In the almost trackless wilds of the Lilydale district, intersected by reedy ferns, like an Indian swamp, Clara Crosbie, a girl of 12, was lost nearly a month ago … A town-bred girl of warm affections and quick impulses, she pined in the unaccustomed solitudes of the bush, and she resolved to find her way, though she did not know her way home. The Argus Newspaper. Melbourne, 1885.
Inspired by the true story of Clara Crosbie, Frederick McCubin painted The Lost Child in 1886. In the painting McCubin contrasts the innocence of Clara with the rugged Australian trees which threaten to entrap her. The painting is representative of the early colonial fear which viewed Australia as a place where people disappeared. In the nineteenth century this was a popular theme in literature, particularly in the works of Marcus Clarke, Joseph Furphy, and Henry Lawson. The long distance of Australia from Britain provoked intense feelings of anxiety and was an important part of the colonial experience. Australia was regarded as a country on the edge of the earth and was literally a land where undesirable civilians from Britain were sent to disappear.
This composition overturns the narrative of fear, imagining Clara Crosbie as she briefly becomes entranced by the sounds of the bush. The soft calls of bellbirds and crickets emerge from the trees, providing respite from her predicament. There is a moment of transcendence as Clara finds pleasure in her surroundings, yet home is still far away.