A Classic Year: 10.0 Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

seven_little_oz_small.jpg Seven Little Australians
Ethel Turner

Ethel Turner's novel Seven Little Australians is the first children's novel, and the third piece by a woman writer in the first 10 entries in this Australian Classic Year. Both points are rather notable: that a children's novel might be considered a classic at all, and that there were three women writers in the early days of Australian literature who
were capable of writing such works (Baynton, Gilmore and Turner). Neither should be unexpected, but I suspect a lot of readers would think the opposite.

In many people's minds children's books get lumped in with comics and television as literary artforms of little worth, that might serve a purpose for the young, but which should be discarded as soon as the reader reaches their teenage years. Which is a nonsense. All three genres have much to offer to both adults and younger readers and should be judged on their merits rather than pre-conceived ideas about the effects such fiction has on later reading habits.

Seven Little Australians tells the story of the Woolcot family: the father Captain Woolcot, his second wife Esther, and the children, Meg, Pip, Judy, Nell, Bunty, Baby and the General. The first six of these are from the Captain's first marriage, with the General from his second. The family lives in a house named Misrule; which provides the first hint about the children's behaviour. The second comes directly from the author herself.

If you imagine you are going to read of model children, with perhaps; a naughtily inclined one to point a moral, you had better lay down the book immediately and betake yourself to 'Sandford and Merton' or similar standard juvenile works. Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are. In England, and America, and Africa, and Asia, the little folks may be paragons of virtue, I know little about them. But in Australia a model child is--I say it not without thankfulness--an unknown quantity.
And so it goes, a story of the highs and lows of family life, at the end of which no-one is the same as when they started - with the possible exception of Bunty who is a greedy little beggar from start to finish. Seven Little Australians was written in the 1890s and, to many, it would seem to be stuck firmly in that era. It certainly seems to start that way. But, as it progresses, it becomes clear that Turner has produced a novel of family life that holds true even today.

Notes: Full text of the novel
Australian Dictionary of Biography page
Ethel Turner Wikipedia page
Photo of the author

The next four works in this Classic Year:
11. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson (1910)
12. "The Gentle Water-Bird" by John Shaw Neilson (1927)
13. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901)
14. The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (1918)

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 10, 2008 5:09 PM.

Interesting Turns on the Wallaby Track was the previous entry in this blog.

Australian Bookcovers #105 - The Relief of Mildura by Davison Symmons is the next entry in this blog.

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