The ‘home’ of Seven Little Australians
New South Wales does not have a good record when it comes to preserving the homes of famous writers. Houses where authors have lived have been sold, changed, or even left to fall into ruin. However, one remarkable Sydney couple are set to change that. They’ve planted a clue in the garden – seven little conifer trees, one much smaller than the others. The original fireplaces are restored, stained-glass windows and quirky doorknobs have been repaired, and a magnificent staircase dominates the hallway.
Within the state heritage-listed walls of this northern Sydney house, Ethel Turner penned, in 1893, what was to become Australia’s most popular and never out of print children’s novel. First, the title was Six Pickles, then Seven Pickles before she finally settled on Seven Little Australians.
Before beginning, she wrote in her diary: “I do want fame – plenty of it.”
When Malaysian-born Albert Lim and his Chinese-born wife Eva bought a Killara house named ‘Woodlands’, they had never heard of Ethel Turner or her classic novel Seven Little Australians.
They soon learned that 23 year old Ethel wrote the book in the house they had just purchased, and grew interested in the literary and historical aspects of their new home. In just a couple of years, they have done far more to honour both author and novel than could ever have been expected.
I have been delighted to visit ‘Woodlands’, where Ethel’s deep love of Australia is honoured in an Australian garden, with seven trees planted for the seven Woolcot children of the novel. Inside the house, the front rooms have been superbly renovated to their 19th century appearance, with a fine bookcase holding copies of Ethel’s books, and curtains and furnishings all in keeping with the 1890s when she lived there.
Ethel Turner was born in England – today at Woodlands a delightful cottage garden marks her birthplace with English flowers and trees. She came to Australia as a little girl and when her publishers suggested she travel to England to gain some ‘English polish’, Ethel refused and insisted she would, as a writer, remain proudly and resolutely Australian. She even broke new ground in her novel by including an Aboriginal legend and writing with sympathy of the plight of Aboriginal people.
I’m excited to announce the birth of a new literary group, ‘The Friends of Ethel Turner’ which will raise awareness about Ethel Turner’s legacy, promote events at her historic home, Woodlands, and make sure that this important part of Australia’s literary heritage is protected. Interested people are welcome to join the group, please provide your contact below.
There is no fee to pay and you will only be contacted when an occasional newsletter (like this one) is published or a new event is planned. Most of all, you will be helping to ensure an important part of this country’s literary heritage is protected for future generations. You can add your name below.
Ethel Turner has been honoured with a plaque at Circular Quay, Sydney, an Ethel Turner Park in Paddington and a Seven Little Australians Park in Lindfield, a postage stamp featuring her characters, and a street name in Canberra. But now these generous and far-sighted ‘new Australians’ are doing something really wonderful to mark her achievement and honour a book that has never been out of print. Seven Little Australians is a great Australian classic, a book that speaks to all ages and to people from many different backgrounds.
Add your name and contact here if you are interested in being updated about The Friends of Ethel Turner and Woodlands House.
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On her 21st birthday, Ethel Turner added a note to her diary: “Seven L. Aust. – sketched it out.” That was in 1893. One hundred years later, the book she had dreamed up would be the only book by an Australian author to have been continuously in print for one hundred years. Seven Little Australians is an Australian classic.
Susannah has produced a 60-minute fully illustrated video talk about Ethel Turner and Seven Little Australians. Please follow this link for information on how to access the talk.
In an era when fiction was supposed to be about ‘good’ children, Ethel Turner dared to make her seven Aussie children naughty, getting into constant scrapes and sometimes getting away with them. In 1994 this was the only book by an Australian author to have been continuously in print for 100 years. Discover why it is such a beloved classic.
How did Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women influence her creation of the naughty Woolcot children? How much was she influenced by her rivalry with Mary Grant Bruce, whose Billabong novels were constant competition for her? How was she ahead of her time in her writing about Aboriginal Australians, and in the feminist and matriarchal novels that she wrote? What social concerns drove her to pick up her pen?
Susannah, it was indeed fabulous. I had just read the book last week too so was right there with everything you said. Thank you.
Loved the session today on The Go-Between. Thank you.
Excellent presentation as always. One of my favourite books – I hadn’t realised that LP Hartley was at Clifton in Bristol; where my father was at school. I saw the play in London in July 2016 with Michael Crawford (then aged 74) as the older Leo.
I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed yesterday’s Tea with a Book Addict. I was lucky enough to be a student at Oxford in the late 1940s and every Friday during each eight week term Lord David Cecil would lecture on Shakespeare. This was in the Examination School, the largest auditorium available, and it was jam-packed with students from every faculty. We listened spellbound as he was a wonderful lecturer.
I’ve just watched your video talk on The Go-Between. Wonderful! I had re-read it about six months ago, so it was lovely to have it fresh in my mind while listening to your talk. I have just finished reading The Hireling – a different but also enjoyable and thought-provoking novel.
I have just watched the video so just had to write and tell you what a
pleasure it was. Looking forward to more.
Thank you Susannah for giving us the opportunity (and the push) to read The Go Between. I so enjoyed this book and I had a wonderful time resading it. It was SO well written. I marvel at how astonishly good this book is. Now we have writers courses – how to write a novel etc – but, I’m guess that L.P. Hartley didn’t have these opportunities. I know he had been a journalist but to write with such ecomical skill where scenes and dialogue are so well enterwined is surely a great talent. Such a pleasure to read such a classic book. I look forward to the rest of the video series.