As well as borrowing extensively from Rest Of World, at least where crazy monopolistic publishing and copyright regimes permitted, Australia had its own separate and distinct girl literature. Many thanks to damned_colonial
for helping with the brainstorming.Seven Little Australians
(1894) is our Little Women (the eldest sister's name is Meg!) and What Katy Did and Laura Ingalls Wilder all rolled into one. It is the ur-text! Such a huge influence! Six of the little Australians are basically peripheral: the only one who matters is Judy who is feisty and spirited and delightful. HUGE SPOILER NOT: she dies in the end. No, more melodramatic still: she gives her life! to save the baby! This is _after_ she gets TB at boarding school and introduces us all to the narrative convention of coughing up blood into a handkerchief.
Judy also introduces the central theme of all great Australian children's literature:
Whatever you love will be horribly killed.
Oh, I am so not joking.
Oh, I forgot that there's a subplot where big sister Meg falls in love with a reformed drunk, who falls off the wagon thus requiring that they be parted for ever. In Miles Franklin's 1901 novel My Brilliant Career
the father is the drunk. Eligible Harry Beecham proposes to our heroine Sybilla, but she can't believe he can really love her with her tomboyish ways, so she rejects him and has a nervous breakdown and goes home to drunk Dad. Ironically, given that we are reading about it, it is Sybilla's dream of writing that dies.
She is a failed Jo March!Jeannie Gunn
spent a year in the Northern Territory between 1902 and 1903, and got two books out of it: A Little Black Princess and We Of The Never Never. It's been years and years since I read them and I expect they would make me cringe today, but Bett-Bett is important to me as the first female Aboriginal character I encountered in fiction.
The outback idyll ended when author's husband, explorer and pastoralist Aeneas Gunn, died.
From 1910 on, Mary Grant Bruce
wrote the Billabong series, featuring Norah and her brilliant bay pony Bobs. Bobs is an equine Mary Sue. For me the most memorable moment in the Billabong series is the deed of Cecil, a Eustace Scrubb type who has his eye on Bobs:
Norah looked at him a moment, and then flushed in her turn. To let her cousin ride Bobs seventeen miles was unthinkable. She had the profoundest regard for her pony's back; and she knew that even Brown Betty's seasoned hide was giving way under the unskilled horsemanship of the city boy. It was very doubtful, moreover, that it would be safe to mount him on Bobs, who was already excited with the coming storm and the prospect of home. She knew every turn, and thought of the high-spirited pony--he went quietly for her, but with a new-chum it might be a different matter.Cecil eventually steals Bobs and rides him to death.
While there's an interesting tension between characters like Cecil, equated with the city and enfeebled English blood, and Norah and her friends, who are rural, Australian, strong and healthy, it's kind of skeevily eugenic. These books are also notable for their horrible racefail with respect to Chinese, Indian and especially Aboriginal characters.
Also from 1910 is The Getting of Wisdom
, Henry Handel Richardson's book about her years at Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) which is - drumroll! - ETA: NOT damned_colonial
's old school! Nothing is horribly slaughtered except our heroine Laura's innocence and class naivete.
1918 was a huge year: The Magic Pudding
! Snugglepot and Cuddlepie
! The latter, which features adorable naked cherubs, is especially Not Your Cultural Values, Missy and would be impounded as child porn if discovered in 21stC America. Oh! The same applies to C J Dennis's
Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, my Dad's copy of which I devoured, mystified.
There's a whole nother post on midcentury animal-book authors: Mary Elwyn Patchett, who I adored as a child but who on rereading turns out to be racefaily and also telling fibs. She wrote the Brumby books; Elyne Mitchell wrote the Silver Brumby books, which never won any prizes because the horses talk and this is Frowned Upon by the Powers That Be, but all horsy girls loved them madly anyway. Elyne Mitchell also wrote a very good book about her father, General Harry Chauvel: Light Horse to Damascus. Joan Phipson wrote a terrific book called The Boundary Riders. (My husband remembers visiting her as a child: she was his great-aunt, I think? by marriage.)
Patricia Wrightson I adored. She wrote An Older Kind of Magic and The Nargun and the Stars, shamelessly appropriating Aboriginal myth for a kind of proto-urban fantasy. You wouldn't get away with it now but I loved it for making my own country real around me. She didn't dream of dragons
, but of Mimis, who could travel through solid stone.
But these are all sideshows to the main event which is Colin Thiele! 1964! Storm Boy!
Despite being Noble and Magical, Fingerbone is a significant improvement on earlier depictions of Aboriginal characters. Meanwhile Storm Boy saves three pelicans and releases them to the wild! One of them, Mr Percival, returns to him!Mr Percival is horribly killed!
Really, is it any wonder Australians turn out like we do?