s antipodean fairyland, her pictorial alternative to the masculinist vision of Australia at the nominal end of its colonial thraldom to Britain. Unlike their mischievous and anachronistic antecedents from Victorian Britain, Outhwaite’s fairies were both virtuous and up-to-date, presenting an idealised picture of how post-federation Australia might have been, had it been left in girlish hands. Outhwaite not only gave Australian girls entrée to a modern and serene femocracy, but offered her contemporaries a practical alternative to the closed-shop of traditional landscape painting. However, the gendered integrity of Outhwaite’s fairyland was short-lived. Her images progressively show marauding boys disrupting its harmony, much as their colonising fore-fathers had callously disrupted Terra Australis. Just as these fanciful episodes may be considered visual metaphors for the social oppression of women and even for the bully-boy ruthlessness of colonisation itself, the same images may also figuratively describe the eventual appropriation by conservative male painters of this feminine art speciality and its subsequent erasure from the orthodox history of Australian visual culture.


Ida Rentoul Outhwaite; fairies; fairyland

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